Dealing with Frozen Pipes

It’s that time of year again. As Calgary’s temperature continues to dip threateningly below freezing, many homeowners will be eyeing their pipes apprehensively. Lower temperatures means one thing for Calgary plumbers: plenty of frozen pipes.

Though they may seem like a minor annoyance, frozen pipes are a serious plumbing problem that should be prevented if possible. A frozen pipe can quickly become a broken and leaky pipe, and can lead to flooding. Additionally homeowners can run into serious trouble when several of their pipes freeze at once, or when the main line into their home is affected.

Some homes are more susceptible than others. If you live in an old house, your pipes may be more likely to freeze. The City of Calgary sends notifications to houses it feels are especially at risk for frozen pipes. If you’ve received one of these notices, you’ve come to the right place.

We see frozen pipes so much that we thought we’d provide the community with a guide to dealing with them. Most frozen pipes issues can be resolved without the help of a plumber and by those without much plumbing knowledge. Below, we’ll give you all the tools you need to prevent and cure frozen pipes. But if you’ve tried everything, and your pipes are still frozen, it may be time to call in the professionals.

Thawing Frozen Pipes

Sometimes all the prevention in the world will not stop a pipe from freezing. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to take action as quickly as possible: you don’t want a broken pipe on your hands. Follow the steps below to get the water flowing again:

  1. Find the blockage. Follow the pipe to find the frozen area. In some cases, there may be several locations that have frozen, but it’s very unlikely that the entire length of the pipe will have gotten cold enough to freeze. Once you find the frozen area, it’s time to get to work.

  2. Open the faucet. This serves several purposes. If there is even a slight flow of water, you’ll want to encourage that. This will allow warmer water to pass through the partial blockage, help it melt. It will also relieve pressure within the pipe, reducing the likelihood of a breakage. Finally, it will give you a quick way to tell if the pipe is thawing: if you see more water, you’re on the right track.

  3. Apply heat. Warm the frozen area with a space heater, a blow dryer, or even a hot towel. Do not leave leave any heaters unattended as they can be fire hazards. Also, do not under any circumstances use a blowtorch or flame of any kind. This can cause a fire or melt through piping.

  4. If all else fails… call a plumber.

Prevention

Ideally, it’s best if your pipes never freeze at all. In Calgary that may seem like a bit too much to ask for, but with a little know-how and patience, you can prevent the inconvenience of freezing pipes. Follow the steps below to give your pipes the best possible chance:

  1. Identify pipes that are at risk of freezing. You’re looking for pipes that run through colder areas of your house, places like the basement, garage, crawl space, or attic. Pipes in these areas will require insulating. Rarely do pipes run outside a home, but we’ve witnessed it occasionally. These pipes will have to be rerouted.

  2. Insulate the pipes in your problem areas. You might want to consider buying products that are specially made to insulate pipes, such as pipe sleeves or insulating tape. We’ve also seen DIY insulation jobs that use newspaper, though we’ve found that to be less effective.

  3. Inspect your problem pipes regularly. Look for signs of freezing, like frost and ice. Try touching the pipes with a finger–pipes in danger of freezing will be so cold as to be painful. If you find leaky or burst pipes, call a plumber immediately.

Winter Preparation

When the cold weather hits, sometimes even the best insulation job is not enough. It can be helpful to think of frozen pipes as a heating problem–after all, the problem is really a lack of heat to the pipes themselves. So to give your pipes the best chance, you’ll want to make sure that they get adequate heat.

Remember that you’re not only avoiding the inconvenience of a lack of running water, you’re also preventing the pipes from rupturing. The best way to do this is to build a few steps into your winter preparation routine.

  1. Winterize your hose. Close the valves to any faucets outside the house and drain them. This will prevent the outdoor pipes from breaking, and it will help keep those pipes warmer, stopping the spread of cold from outdoor pipes to pipes that run alongside them.

  2. Let the heat in. Allow more air to circulate to the colder places in your house by opening them up as much as possible. Leave the cupboard doors under the sink ajar. Open up the door to your crawl space. Get that heat circulating.

  3. Keep the heat on. If you have your thermostat programmed to shut the furnace off at night, you could be putting your pipes at risk of freezing. Consider leaving the heat on at night. It may be worth the higher heating bill.

  4. Open the faucet. Flowing water, even at a trickle, is less likely to freeze than standing water. When it gets very cold, it’s a good idea to open the faucets that are served by your problem pipes just a crack. This will also keep pressure from building in the event of a frozen pipe.

Don’t Panic

Frozen pipes are a fixable problem. If they’re dealt with quickly, they aren’t likely to lead to any complications. But the best cure, as always, is prevention. Keeping your pipes insulated and heated will keep most blockages from even occurring.

We hope the above guide has been helpful. Following these steps with fix most problems with freezing pipes. If you’re still having difficulty, don’t hesitate to call Knight.