Water Restoration

How to Avoid Frozen Pipes in the Winter (and Who to Call if You Can’t Avoid It)

Cincinnati/NKY is a beautiful city, especially in the winter.  From the ice rink at Fountain Square, to the Slopes at Perfect North, the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo, Luminaria and carolers, to watching the Riverwalk be adorned with wreaths and lights, the cold and snow may make for some fun snow days, however, it’s never fun coming home in the winter to pipes that have frozen and busted.  With just a few simple tips you can help keep your house winter-ready so that you don’t have frost come back and bite you…

  • First step is to Winterize your home.  Take care to clean gutters, change your furnace filters, drain your water heater once a year, disconnect outside hoses/water irrigation systems and install frost guards over your hose bibs, fill any visible cracks on the outside and inside of your house with caulk or spray foam, close any vents in your home or block them with wood or cardboard, and make sure crawl spaces are properly sealed and insulated.
  • Once Winterized, focus on your pipes, because busted pipes can be one of the most costly winter wonders.  Wonder why they burst?… To prevent that, ensure that any pipes, but especially those on the outside walls of your home, are well insulated and not near a draft/direct cold which can freeze them.  Use insulation/sleeves, wrapping, heat tape, or slip-on foam pipe insulation to get them covered, and don’t leave any gaps.  PVC and plastic piping handle colder temperatures better than old school copper, steel, or iron pipes.  Get to know your house and what type of piping it has.
  • If you are going away for the holidays, be sure to open cabinets (like under your kitchen sink etc.) so that the heat can get to them.  DO NOT leave your water slightly running while you are away.  Also, be sure not to adjust your thermostat down too far in an effort to save money.  Without your body heat in the house, and the thermostat turned way down, your pipes can crack or freeze from the change in climate.
  • If you notice there’s frost already on the piping, or if when you turn on your water there is little or no water coming out of the faucet, you must act quickly to prevent your pipe from bursting.  Water expands when it freezes, so think of a balloon getting overfull with water;-build up too much pressure from the insides expanding and it’s going to rupture or break.  Ascertain whether or not the frozen pipe is located in an area that you readily have access to or not, such as behind a wall.

If readily accessible: Let water run in the pipe, opening both the hot and the cold sides.  This takes pressure off of the system and allows the water to escape once the pipe begins to thaw.  Work your way thawing the pipe from the side closest to the faucet and then down towards the blockage, allowing the melting ice/steam that it creates to have a place to escape.  If you start thawing it right at the blockage, you run the risk of melting ice that can get stuck behind the blockage, thus creating more pressure in the pipe and leading it to burst.  Use one of the methods below to begin thawing out your pipes, and stop once the water pressure from the faucet returns to full strength:

  1. Hair Dryer- turn it on and point the heat wave at the pipe.  Continue to heat the pipe until the water unfreezes.  Take care not to touch the pipe as it will get hot.
  2. Heat Lamp/Space Heater-position the device so that the heat can reach the pipe.  Be sure to keep the heater away from any water and follow the safety instructions on the space heater.
  3. Hot Towels- wrap pipes with towels that have been dipped in hot water/warmed in the microwave.  Be careful not to burn yourself with the steam that the hot towels create
  4. Electrical Heating Tape- apply heating tape directly to the pipe, which distributes heat evenly throughout the pipe.  There are several kinds of heating tape that you can choose from: tape that you plug in and unplug, or another kind the heats up to a certain temperature and then shuts off on its own.
  5. If not readily accessible (ie the frozen pipe is behind a wall and not exposed):
  6. Increase the internal temperature of the property
  7. Infrared Lamp- If you know where the frozen pipe is in the wall, you can attempt to thaw the blockage with the lamp.  The heat from the lamp is able to penetrate the wall and defrost the pipe.
  8. Cutting out a section of the wall- you may have to (yourself or hire someone) to cut out a section of the drywall in order to access, or locate where the pipes are freezing.  Then, refer back to your method of choice as to how and thaw out the pipe.
  9. Be sure to NEVER use an open flame, such as a log lighter or propane torch, to attempt to thaw the pipe(s).  Open flames can damage the pipe further, and improper use could start a fire if you catch the wood or material behind the pipe on fire.

If a water pipe does burst, even though you’ve done your best to safeguard your house, you need to immediately turn off the main water so that no more water can come out and damage your property.  Next, you will need to call in the professionals.  First call should be to your insurance company, and then to a plumber in order to fix the leak/broken pipe itself.  After that is repaired, call Thompson Restoration to get your house back to looking like new.  We offer hardwood floor drying, water remediation and removal, cleaning, and mold cleaning and removal.  Attempting to dry it yourself and not doing it properly can lead to even more costly, and uncovered by insurance, repairs.  It’s best to leave it to a professional.  We’re here 24/7 and cover the Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Indiana areas.