Winter Plumbing Care and Maintenance

Thawing Frozen Pipes

The weather here today is resembling the arctic tundra. Seriously. It got me thinking about making some seasonal guides to plumbing care and maintenance. I’ll work on getting a comprehensive guide out for the future but in the meantime, I thought I would address a fairly common problem that really freaks people out – Frozen Pipes (cue dramatic music)

Frozen pipes, while scary sounding, are rarely a cause for concern – if handled properly it’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. Where you see problems arise with frozen pipes is when you have an already degraded section of pipe that can be blown out due to the expansion of water when it freezes or more commonly damage that can occur when folks try to thaw pipes out too aggressively – like with a blowtorch. So let’s deal with things one at a time; first what to do if you have a burst pipe – simply get the water shut off and assess where the pipe burst( you do know where your emergency shut off valves are right?) – typically it’s going to be outside or if you live somewhere really cold it could be in an unheated part of the home like a crawlspace . Next, determine if you can fix the leak yourself or if you need to call your friendly local plumber. These types of jobs, although serious, are actually really easy to fix and shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred bucks. If you have the right tools you can DIY. Prevention is always easier than repair – frozen pipes are easy to avoid if you shut off the water source going to your outside fixtures , just remember to leave the outside taps turned on that way if there is any expansion the water has somewhere to go.

How to thaw a frozen pipe.

Slow and steady is the name of the game here. The danger comes when people start taking a blowtorch to their plumbing – this is not smart. Every year you hear stories of a homeowner burning down their house because they were playing with fire (literally) . Pipes are pretty much always laid close to the structure – which is usually flammable, so fire is a no-no. Instead, use something like a hair dryer, and just take your time. It’s shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so depending on what type of pipes you have until you hear the water flowing again. Using a more gentle heating method can prevent steam blowouts. Think of it like this – if you have a pipe that is plugged at both ends with ice and apply a blowtorch to the middle you are going to create steam which can create pressure. This pressure will look for the weakest point of the pipe to escape, and if you’re unlucky that could be the point right in front of your face . Again, not good.

I hope to get a longer guide out that can provide some more direction to help with winter plumbing issues – in the meantime, feel free to get in touch if you have a specific question.