Having a pipe freeze may not sound like a big deal. Water won't come out of the pipe until it thaws, but you can make do for a day or so, right? As it turns out, the concern with frozen pipes is not the lack of water until they thaw, but instead the real possibility that a frozen pipe may burst. Water is a unique compound in that it expands as it freezes. The pressure of the ice on the walls of the pipe may cause it to burst—spewing water all over your home. Within minutes, you could have thousands of dollars' worth of water damage to repair.
As winter approaches, it's therefore important to know how you can prevent frozen pipes. You should also learn what to do if you do come across a frozen pipe in your home.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
Frozen pipes are mostly a concern in older homes without a lot of insulation in the walls or around the pipes. The ideal solution would be to have blown-in insulation added to your walls, or to hire a plumber to wrap insulation around all of your pipes. However, both of these approaches can be costly. If you're in a limited budget, here are a few ways to keep pipes thawed in the meantime.
Leave Cabinets Open
Many kitchens have pipes running behind the exterior walls. With the cabinets closed, not a lot of warm air circulates past these pipes, so they are liable to freeze on very cold nights. To prevent freezing, get in the habit of leaving your kitchen cabinets open on the coldest nights.
Leave the Heat On
You may be tempted to turn the heat off or down low when you are away from home, but turning it too low may lead to frozen pipes. Leave the thermostat turned to at least 60 at all times, even when you're out of town. Have someone stop by when you're out of town to check the pipes and make sure the thermostat is still running.
Turn the Tap On
If you have a pipe that you're worried about, turn the tap on at that pipe. It does not have to be on very much—just a few drops of water per minute trickling out of the faucet will keep the water moving fast enough to prevent freezing.
What To Do About a Frozen Pipe
Should you come across a pipe that is frozen, there are three big things to do.
Turn off the Water
Find the valve that controls water flow to the pipe that is frozen. Turn the water supply off so that additional water does not keep trying to flow through the pipe and increase the pressure. If the valve is a little stuck, add some lubrication to encourage it to turn more freely.
Thaw the Pipe Gently
You don't want to heat the pipe up too fast, especially if it is old. You could crack the pipe if you do. Instead, turn a hair dryer to a "warm" setting, and move it back and forth over the pipe. The water will slowly melt, and the water will start flowing again.
Consider Calling the Plumber
If you get the water flowing again and you do not see any leaks, there is no need to call the plumber immediately—but you will want to have a plumber come out to perform an inspection in the next week or so. They can look over the pipe to make sure there are no micro-cracks caused by the freezing, and they can also make recommendations regarding insulation for the pipes.