How to unfreeze water pipes and lines in house and apartment. 3 Easy Steps

How do you unfreeze a water pipe? If the pipe has been frozen in your home or business, water may be dripping from it and causing extensive damage. Therefore it is essential that you can warm up the pipes before this happens. Fortunately, there are many methods of thawing pipes.


If the hot or cold water pipes have burst

If the pipes have burst, it is essential that you turn off the main water supply to the house. This is a valve that can be found where the water enters your home. It is possible that this is located outside your house and under the ground. Call your plumber to close off the water as holes in pipes can become bigger. Often a lot of people have this problem at the same time so let’s take a look at temporary fixes:

Water pipes are generally made out of copper, steel, or plastic (PEX). Water that is cold will expand and push on your pipes.

*Steel will not break very easily as the pipes are quite thick and heavy. You can add some tape over the hole to temporarily fix it.

Frozen copper pipes in a garage.

*Copper (red pipes) is very likely to tear when the water in it freezes. If this happens, you can cut off a part with a pipe cutter. Then you can add a stopper (or end cap) to the end as a temporary fix. This just slides over the end of your pipe.

A plumber can come later on to fix it properly. Copper conducts heat quite well so if you heat up the room, the water in it will start flowing again quite soon. Warm it up gradually so that the ice can melt step by step.

Plastic can also break quite easily. The advantage of a PEX system is that it is often easier to isolate pipes so that you can focus your efforts on these. Turn off the valve of the pipe that is broken. This stops the water flow. You can cut the pipe if it is accessible and add an end cap as well (check the diameter of your pipes before you buy this). These are really cheap and easy to install. Plastic can deform when it is exposed to heat so don’t bring a strong heat source (such as a flame) close to it.

What to do if your pipes freeze? Quick thawing techniques

If the pipes have not burst but the water is already very cold, you can follow these steps. 

Step 1: Remove any obstructions and debris from the pipe.

Step 2: Warm up the room where the pipes are located. You might need to get an electric heater to do this. Using electric tape is also an option. This is a type of tape that you attach to the pipe and heats it up with electricity. Anything that can provide heat to the pipes can work. PVC can melt so don’t expose it to heat directly.

Make sure that the water doesn’t freeze again as the expansion and contraction of the water can really break your pipes. Pipes can deal with some pressure but if they get exposed to it multiple times, they are going to break. You can also try a hairdryer if there is a small area that has been frozen. Be careful when you do this though and take the necessary safety measures. Warm them up gradually as big changes in temperature in a short period of time can expand the water. Open a faucet while you do this to get the water flowing.

Step 3:  Open a tap. This will get the water flowing. Water that moves is likely to freeze. Close the valve of any outside pipes as this often brings cold inside the house. Remove garden hoses immediately.

Step 4: Check for leaks. These can be behind walls or under floors. Listen and use your hand to check this. You can also use a heat-sensing camera. A small leak can already create a lot of damage so spend some time looking around and make sure that there are no problems. You can also check your water meter (more about this below). You can turn of the water if you are unsure.

How to avoid frozen water pipes and lines: prepare for winter

If you live in an area that experiences a lot of cold weather, you may want to invest in extra insulation around the plumbing of your home or business. Even in warmer areas, this can be useful as the pipes are running outside and during a colder period, they can break. Improving insulation can help reduce the risk of frozen pipes because it will help protect your plumbing from cold temperatures. Adding a foam cup (faucet cover) over your outside faucets is also a great idea.

Adding electric heat tape that you can wrap around your pipes is also a great idea.

You may also need to repair any leaks within your home or business before freezing occurs. You can consider heating up the attic if your pipes run there.

You should install a frost-free faucet outside and remove your garden hose. This makes sure that this part of your plumbing system doesn’t break.

Heating your house is the best way to avoid pipes from freezing. You can add a sensor to your drains as well.

Finally, leave a faucet dripping. Water that is flowing is less likely to freeze.

How to check for water leaks after the pipes have been warmed up

If you suspect there is a leak, it’s important to check the water pipes. A quick and easy way to do this is by wrapping a towel around your hand, near the pipe. If you feel warm or wet, then you may have a leak. Be sure to contact a professional if this test confirms the presence of water. If the leak is behind a wall or under the floor, it can be difficult to detect it. If you hear the water flow, it can be an indication that something is going wrong.

The best way to do this is to check your water meter (call your city if you don’t know where this is located). Turn off all taps and equipment. Note down the number that you see on the water meter. Wait 15 minutes and see if the number is still the same (it can change slightly). If it isn’t, you might have a leak somewhere. You can find this by closing parts of your system. Then you check the water meter again. This can give you an indication of where the leak is. Plumbers have heat cameras and water detectors to further locate a leak. Often the insurance company will cover a leak so check with them as well.

How to thaw frozen pipes underground

A thawing machine can be used for this. These are two electric elements that heat up the pipe. Plumbers often have these or you can rent them. This can thaw pipes in about 10 minutes.

The following method can be used when only your pipes under the ground have frozen and the other pipes are working fine.

1. Shut off the main water supply. You open up the pipes in two places above the ground and add a valve between them. One valve needs to supply the water, the other one has a drain added.

2. We are going to add water to the underground pipes. Do this slowly

3. Drain the water as needed.

4. Once the water is flowing again, warm up the room where the pipes are located. You can close the pipes again once the water is flowing.

5. Check for leaks. You can use your hand or the water meter (see above).

Will frozen pipes thaw on their own?

If the weather is improving, they will thaw on their own. The pipes might break though so you should try the steps that we discussed before to avoid this issue. Preparing for winter is essential as a homeowner. It can be very expensive to repair broken pipes and you might have to leave the house for several months while they are fixing it.

A lot of people want to save money by turning down the heater. This can lead to problems as pipes can burst and the house can get flooded!

How long does it take for pipes to unfreeze?

This depends on the weather, temperature in the room, the size of the pipes, and how much water has been frozen. It can take a few days before all the water has been unfrozen. You can use the steps that we outlined before to speed the process up. With the right method, it can be done in as little as 10 minutes. Often it is best to warm them up gradually and then it can take an hour or longer.

Heating up the room is the easiest way to speed up the process. Be wary of leaks as pipes can burst quite easily if they have been exposed to cold and expanding water.

Is water damage insured?

Water damage is a common problem that comes with owning a home. If the pipes freeze, you will need to call someone who specializes in freezing and thawing pipes in order to unfreeze them. If your insurance plan covers this type of damage, they may reimburse you for the service. Texas had a lot of damage during the winter of 2021 as the power went out for a while. Let’s take a look at what it takes to fix a house after this.

There might be a limit to how much they payout. It is also possible that you have to pay the first few thousand dollars. Be sure to contact them as soon as possible. In some instances, they will want to see pictures and get an overview of the damage. Some insurance companies even want to send an inspector before they approve your payment. 

Do frozen pipes burst?

Yes, frozen water pipes can burst. Water expands when it is cold and this can put pressure on the pipes. The pipes can give in and tear open. There is a lot of pressure on the water and this can really damage your house or business if it is not taken care of immediately if this happens. First, turn off the main water valve of your home or business. This makes sure that no new water enters the system after it has broken.

There are 3 main materials used for water pipes: steel, copper, and plastic (or PEX). Steel is mainly used in older buildings and is quite strong. Copper can tear quite easily if water expands because it is freezing. This is bad news as copper pipes can run behind walls so it can take a while to see a leak. We discussed before how you can detect this. Plastic pipes can also freeze quite easily. The advantage of these is that they are more spread out and a leak is often quite easy to stop as you have a valve close to where the pipe starts. 

 Therefore it is essential that you make sure that the water in your pipes doesn’t freeze. This can be done by adding isolation over them and making sure that the temperature of the room where they are in doesn’t drop too much.

People often underestimate how much water can come free in a short period of time. There is a lot of pressure on city water!

At what temperature do pipes freeze

As soon as the temperature is about to hit the freezing point, you have to start to worry (or just prepare).

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. However, what you might not know is the answer to the age old question: “At what temperature do pipes freeze?”

We’re going to tell you now. To find out the answer, start by knowing how much heat your pipe will lose when it freezes. The pipe’s thermal conductivity, which is its ability to conduct heat, is inversely proportional to its cross-sectional area. This means that the more surface area there is on a pipe, the better it will hold heat and the colder it will get. If you remember this rule of thumb, we’ll give you an easy formula for finding out exactly what temperature your pipe will freeze at:

T= 0.33*(P/A)^0.5

T= Temperature in Celsius

P= Pipe Length in Meters

A= Cross-Sectional Area of Pipe in Square Meters.