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Ice, Ice, Baby: How to Unfreeze Pipes and Avoid Huge Problems
It’s no secret to Ohioans that we face some seriously cold winters. The average January low is 22 degrees and every winter we face around ten days of 10-degree weather.
When outside temperatures hover around 20 degrees, your pipes are at risk of freezing. Frozen pipes can crack or burst and the risk of flooding is high.
Why put your home and wallet at risk when a few simple steps can prevent such costly damage?
Read on to find out how to unfreeze pipes and get through the winter season stress-free!
Identifying Frozen Pipes
The first thing you need to know is how to recognize the warning signs that your pipes are frozen.
Visually inspect visible pipes on below-freezing days. The pipes that are most at risk are the ones in spaces with poor or low insulation. This may be your basement or crawlspace.
Look for a coating of frost on the outside of a pipe. Look, too, for pipes that appear swollen or taut. Water expands when it freezes, applying pressure to your pipes and becomes worse when flowing water is trapped behind those frozen chunks.
Not all homes have accessible plumbing. If you can’t access your most vulnerable pipes, turn to your faucets and toilets for signs of trouble. If you open a tap or flush a toilet and no water comes out, you may have a frozen pipe or two somewhere in your plumbing system.
How to Unfreeze Pipes
Before you set to unfreezing your pipes, shut off your water supply. Some homes are equipped with individual shut-off valves that only cut off certain sections of plumbing. If yours does not, you will have to find your main water shut-off valve.
The main water shut-off valve will be located either in the basement or on the outside of the house in an area that provides access to other utilities. Shutting off this valve cuts off the water supply to the entire house. To do so, turn the valve counter-clockwise until it is no longer movable.
Shutting off the water supply will prevent flooding while you thaw your frozen pipes. There may be cracks in your frozen pipes that you haven’t noticed because the frozen water is blocking the crack from becoming a leaking point. Once that water thaws, however, all of that pressure is released and the cracks can worsen and release water into your home.
Once the water supply is shut off, open all of your faucets to release the water that is trapped in your pipes. Use a hairdryer, space heater, or heating lamp to increase the flow of warm air to the frozen pipe. You can also purchase heat tape and wrap frozen pipes with it.
Work from the point that is closest to your faucets and move in the opposite direction. That way, thawing water will be able to exit through the faucets rather than building up behind water that is still frozen.
Do not, under any circumstances, apply an open flame to a frozen pipe. Not only can this corrode your plumbing but it can start a fire in your home.
What to Do If Your Pipes Burst
If you don’t unfreeze your pipes in time to prevent bursting, the first thing you’ll need to do is shut off your main water supply valve.
Next, call an experienced pro for plumbing repair services! Your pipes will need repair before you can safely turn your water supply back on. Whether your pipes are accessible from the basement or crawlspace or embedded in the walls, a professional will need to come in and get the job done for you.
How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing
Taking a few preventative measures to keep your pipes from freezing is an easy and cost-effective way to avoid an emergency this winter.
Wrap exposed and vulnerable pipes with insulation. This is cheaper than the heated tape you may need if your pipes are already frozen and can be purchased at most hardware stores.
Add extra insulation to cold areas of the house such as the basement and crawlspace. Caulk any holes or cracks you find in the exterior walls. You can even run a space heater for an hour or two at a time in these spaces as long as you check intermittently that it is not overheating.
On nights with extremely low temperatures, keep your thermostat set a little bit higher. Keep your taps open just enough that it drips, ensuring that the water in your pipes doesn’t reach a full stand-still. Sitting water is prone to freezing faster than running water.
Finally, consider replacing old pipes if you find that your pipes are freezing frequently in the winter months. Pipes do wear down over time and a thin or corroding pipe may not stand up to cold temperatures well. You may want to invest in newer plumbing that is designed with extra insulation.
Don’t Let Frozen Pipes Become an Emergency Situation
Whether your pipes are old or new or your house is well-insulated or poorly insulated, it’s important to know how to unfreeze pipes. In fact, anyone in Ohio will tell you that this is a basic skill any Ohioan homeowner should have!
They’ll also tell you that all things considered, your best bet is to call in a plumber. It’s better to hire a professional that can take care of your frozen pipes the right way than wind up with a flooded basement!
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