If you ever wake up freezing in the morning, or you come home from a winter vacation to discover that your heating system no longer works right, you might have a case of frozen pipes.
Pipes which provide the water supply are often made of copper, which contracts when it gets colder. But since water expands when it freezes, so you can how quickly this problem can rupture into a major situation in your home. Here are some signs to look for and ways to troubleshoot the problem.
How to tell if there’s a problem
Here are a few situations which could indicate that you have frozen water pipes:
- If you turn on a faucet and instead of normal water flow, you get a trickle, drip, or nothing at all, chances are good your pipes have frozen. Time to troubleshoot.
- If you hear air gurgling or you hear sputtering sounds, then your pipes are possibly frozen but they could also be leaking. Time to troubleshoot, but be ready to call a plumber.
- If you hear unusual but persistent clanking sounds or smell an unpleasant odor, there may be additional issues. Time to troubleshoot, but get ready to call a plumber and possibly the water utility service if you have one. They may need to shut off your home’s main water valve so the plumber can fix the leak.
A water line directly exposed to the elements will freeze soon after outside temperatures fall to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but water lines within a home can also be susceptible to freezing if the heating system isn’t functioning properly, the pipe area is unheated space, or the thermostat is set too low to keep all parts of the home above freezing.
Bring a thermometer with you as you inspect your home to help you identify the problem spot. A frozen pipe might be identified in a few different ways:
- There is visible frost on the pipe.
- There is a visible bulge in the pipe.
- The area surrounding the pipe was 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for more than one hour.
Once you’ve identified the problem area, you need to turn the faucet on and find a way to safely bring heat to the problem area. If it’s a simple matter of leaving a door open and turning up the thermostat slightly, wait 30 minutes to an hour and then check the water flow. If the area in question is outside of the heated area of your home, you may need to get creative; this could include using heat tape, space heaters, an electric blanket, a hair dryer, or even microwaved towels or neck wraps.
Several kinds of light bulbs emit a fair amount of heat, so in a confined space, even a lightbulb can thaw out a pipe or even prevent it from freezing. If these measures don’t resolve your issues, then it’s time to call an experienced plumbing company like Drain Doctor Covina to resolve the problem.
Remember: water and electricity do not mix. If you see icicles hanging from the pipe or a visible bulge in the pipe, there is a fair chance the pipe will begin leaking as soon as it is thawed, so keep a bucket handy, locate any shutoff valves ahead of time in case of a leak, and above all, do not place electrical cords on the floor where they could be exposed to leaking water.
Place electrical cords or heaters in an elevated location or even use masking-tape to elevate cords upon a wall, but always keep your safety in mind when troubleshooting. If at any time you are not comfortable with a situation, call a professional contractor immediately.
Once you’ve got your faucets flowing normally again, thoroughly monitor the affected area to make sure there aren’t any leaks, as even a minor leak might lead to mold, mildew, or even electrical issues down the road.