Tips for Preventing & Thawing Frozen Water Services

Cold winter days can play havoc on water service lines, and a busted water line is the last thing a homeowner wants to deal with. See below some tips for  preventing and thawing frozen water services:
  • Determine the location of the frozen pipe by running your hand along accessible water pipes in the home and feeling for extremely cold spots. If a cold portion of pipe is encountered, thaw it gently, preferably using a hair dryer. DO NOT use a propane torch, as it could cause a rupture of the water line.
  • Check the temperature of water if you suspect that it is about to freeze the line. Do this at a point as close as possible to where water enters the home. If the temperature is close to freezing, run a substantial amount of water until the temperature increases. Showering and washing extra loads of laundry will put the extra water used to good use.
  • Leaving the water running at a trickle can help prevent frozen water service lines. However, trickling water can sometimes lead to frozen sewer service lines. In the past, water and sewer lines were installed in close proximity to each other and often at the same depth. Trickling water in a sewer line can cool to the point of freezing if the sewer line is cold. This could lead to the sewer service freezing shut and causing a sewer backup.
  • If you choose to run the water at a trickle, it is advised to periodically turn the flow of water up to about a garden hose size stream for several minutes. The increased flow of water allows for a better exchange of heat between the water and water service line/ground and also allows the water to assist in heating the sewer system.
  • Electrically heating water lines, using a welder, only works on metallic lines. It will not work if there is any plastic or PVC piping in the service line. Care should be taken, if using a welder, as they have been known to start fires in adjacent structures. It has also been found the use of welders can increase the speed at which cast iron or ductile iron lines corrode.
  • If the water service line does become frozen, open one or two faucets. This will allow the ice to have room to expand without damaging any other piping.
  • A final consideration should be given to the capacity of the water system that is providing water service to your home or business. The constant trickling of water, by many customers, can sometimes exceed the available water in portions of a water system.
Why do freezing pipes burst? When water freezes, it expands adding considerable pressure on plumbing pipes. The pressure can cause the pipes to leak or sometimes burst. Pipes that freeze most frequently are pipes that are exposed to severe cold; water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets; and pipes running against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.