How do you unfreeze frozen pipes?

frozen pipes with icicles

Do all frozen pipes burst?

Winter in the New Jersey can be brutal, but Winter 2021 seems to have hit the whole country with a deep freeze wham, leaving millions without electricity and frozen pipes. It doesn’t matter if you have copper or PVC pipe frozen or burst pipes is never a good thing but is often the results of a harsh winter like the one we’re having now.

What makes it worse, when your water pipe is frozen, you don’t always know right away you have a busted pipes. When you do know though, you can bet on one thing: You’ll have frozen pipe emergency, and if you don’t know how to take care of this, you’re going to need frozen pipe help by a professional plumber. We are going to answer some common questions about frozen pipes in this article, providing answer that can help you navigate the freezing and thawing of winter 2021 and others to follow. 

Frequently, frozen pipes happen in areas that are unheated. Examples would be an attic, basement, crawl space, or the garage. It is a common misconception that all frozen pipes burst. The following are three of the most common misconceptions of frozen pipes: 

Misconception One: Ice expansion triggers frozen pipes to burst.

It has long been believed that frozen pipes burst when ice expands in the pipe where water once flowed. Actually, it is the pressure that is built up when the water freezes inside pipe as the molecules expand. Those expanded water molecules form an ice blockage, preventing the unfrozen water from flowing. The upstream areas of the pipe won’t burst because there isn’t much pressure, so the water isn’t blocked. It flows back to the source it came from  and the pressure resulting from unfrozen water between the ice and the closed faucet has created a pressure, causing frozen pipes to burst. This is why plumbers advise us to leave the faucets dripping and trickling when temperatures are getting to the freezing mark and below.  

Misconception Two: Frozen pipes burst as they are freezing.

Water pipe do not always burst when they freeze, nor do they burst while they are freezing. Frozen pipes burst when they begin to thaw. Again, it is the pressure created between ice and the closed faucet. Keeping your faucet dripping or trickling is the trick to preventing frozen pipe from bursting. 

Misconception Three: Homes in the north have more frozen pipes than other areas. 

Just read the news about Texas during the month of January and you’ll learn quickly that is not accurate!  If any area is more vulnerable to frozen pipes in the winter, it is areas like Texas and the entire Southwest. Homes in the northern clients are built for cold weather, meaning the water pipes are built inside a structure’s insulation and deeper in the ground where the Earth’s heat keeps them warm. In the southwest, pipes are not buried deep, most are not insulated, leaving them unprotected because they typically don’t have temperatures below freezing for long period of ties. 

At what temperature do pipes burst?

Typically, your home will have frozen pipes once the thermometer drops to 20 degrees outside. After the temperature has been at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is usually dropping lower as the sun starts down, you’ll have frozen pipes within four to five hours. 

Will frozen pipes thaw on their own?

Sure, just like the ice in the ice trays will melt on its own. However, you’re taking a risk with that wait-and-see method. When water is caught in the middle of the ice of the frozen pipe and the faucet, as we mentioned earlier, that will cause the frozen pipes to bust because of the increased pressure. It can’t be said enough, always leave the faucets dripping or trickling to keep that pressure minimized and the chance of bursting pipes minimized too. 

pipes with bursts

How do you fix frozen pipes?

Before you worry about fixing any frozen pipes, it helps to know ahead of time if you have any. The first indication is no water coming out of when you turn on the faucets. At this point, you need to check all plumbing areas including the attic, basement, and crawl space. If you still have water on there, then you’re in good shape at this point. What if you find that you do have frozen pipes though? Here are two options: 

  • Call a  professional plumber and hope he can fit you into his schedule. In the winter, you can be certain they are busy and are working around the clock, first call – first served. 
  • Attempt to thaw your frozen pipes yourself. This needs to be done with care, or you may end up with bigger problems than frozen pipes. 

Okay, so you’re not a handy DIY homeowner, not everyone is, and that is why you need to rely on the professionals, and in this case, a plumber. However, the plumber can’t get there for another day, maybe two days. Here are few tips on how to thaw your frozen pipes yourself:

  • Keep all faucets open, every sink, shower, tub. Yes, you may have water running as the frozen pipes thaw, even some steam from the hot water, but this is necessary. Keep all the faucets open even once the water begins so the water keeps moving in the pipes. Once it stops, it will freeze up again.
  • Use heat on the areas where you have frozen pipes with either a heating pad wrapped around the pipe, hold a hair dryer on the frozen pipes, and you can wrap hot wet towels around the pipes too. Never leave the heating pad or hair dryer unattended. 
  • Knowing what not to do with frozen pipes is just as important as knowing some tips to thaw them. For example, do not use a blowtorch, kerosene heater, propane heater, or a charcoal stove. Any open flame will do more than thaw frozen pipes, it can start a fire. An electric space heater is good to thaw frozen pipes, but extreme care and caution is needed, making sure there isn’t anything flammable in the area and never leave the space heater unattended.  
  • Once you start applying heat to the frozen pipes, keep it there until the water is flowing again. Once the frozen pipes have  successfully thawed, turn all the faucets on full blast to make sure there aren’t any more other frozen pipes.

What happens if your pipes freeze in your house? If you have frozen pipes inside the walls, you can use the same methods we just listed to thaw them out.  However, if any frozen pipes do burst inside the wall, this is a situation that can get serious fast. Call a professional plumber immediately and be prepared they may have to cut into the walls so that warm air can reach the pipes.