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If the temperature outside drops below freezing and you notice low water pressure or banging noises when you turn on the faucet, you probably need to unfreeze your water pipes. It’s essential that you fix frozen pipes immediately—or you could end up with a burst pipe and water damage. Luckily, there are several ways to fix frozen pipes. Our guide will show you how to unfreeze your pipes quickly and efficiently.
Difficulty level: 2/5
Time required: 30 minutes
On This Page:
- Tools and Supplies
- Before You Begin
- Unfreezing Water Pipes
- Turn on Faucets
- Locate and Examine the Frozen Pipe
- Check for Leaks
- Add Salt Down the Drain
- Use a Heat Gun or Hair Dryer
- Try Heat Tape
- Wrap in Hot Towels
- Heat the Room
- Tackle Internal Freezing Pipes
- Cut Open the Wall
- Thawing a Pipe Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro
Tools and Supplies
- Infrared thermometer
- Heat gun or hair dryer
- Space heater
- Keyhole saw
- Rubber gloves
- Electrical heat tape
Before You Begin
Before you unfreeze your water pipes, you must take certain safety precautions. These include the following:
- Don’t use an open flame (e.g., candles, blowtorch, lighters) near your frozen pipes, as this can cause a house fire. Learn more about whether PEX pipes can freeze here.
- Don’t put a chemical drain cleaner down your pipe. These drain cleaners can cause a chemical reaction with the ice or pipes, leading to poisonous gas coming out of the pipe or leaking into the air.
Unfreezing Water Pipes
If your water pipes are frozen, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to unfreeze them safely and quickly. There are several ways to tackle frozen water pipes, including leaving your faucets on, applying heat with a hair dryer or heat tape, heating the entire room, and more. Below, we’ll cover all the steps you can take to thaw your frozen pipes.
1. Turn on the Faucets
Begin by turning on all the faucets in your home, including the kitchen, bathrooms, and outdoor plumbing. You can narrow down which pipe is frozen when you find a faucet with no running water. Make sure to leave all the faucets on, allowing a small amount of water to drip, as this will help loosen the ice and prevent further freezing.
2. Locate and Examine the Frozen Pipe
Check the coldest parts of your home first, such as the basement, crawl space, garage, and attic. The frozen area of the pipe will be much colder than the rest of the pipe. You can find the frozen piece by using an infrared thermometer or touching the pipe with your hand. Once you find the frozen pipe, grab a flashlight and identify any cracks.
3. Check for Leaks
If the pipe is leaking, you can control water damage by immediately turning off the main water shut-off valve and calling a plumber near you. It’s important to note that some homes also have separate water shut-off valves for different areas in your home.
4. Add Salt Down the Drain
If you turned off the faucets in your home, now is the time to turn them back on and let the water trickle through the pipes. You’ll also want to add a tablespoon of salt down the drain. Salt helps ice melt, and this can speed up the process of unfreezing your water pipes.
5. Use a Heat Gun or Hair Dryer
Take a heat gun to metal pipes or unfreeze plastic water pipes with a hair dryer (don’t use higher heat on plastic pipes). Take both devices and run them back and forth at a safe distance from the frozen pipe until the pipe thaws. In both cases, ensure heat doesn’t directly touch the pipe, as it can damage or burst.
6. Try Heat Tape
If a heat gun or hair dryer doesn’t do the trick, you can purchase electrical heat tape from the hardware store for around $25 to $40. Gently wrap the heat tape around the pipe without overlapping, plug it into a power outlet, and remove it once the frozen pipe thaws.
7. Wrap the Pipe in Hot Towels
Heat water in your sink, wear gloves, and submerge the towels in hot water. Wring them out and wrap the hot towels around the frozen pipe. Replace the towels with newly warmed ones every five to 10 minutes until the pipe unfreezes.
8. Heat the Room
If there’s no water damage, you can try heating the area surrounding the frozen pipe. Plug in heat lamps, bare incandescent bulbs, or space heaters near the pipe. You can also try to block off the exposed pipe with a sheet or tarp. But be mindful not to let the sheet touch a heat source, as this could cause a fire.
9. Tackle Internal Freezing Pipes
If your frozen pipes are inside the walls, you can take a couple of steps to thaw the pipe before opening the wall:
- Turn the heat up in your home to around 75–80 degrees Fahrenheit and leave it on for several hours.
- Locate external vents and blow a hot fan heater directly into the vent.
10. Cut Open the Wall
As a last resort, you may need to open the wall to prevent a leaky pipe from bursting. Take a keyhole saw to cut through your drywall. Once you’ve located the frozen pipe, try any of the above methods to thaw it.
Thawing a Pipe Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro
You can thaw a frozen pipe yourself if you have the necessary tools and supplies—and if you’re willing to take the time and effort to unfreeze the pipe yourself. However, you’ll want to pay for the cost of hiring a plumber if the frozen pipe is cracked or leaking.
You can expect to pay between $45 and $200 per hour for this service. But if it’s an emergency, such as water flooding your basement, you’ll pay between $70 and $400 per hour to have a pro come out immediately.
What should I do if my pipe bursts?
The cost to repair a burst pipe will run between $200 and $1,000, depending on the material, labor, and overage fees. You’ll need to shut off the main water valve if your pipe bursts to prevent further water damage. Depending on where it bursts, you might also need to shut off power to that area to avoid electrocution. Next, you’ll want to call a plumber to repair or replace your burst pipe. While waiting for a plumber, start mopping up water and removing water-damaged items to prevent mold and mildew buildup.
How can I prevent my pipes from freezing?
Take several preventive measures to stop your pipes from freezing:
- Insulate pipes. The cost to insulate pipes runs from $110–$1,100 per 100 lin. ft.
- Keep your faucets open and allow water to trickle through.
- Keep bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors open.
- Keep garage doors closed.
- Repair holes and cracks in your siding or foundation.
- Keep your house temperature above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even if you’re traveling for long periods.
- Warm cold areas, such as crawl spaces, basements, or garages, with bare incandescent bulbs.
- Disconnect outdoor garden hoses and shut off that water supply once winter sets in.
How long does it take for water pipes to unfreeze?
You can expect the average pipe unfreezing process to take around 30 minutes using the thawing methods mentioned above, as long as you can increase the pipe’s temperature without rupturing it. However, it’ll take longer the more complex things get, such as the pipe’s location, the amount of time it’s frozen, and how bad the weather is outside. According to Texas A&M University, water pipes can freeze when the temperature outside drops to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
Will pouring hot water down the drain unfreeze pipes?
Pouring hot water down the drain may or may not unfreeze the pipes. It ultimately depends on the temperature outside and how long your pipe’s been frozen. Pouring boiling water down the drain can cause a sudden temperature change, leading to the pipe bursting. Boiling water can also get stuck in the pipe’s blockage and become frozen itself. Yet, slowly pouring hot water down the drain can thaw the ice and unfreeze your pipes.
Will frozen pipes unfreeze on their own?
If the temperature outside warms up, then pipes can unfreeze on their own. But waiting for the outside temperature to warm up can take a long time, and in the meantime, the frozen pipes can burst, which can cause severe damage to your home. We recommend either taking the steps listed above to unfreeze your water pipes or calling in a plumber to help thaw them.Find a Pipe Repair Pro Near You