Updated: May 18
After shoveling a foot of snow off of your driveway just so you can get to work, you deserve a nice, hot shower. But instead of the powerful, heated waterfall you have come to expect, all you feel are a few drips on your head. It looks like that winter storm did more than stop up the driveway. At least one of the hundreds of pipes crisscrossing your home has frozen.
If you only knew which one.
We here at HeatCable.com know a bit about frozen pipes (actually, we know quite a lot, but hey, we’re trying to be modest). For starters, you’re on a race against the clock to find and fix your frozen pipe before it bursts. And while your pipes can handle some freezing and thawing, the resulting water expansion and pressure increases make them much more susceptible to rupture.
In light of this, our electric heating tape experts have come up with a few tips you can use to try and find that frozen pipe as soon as possible and take care of it.
Brrrr! It's Cold in Here
You want to begin your search in the coldest areas of your home, such as the basement, crawl space, attic, unheated bedrooms, and exterior walls. Exposed pipes in those spots have the highest chance of freezing over and causing problems. Look for pipes that have a layer of condensation on the outside. Frozen condensation will look white, and the line will be ice cold to the touch. Other signs of freezing include small surface cracks or bulging and odors emanating from the pipe itself or the sink to which it's connected.
Go With the Flow
Another excellent way to scout out a frozen pipe is to turn all your faucets on and in the 'hot' water position. This will help you narrow down the problem area and let you know if you might have other frozen pipes elsewhere. You already know the showerhead doesn't work. What about all the sink faucets? The wash machine line? The taps in the kitchen? For example, if all your bathroom faucets have little or no water and the rest of the house does, then the frozen section may be near the split in the main water line that feeds into the bathroom. However, if the faucets in the entire house fail to produce anything, you're likely looking at an issue around your home's primary water source. An added advantage to leaving the faucets on is that warm water dribbling through the pipes may help thaw the frozen section and solve your problem over time. This is especially helpful if you're dealing with an interior pipe hidden in the wall. At the very least, letting the water run for a while beats tearing up your drywall.
The Big Thaw
Once you have located the culprit (or culprits) that stands between you and your hot shower, it's time to get your tools. What you need:
Electric heating pad
Towel doused with warm water
There's no particular order to use the approved methods listed above. You may use all three, and you may only use one; it doesn't matter. The key is to take your time. You have probably heard the phrase, "Slow and steady wins the race." Well, that applies to thawing frozen pipes, as well. What you absolutely DON'T need:
Kerosene or Propane heater
Charcoal stove, any open flame
Using any superheating methods like torches or flames could compromise your pipe and cause it to burst. That will make a bigger mess and set you back hundreds of dollars. Or worse, it could set the area surrounding the pipe, or yourself, on fire and cause even more significant problems.
Fight Future Freezes
You can fend off frozen pipe issues by taking some simple steps. One increasingly popular method is to use heat trace tape or cable. By applying self-regulating heat trace cable to your water lines located in the colder spots of your home, you can ensure that the ambient temperature surrounding your pipe will never fall below freezing. Encasing the line with insulation further protects it by keeping the heat produced by the cable around the pipe instead of bleeding off into the air. The dribble method also works well. By leaving your faucets on overnight, you can keep the water flowing inside the pipes just enough to prevent freezing in sub-zero temperatures. Consider opening the cabinet doors under sinks that back up to exterior walls, too, allowing the warm air from your home to circulate underneath. Finally, cover and insulate hose bibs and other outdoor faucets that come into your home through the basement or around the foundation. The excess water left in these pipes can quickly freeze and burst, leaving your foundation or your basement flooded. Electric heating tape also works well in these areas.