With freezing temperatures comes freezing water, and with freezing water, sometimes come frozen pipes. If you have frozen pipes, you may need to deal with expensive repairs to plumbing and your property. It’s important to know what to look for if you suspect your pipes are starting to freeze. You also need to know what to do in an emergency and how best to prevent your pipes from freezing in the first place if you want to avoid costly repairs and damage to personal property.

Prevention Is Key

The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to be proactive about preventing them in the first place. If you know you have pipes that are in high-risk areas for freezing, do what you can to prevent them from freezing. Pipes that are particularly at risk will be in places running closer to the outside of the house or foundation and running through uninsulated parts of the house not generally used for living spaces. This includes things like the basement, the attic, storage spaces, and the garage.

Once you locate the potential problem areas, there are a few ways you can help better protect the pipes from the harsh cold of winter. The first is to use piping insulation. Piping insulation is extremely cost-effective, and you can probably insulate most of your exposed piping for well under $50. Simply wrap the exposed pipe in the insulation, and then wrap it with tape every few feet to keep the insulation secured. This will help keep the pipe warm even if there is no other surrounding insulation.

You could also opt to insulate the surrounding area, like the peak of the attic or walls of the garage, to help keep the temperature up a little bit. Lastly, you can purchase a pipe heating system that you can run along the pipe and plug into a standard outlet. Even with all of these precautions, though, it’s not guaranteed that your pipes won’t freeze if temperatures drop low enough.

If you own a summer property, you’ll want to winterize it before the winter months and cold weather come in full swing. Since the water will be sitting stagnant in the pipes while the plumbing isn’t in use, you’ll want to flush out the pipes and drain them before closing up the house for the winter. Start by shutting off the main water supply to the house. Then, open all the faucets and let the water run until nothing else comes out. Finally, close all the faucets back up, and you’re good to go.

If you own an outdoor sprinkler system, it’s a good idea to have someone come blow out the system in preparation for the winter. Sprinkler system pipes run underground and are not insulated at all, so if left full of water, they’re almost definitely going to freeze.

Signs of a Frozen Pipe

If your pipes are starting to freeze, there are a few signs to keep an eye out for to clue you in before they burst. The first red flag that you might have a freezing or frozen pipe on your hands is a drop in water outflow from your faucets or shower. Unless the freeze is right by the main valve, the odds are that the freeze will only affect the faucets branching off past the offending section of the pipe. This can help you narrow down if it’s a frozen pipe or some other issue. If only a few faucets are affected, it’s likely a frozen pipe. If the pressure in your entire house drops significantly, it might be an external problem.

The other signs of a frozen pipe you can only notice if the section of pipe is exposed and you can inspect it visually. Frozen pipes will usually bulge a little as the ice expands and presses against the wall of the pipe. You might also find more heavy condensation around the pipe due to the difference in temperature between the inside and the outside of the pipe. Cracks or ruptures in the pipe are other signs that they are frozen.

What to Do if a Pipe Freezes

If you suspect you have a frozen pipe, the first thing you need to do is turn off the main water supply immediately. The longer pressure builds behind the frozen section of the pipe, the higher the chance the pipe will burst, leading to a lot of water to mop up and an expensive repair job to deal with the water damage. You can usually find your main shut-off valve where the water line enters your home, right before the water meter. Once the water is shut off, if you can locate the frozen section of the pipe, you might be able to start trying to thaw it on your own.

Before you do anything else, open up all of your faucets. This will give the water someplace to go and alleviate pressure in the pipes as the frozen section starts to thaw out. Once that’s done, grab some towels soaked in warm water, a heating pad, or a blow dryer. If the pipe looks like it’s leaking or is wet, try to avoid using any kind of electrical heating device since it might be an electrocution risk. Using a blow dryer from a distance or towels soaked in warm water is preferred here. Be patient, and wait for the pipe to completely thaw out. It could take a while, but you don’t want to turn the water back on until the pipe is clear and you’re sure there isn’t any structural damage.

Once the pipe is cleared, dry the pipe off with a dry towel and inspect the area for any kind of cracks or breaks. If the pipe looks like it’s in good shape, it’s time to turn the water back on. Leave the faucets open and go and slowly turn the main valve back on before checking the pipe. Put a dry towel under the pipe and look for any kind of leaks, excess water, droplets, or the towel becoming damp after a period of time. If you notice anything that looks like the pipe might be compromised, turn the water back off and call your local plumber to handle repairs.

Calling in the Professionals

If your pipes freeze and crack or, worse yet, completely rupture, immediately turn off the main water valve and call the experts at Southport Home Services to handle the problem. We’ll be able to assess the damage and get the problem area of piping fixed quickly for you. In addition to standard and emergency plumbing repairs, our team of plumbers provides drain and sewer cleaning, fixture installation, water heater services, and sump pump installation in Wausau, WI and the surrounding area. We also maintain a team of HVAC professionals that can install, repair, and maintain various heating and cooling systems, including furnaces, boilers, air conditioners, and heat pumps. If you need help improving your indoor air quality, we can help with that too. Call us at Southport Home Services today to set up an appointment.

Meet the Author
Thomas Suchla
Thomas Suchla


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