Design & DIY

How to thaw a frozen pipe before it bursts

A 3D rendering of a leaking pipe By Phonlamai Photo/Shutterstock

1. Act quickly. Start troubleshooting as soon as you notice a drop or stop in water pressure. A small ice blockage can be quickly thawed, but wait too long and you may have to contend with burst pipes.

2. Turn off the water supply and have a mop and bucket on standby.

3. Turn up the heat. If part of your plumbing is frozen, chances are other areas may be at risk. Turn up your heat tape and heating to prevent anything else from freezing.

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4. Locate the frozen area. Turn faucets on and off along the plumbing line to find the affected area. If you get no water or just a trickle, the pipe leading to that faucet is likely frozen. Frosted pipes are a telltale sign of a frozen section. Invest in an infrared thermometer gun ($30-$100) and take temperature readings along the line until you find the frozen section. (I have also found these devices handy for troubleshooting an overheating engine, monitoring a woodburning stove, and achieving the perfect dough temperature for baking sourdough bread.)

5. Thaw the frozen section by wrapping an electric heating pad around the pipe. Ensure the affected faucet is open to relieve pressure on the system as it thaws. Alternatively, use a portable space heater or a hair dryer. Start at the section nearest the faucet and work your way back, applying heat until full water pressure has returned.

6. If your pipes have already burst or you arrive at the cottage to find the plumbing frozen solid, it’s probably time to call the plumber.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Cottage Life.

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