How to Thaw Frozen Plumbing Pipes

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  • Locate the main water cut off for the house and procure any tools that you may need to quickly turn the water off, in case you have leaks when it thaws out. But unless you suspect that you have burst pipes, don’t turn off the water yet. If possible draft an assistant for the extremely dull job of being handy to quickly turn off the water in case you get it to flow, and leaks are detected.
  • Minimize Distracting Noise – You will usually be able to hear water flowing through the pipes once it starts, and turning the radio or TV off could help you to prevent a big mess in case you have a burst pipe.
  • Open up all of the indoor faucets (sinks, bathtubs, etc) for two reasons: 1) if you can achieve just a little bit of flow through the pipes, then often the flowing water will quickly thaw out the ice remaining in the pipes. 2) To relieve pressure when flow is restored so that any leaks will flow at a slower rate to give you more time to turn off the main water valve, and thereby minimize water damage.
  • Crank up the heat. Try to get heat to the areas that are most likely to be frozen. Obviously the most likely places for the pipes to be frozen are where it is coldest – crawl spaces, unheated basements, water meter boxes, garages, etc. Be careful with space heaters and extension cords, you don’t want to burn down the house. Don’t crank up the heat and then run off to town. Keep an eye on everything just in case the water starts to flow.
  • If your water meter is frozen, you can thaw it out by running an extension cord and putting a hair dryer in the box. Any time you use electricity outside make sure you are plugged into a GFI protected circuit. If your meter is too far from electricity, then you can put a metal paint can full of hot charcoal briquettes in the meter box. Just don’t let it contact anything that is combustible or melt able like plastic water pipes.
  • Find the frozen spot. If a water line is frozen in a basement or crawl space, you can usually find the frozen spot by checking where water lines run near windows or vents, or other drafty cold spots. Check by feeling for bulged or split areas of pipe. A frozen spot is usually pretty easy to feel, because it will be noticeably swollen. If you find ruptured pipes turn off the water before proceeding. When you find a swollen spot apply heat with a hair dryer, or electric heat gun. If you are competent to use a plumbing torch for this then you don’t need my advice.
  • If water starts to flow through any faucets that were not running, then leave it open until you are seeing full flow rates.
  • Prevent refreezing! Block off drafts by whatever means you can, get some heat to those extra cold problem areas, leave a little bit of water running in problem areas, apply pipe insulation, etc.
  • If your water meter freezes, then after you restore flow, stuff the box full of insulation. If you don’t have builders insulation then use whatever you do have – rags, packing peanuts, newspapers, etc. If the meter is not buried deeply enough then pile dirt, or sand on top of it.
  • If your buried water line is frozen, it isn’t buried deep enough. Seek professional help, and plan to have this corrected as soon as possible.
  • If your house is well maintained and appropriately weather proofed, and you don’t turn your heat off, then your pipes will probably never freeze. Try to do better, or pray for global warming to hurry up. Your choice.
  • Questions? Comments? Nasty Remarks? I usually respond within a few hours.

    5 thoughts on “How to Thaw Frozen Plumbing Pipes”

    1. Hi! I hope you’re still posting. I live in an old beach cottage over an inaccessible crawl space. I left my house for five hours today and returned to no water. The meter at the road is working but no water seems to be entering the house, so I have a frozen pipe/burst pipe somewhere along a 30-foot stretch between the meter and house. Tomorrow AM a plumber is going to give it an electric current to agitate it. We’ve had lots of snow to insulate the ground but very cold temps as well lately. Do you have any idea how long a current might take to help free the line? As I have to pay my plumber by the hour, I’d kind of like to know what a reasonable time might be. Also, how do I know, after the thawing, whether the line has actually burst somewhere? Can I have a leaking line and still have enough water pressure that I wouldn’t notice it?
      Not sleeping tonight in northern Ohio.

    2. Shirley – I have no way of telling how long it will take to thaw out your water line. Sorry.
      After it’s thawed out it’s pretty easy to tell if you have a leak. Just turn off everything and then look at the meter – if you have a leak the spinner will be turning. And yes you could have a leak and still have plenty of pressure.
      Good luck – don’t let it freeze again!

      David LaFerney

    3. What is the device called that runs electric through your lines in order to thaw it out?

      Trying to purchase this thing because we always have freeze ups, along with a few of our neighbors, various methods still burst pipes, and something that will get it thawed before the whole pipe freezes would be valuable.

    4. It sounds like you are talking about an arc welder, and it is absolutely not a do it yourself thing.

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