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How to Prevent Frozen Indoor Pipes This Winter & What to Do If They Happen in Your Indiana Home

frozen pipes

Here in the Hoosier State, frozen pipes are a common issue once the winter’s freezing temperatures set in. Frozen water pipes are most likely to occur throughout the entire house along unheated exterior walls and in areas with exposed pipes running through crawl spaces, unfinished garages, and basements. Freezing pipes aren’t only a risk with inside pipes, but outside water pipes, too, impacting swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, outdoor hose bibs, and other exterior water supply pipes.

When plumbing pipes freeze, whether they are metal or plastic pipes, serious problems can occur. As ice forms in the pipes, low to no water pressure is often the first noticeable warning signs. As water freezes, water expands and blocks the pipe, causing flowing water behind it to place tremendous pressure on the frozen area – this can lead to a burst pipe if you are unable to quickly thaw pipes and stop pipes from freezing. Pipe bursts can create significant leaks in cold water supply pipes, resulting in major damage from water remaining in unwanted areas if you are unable to drain water right away.

To avoid serious damage to your home and plumbing system this winter, it’s important that you take steps to prevent pipes from freezing. Williams Comfort Air shares preventative measures to help you avoid frozen pipes when temperatures drop, such as installing heat cable or heat tape, keeping garage doors closed, and opening cabinet doors. If you do encounter a frozen pipe this winter, our plumbing pros explain the thawing process to thaw frozen pipes and how to correctly apply heat to melt ice using items available in your home, such as an electric heating pad, hair dryer, heat lamp, portable space heater, or even towels soaked in hot water. Also, learn what not to use as you thaw a frozen pipe, such as a propane torch, propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device that could ignite flammable materials and damage your plastic pipes.

Home Improvement Ideas to Help Prevent Frozen Pipes

You’re most likely to have a frozen pipe along exterior walls or in areas of the home that have exposed pipes yet are either not heated or lack ample insulation, like your crawl space or basement. You can help keep pipes from freezing in the winter by installing protection for vulnerable water pipes and increasing insulation levels in those unheated areas to lessen the cold air that surrounds your exposed pipes.

  • Insulating sleeves can be installed directly around an exposed pipe. Fiberglass or foam pipe sleeves are affordable and can be found at your favorite home improvement store. If you have water pipes exposed in your unfinished basement, garage, or crawl space, installing these wraps is often a quick and easy DIY job. This material helps prevent freezing pipes by helping the pipe retain heat as well as shielding the pipe from the surrounding chilly air.
  • Heat cable and heat tape are products that can be installed directly on pipes to generate warmth and safeguard against frozen water pipes. Options are available for both metal or plastic pipes. The tape is easily installed, wrapped around the exterior of the pipes and plugged into an electrical outlet. A built-in thermostat activates the electric elements once the pipe drops to a certain temperature, warming it to help you avoid freezing pipes.
  • Crawl spaces, garages, and basements where water pipes often run can lack insulation because these areas are not typically heated along with the rest of the home. To help these areas retain heat and reduce the risk of frozen pipes, adding insulation to these spaces is beneficial. Fiberglass batts, foam board insulation, and other types of insulation can be used, depending on the application.
  • Air sealing crawl spaces, garages, and basements that house exposed pipes will also help you limit the possibility of a frozen pipe this winter. Use silicone or expanding foam caulk to close gaps that allow freezing air to infiltrate these areas from the outdoors.
  • Installing pressure relief valves along water supply pipes can help prevent frozen pipes from becoming burst pipes. These valves will alleviate pressure within the pipe that occurs as water expands into ice, so that pipe walls aren’t stressed by the tremendous pressure and burst open. Your plumber can complete this project to help prevent freezing water lines in your home.

Ways to Prevent Freezing in Your Pipes When Low Temperatures Are Expected

Frozen pipes generally become a risk for pipes inside your home once outdoor temperatures fall to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for periods of six hours or more at a time. Frozen pipes are much more likely to occur along an exterior wall versus inner areas of the home, as there isn’t as much warm air the farther away you move from the center of the house. Unheated spaces such as crawl spaces and unfinished basements aren’t kept at the same temperature as the home’s living areas, putting water supply pipes in these areas at a greater risk of becoming frozen pipes.

When you expect outdoor temperatures to fall to or below 20 degrees for long periods of time, there are some security practices you should use to prevent pipes from freezing in these spaces and protect all pipes throughout the home.

  • Open cabinet doors below sinks, especially those positioned along the home’s exterior walls. With these doors opened, warmer air from the home’s living areas will be able to circulate into the space, helping to warm pipes within the walls.
  • Keep garage doors closed if you have any water pipes running through this area of your home. Doing so will help the space retain any heat that it holds as well as prevent the freezing air from outdoors from making its way into the areas around your pipes.
  • When you expect low outdoor temperatures, it can be helpful to turn up the heat inside your home a few degrees beyond the heating temperature you typically maintain. This will add warmer air to help stop pipes from freezing.
  • You can add heat to areas vulnerable to frozen pipes by temporarily running space heaters. The addition of heated air during extremely cold periods will help protect the piping exposed in these spaces and help protect pipes from freezing.
  • Don’t be tempted to turn off your home’s heating system or reduce temperatures too much in attempts to save money on heating costs while away from home this winter, as you could increase the likelihood of frozen pipes. The absolute minimum temperature you should set your thermostat is 55 degrees, but keeping your living areas in the 60- to 68-degree range will be safer for your indoor pipes.
  • Keep each faucet open slightly, allowing water to flow out at a slow drip. With the faucet open, water continues to move through the pipe which helps stop pipes from freezing. This also relieves pressure from within the one pipe, should water freeze in the line – the pipe will be less likely to burst.

What to Do When You Have a Frozen Pipe

If you have a frozen pipe along unheated exterior walls or elsewhere in your home, you need to move fast to prevent damage to the pipe as well as the house. Identify the frozen area and start the thawing process right away. If you have trouble finding the frozen area or are unable to thaw frozen pipes yourself, call your plumber for emergency service immediately.

Locate Frozen Area in Pipe

It’s important to find the frozen area so you know where to target your efforts for thawing the pipe. Ice can form in the supply line to a specific plumbing fixture, the supply pipes leading into a particular area of the home, or in the main line that supplies water throughout the entire house.

  • If you have pipes exposed in an unheated basement, attic, garage, or crawlspace, check these areas first. If pipes are accessible, use your hand to feel along the pipe and see if you can pinpoint the frozen area by touch.
  • If you are able to visually assess pipes, look for signs of a frozen spot, including condensation on the exterior of the pipe, an area of white frost on the exterior of the pipe, cracks on the pipe’s exterior, and/or bulging sections of pipe.
  • One at a time, turn on each faucet in your home to observe water flow or lack thereof. Low water pressure, only a trickle of water, or no water from the faucet at all are warning signs of a frozen pipe. If you only see symptoms from one faucet, the frozen area is likely in the supply line leading to this fixture. If you have symptoms from all faucets in the area, such as in a bathroom or your kitchen, the frozen pipe may be the supply line leading from the main line to the space. If all faucets throughout your home display symptoms, the frozen spot is likely in the home’s main water line.
  • If a pipe bursts, shut off the water supply to stop the leak. Use the home’s main shutoff valve or the shutoff valve to a specific fixture’s supply line.

How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe

Once you have found the frozen area, work to quickly thaw the pipe. Add heat directly to the pipe as well as the surrounding area to raise the temperature and melt ice inside the line.

  1. Before you begin thawing the pipe, open the faucet or faucets. Doing so allows melted ice to exit the pipe so you can see when water flow returns to normal.
  2. Apply heat directly to the frozen part of the pipe. You can do this by wrapping an electric heating pad around the frozen portion, wrapping towels soaked in hot water (but not boiling) around the area, or using a hair dryer to directly heat the frozen spot from a few inches above.
  3. Help the pipe thaw faster by increasing heat around the pipe and in the area where the pipe is located. Run a portable space heater in an open area such as a basement, attic, garage, or crawlspace if it is safe to do so. Use an infrared heat lamp to warm pipes behind walls.
  4. Keep applying heat until water flow has returned to normal from the faucets.
  5. Close faucets once ice has melted fully from within the pipe.
  6. Check the pipe for damage, which can range from small cracks on the pipe’s surface to an active leak and burst pipe. Damp spots on walls can be a sign of a burst water pipe behind a wall. If active leaks are found, shut off water to the supply line or to the entire home and contact your plumber to make repairs.

Professional Help for Frozen Pipe Problems

Williams Comfort Air hopes that you will be able to avoid frozen pipes inside your home this winter with the professional tips offered above. Should you experience a frozen pipe and need a plumber’s help to thaw it quickly, our team is available 24/7/365 to assist in any plumbing emergency. Contact us now to request service.

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