How to Defrost Frozen Pipes
Depending on location and material, how to defrost frozen pipes is different for each circumstance.
Come winter and many people start worrying about how to defrost frozen pipes that inevitably plague most homes during the season. In places where winter is brutal, frost can take a toll not just on the plumbing system but also on the sewer system.
Trenchless Technology and Frozen Pipes
Frozen plumbing and clogged sewers can ruin the pipeline system, the yard and the home by causing leaks and bursts that can lead to the pooling of water and backflow. Pipes do not expand and contract but water does, and expanding water can stress the pipe to the point of bursting by increasing the pressure of the water between the closed water tap and the start of the ice block. A burst pipe can be expensive to repair and its best to prevent it by taking appropriate precautions before chilling temperatures set in. (Read on in "Tips on Preventing Frozen Pipes.")
One of the ways to ensure your pipes are ready for the incoming freezing season is to use trenchless technology to inspect your pipes before the onset of the season. Checking water and sewer pipes using trenchless methods such as video inspection can help determine if the pipes have experienced freeze wear. Another reason to inspect pipes would be to conduct leak detection to ensure no leaks are taking place in the plumbing system from cracks due to freeze-wear, because a small crack is capable of causing water loss of up to 250-gallons in a day. Imagine what that can do to your water bill, and over time, the damage it can cause to your house. (See "Using Trenchless Maintenance to Avoid Costly Leak Repairs.")
A worn out pipe can be repaired or replaced using trenchless rehabilitation methods such as cured-in-place pipe (CIPP), pipe bursting and sliplining. Open trenching methods to repair pipes can be expensive and messy because it will be necessary to redo the yard or replace the tiles depending on the location of the repair. Trenchless methods of rehabilitating pipes worn out due to freezing and thawing actions of the weather can be done without disturbing any part of the property. Moreover, trenchless inspections help pinpoint the problem area so that undamaged portions of the pipes do not need to be touched.
How To Defrost Frozen Pipes
Most would not have been as prepared as they should have been for problems associated with frozen pipes, mainly, restricted running water. It can affect everything from drinking water and showering to washing and cleaning. If on opening a tap no water flows out or maybe only a trickle comes out, it’s most likely due to a frozen pipe in the system. However; as with all problems there’s always a solution.
If you’re wondering how to defrost frozen pipes, here are some tried and tested ways you can defrost your frozen pipes as a temporary solution. However; to ensure that the problem does not arise again next winter, it is advisable to enlist the help of a competent plumber familiar with trenchless methods and/or a contractor that can insulate the area better.
Electric Pipe Heat Tapes
Electric pipe heat tapes are used to wrap around frozen pipes to thaw them. This tape can be plugged in and left on the pipe to prevent future freezing episodes and should only be used on exposed pipes and never for concealed pipes.
There are different tapes for different pipe materials because a tape meant for metal pipes can melt a PVC pipe. Find out if your pipes are made of cast iron, lead, galvanized steel, PVC or copper before proceeding. While doing so, look into whether or not you should replace your pipes depending on the health risks of your home's infrastructure.
It is advisable to cover the pipe with a foam wrap to save energy by preventing the dissipation of heat. Pipes that are heat taped but exposed to the atmosphere should be wrapped with waterproof insulation. Make sure all instructions laid down by the heat tape manufacturer are followed to the letter.
A Heat Lamp or an Infrared Heater
A heat lamp or an infrared heater can be used to transfer heat using electromagnetic radiation to a frozen pipe. Heat lamps can be turned on and left near the pipe or can be clipped on to the pipe to direct the heat to the desired area. Electric heating pads and blankets can also be used for this purpose. Again all necessary precautions should be taken to prevent accidents and fires.
Hair dryers are one of the more popular temporary thawing methods because it is inevitably found in every home. Hair dryers spew hot air, which help to thaw the ice. It is one of the safer methods but additional safety precautions should be taken by the person operating the device to prevent heat injuries.
Room heaters or central heating systems running at warming temperatures can be an effective method to keep the water from freezing.
While using heat lamps, hair dryers and other heating methods ensure that the tap connected to the pipe being thawed is left open. This will prevent pressure from building up and any steam generated to escape from the system. Exercise caution when using heating elements and watch for potential fire hazards. Never run space heaters or heating elements unattended.
Pipe thawing should always be started from the tap side back. While these methods are temporary solutions and may have to be repeated every winter, a better and safer solution is to call in a plumber to check what part of the pipe system is causing the problem. A plumber with trenchless inspection methods under his belt will be able to detect problem areas that can then be targeted for repair or replacement. They also have special thawing equipment that is capable of reaching and removing ice from hidden pipes without causing pressure spikes.
Insulating your pipes before the onset of the season can eliminate the last minute headaches associated with frozen pipes and can also save a lot of money.
Continuous freezing and thawing can take a toll on the pipe material causing it to crack and sometimes burst, leading to additional safety issues and expenses. (Learn more in"Avoid a Busted Water Pipe by Taking These Simple Steps.")
Replacing worn out pipes does not need to be a problem anymore thanks to trenchless rehabilitation methods. These methods can be used for plumbing lines as well as sewer pipes. The CIPP method can be used to slip in a resin coated liner into the affected pipe.
The liner can be inserted through one end of the pipe through to the other end with the help of a machine. The liner is allowed to expand and set by using hot air or water. Pipe bursting utilizes a conical bursting head to fragment the damaged pipe while simultaneously pulling in a new pipe to replace the host pipe. Sliplining can be used to insert a carrier pipe into the old pipe by pulling it through. None of these methods require ripping up the yard or breaking up the tiles.
Written by Tabitha Mishra | Civil Engineer, Technical Content Writer
Tabitha has a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University, India, and is currently freelancing as a technical content writer. Prior to writing, she has worked as a site engineer and site manager for various building construction, building rehabilitation, and real estate evaluation projects.
Tabitha is also certified as a Primavera project management professional and is well versed with Auto CAD. In her spare time, she does private consultation for small-sized home builders and assists with plans and permissions.