How to Thaw Frozen Pipes in a Wall
Frozen pipes are one of the most common plumbing problems that homeowners encounter during the winter season. Frozen pipes that are inside a wall are extra tricky because they cannot be thawed directly under normal circumstances. In this article, we’ll discuss safe thawing methods and a few fundamentals about the phenomenon of frozen pipes.
Let’s get started!
At What Temperature Do Pipes Typically Freeze?
Pipes usually freeze when the outside temperature is -7 C or lower, but, similar to how ice cubes take time to form inside a freezer, this temperature needs to be sustained for six hours or more for it to freeze your pipes.
Pipes in typically uninsulated places (e.g. basements, garages, crawl spaces) are usually the first ones to freeze when outside temperatures plummet. Additionally, pipes that run along the exterior walls of your home are more likely to freeze because such walls are in closer contact with the outside elements.
What Are the Signs That I am Dealing With Frozen Pipes?
If you are dealing with exposed pipes, simply looking at the pipe can give you a hint about whether or not it is frozen. Pipes inside the walls are a different story; you’ll need to look at other clues, such as the following:
- Decreased or zero water flow in the faucet or shower connected to the pipe
- Clanging, gurgling, or banging sounds coming from the pipe
- Groaning sounds coming from the water heater
In more advanced stages where the frozen pipe inside the wall has already sustained a crack or has burst, you may observe the following signs:
- The affected wall is warped or stained for no clear reason
- The paint or wallpaper on the affected wall is peeling off
How Do I Locate Frozen Pipes Inside the Wall?
With some patience and working knowledge of your home’s pipe network, you can take steps to deduce where the frozen pipe is. It’s important to note, however, that time is truly of the essence here. A frozen pipe that’s left for too long will eventually crack. Therefore, it’s always best to contact an expert emergency plumber to get the job done quickly and safely.
If you would like to take the initiative of zeroing-in on the frozen pipe while the plumber is on his way, here are steps that you can try:
1. Eliminate Exposed Pipes from the List
As mentioned above, exposed pipes are often the first ones to freeze. Before proceeding with the next steps, check if the ice blockage is visibly in the feeder pipes or other exposed pipes in your home. Don’t forget to check any exposed pipes near the affected faucet or shower. This is how to tell if exposed pipes are frozen:
- You’ll be able to see icy residues on the pipe or it might have condensation
- You’ll be able to see a slight bulge along the pipe
2. Determine the Scope of the Problem
If you’re sure the problem isn’t within one of your home’s exposed pipes, then here’s what you need to do next. Try turning on all the faucets and water fixtures within the house and take note of the ones that aren’t working. This is valuable information for your plumber too, so whether you find the frozen pipe or not, this step pays off.
If all the faucets within a single room aren’t working, it means that the frozen pipe is one that splits from the main line on that floor. However, if all faucets and water fixtures on the same floor are not working, then the frozen pipe would be at the spot where the water line for the first and second floor separates. If none of the faucets and water fixtures in the house are working, then the frozen water is likely to be in the main water pipe that supplies water to the house.
3. Identify the Exact Location
Once you’ve narrowed down which pipe is likely to be affected, you can try to locate the exact location where freezing has taken place. If you know where your home’s pipes are, try to feel the wall along those pipes. In some cases, if the pipe is frozen, there would be a difference in temperature that is palpable. Though this is not an exact method, it can help in certain cases.
What Can I Use to Thaw Frozen Pipes Inside the Walls Safely?
DIY thawing of frozen pipes is not recommended for pipes inside the walls because most homeowners are not able to locate them accurately. Even with the right thawing methods in place, focusing on the wrong spot can lead to mistakes that cost time. As the clock ticks, the pipe can crack or burst at any moment, ultimately leading to costly repairs.
However, in cases where you cannot secure a plumber yet or you’re waiting for a plumber to arrive and you want to make the most of your time, you can try the following safe DIY thawing methods:
Turn Up Your Thermostat
Turning up the temperature of your thermostat can help thaw frozen pipes. It’s best to use this solution straight away after detecting that a pipe is frozen. This solution saves time because it heats the whole house, therefore, you don’t need to know the exact location of the pipe for it to work!
Use An Infrared Lamp
Infrared lamps are more effective at delivering direct heat when compared to standard lamps or heaters. If you are successful in identifying where the frozen pipe is, you can try using an infrared lamp on that spot. This is best done alongside turning up the thermostat.
Expose the Pipe and Apply Direct Heat
This step is a last resort and should only be done if (1) you’re sure about where the frozen pipe is and (2) you really cannot get in touch with an expert plumber. Some homeowners would prefer to dismantle or cut into a wall (and have it repaired afterwards) than deal with water damage from a frozen pipe that is about to burst. Once you’ve found a way to expose the frozen pipe, you can use any of the following to safely apply direct heat to the pipe and thaw it:
- Electrical heating pads or blankets
- Automatic heat tapes with rubber insulation
- A towel soaked in hot water
- A hairdryer
Note: In any of the above thawing methods, keep the affected faucet or water fixture open to allow pressure to escape as the ice blockage melts. This will also give you an idea of your progress.
Caution: What to Avoid
Anything that involves direct flame should be avoided. Depending on the material of your pipes, this approach can destroy them. Furthermore, this can result in an incident of residential fire.
Who Can I Call For Help?
The moment that you observe the signs of frozen pipes, we strongly consider getting in touch with an expert plumber straight away. Time is of the essence in such situations so that you won’t have to deal with bigger issues such as cracked pipes and water damage.
PlumbWize offers top-notch residential and commercial plumbing services in the areas of Burlington, Oakville, Hamilton, Milton, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek. We ensure our customers receive reliable service and a timely response. If you are looking to thaw frozen pipes in your home or building we’ve got the right plumbing equipment to safely and quickly deal with the problem. We can also help with pipe replacements in case your frozen pipe has cracked or burst. Please feel free to give us a call!