Frozen pipes can be a real issue during the winter months. Pipes that run outdoors or along the outer walls of the home are the most vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, simply keeping the interior of your home warm isn’t enough protection for pipes that run close to exterior walls.
Water pipes that run from the main water line into the home are pressurized to ensure that you have adequate water pressure to shower, flush the toilet, and perform many other everyday tasks. This also means there is a lot of pressure behind the water if the pipes were to freeze and burst. A lot of water can enter your crawlspace or between the walls very quickly if your pipes happen to freeze and burst. Let’s look at how to thaw frozen pipes in the wall without tearing the wall apart to get to them and the types of tools you’ll need to thaw frozen pipes.
Prepare to Thaw the Pipes
The water from your faucets won’t run if the water is frozen in the pipes. Turn the water off at the supply line if you suspect that it is frozen. Turn the affected faucets on so that the pressure is allowed to escape as the ice thaws. Follow the pipes from the inactive faucet until you find the frozen area. You should be able to identify the frozen area by the frost or ice on it. Some frozen areas may simply appear as small bulges in the pipes instead of showing signs of frost or ice.
Burst pipes will be much easier to find because they will likely be dripping with water, especially if you’ve already turned the water off at the supply line. You may see small frozen rivulets or icicles if the pipe burst happened several hours ago and has been slowly leaking. A more recent burst may still be spraying water if there’s pressure in the line.
Frozen Pipes in the Wall or Ceiling
Frozen pipes in the wall or ceiling present unique challenges. You obviously don’t want to tear out the wall or ceiling to expose the frozen pipe and thaw them. Here are a few ways to thaw pipes in the wall or ceiling as long as they haven’t already burst:
- Turn the thermostat up and wait. This can be quite the waiting game because the cold is still radiating through the outer layer of wall to keep the pipes cold, but your heat pump or furnace is working hard to warm the walls and therefore warm the pipes within the walls.
- Use an infrared lamp to heat the wall section where the frozen pipe is located. Heat lamps are a second choice, but infrared lamps do a more efficient job because they don’t heat the air. Infrared lamps direct their energy toward warming the wall and frozen pipe instead of warming the air that touches the wall.
- You may have to tear out a section of wall or ceiling in order to get to a frozen pipe. This should be considered as a last resort and as a way to prevent the pipe from bursting and destroying the wall or ceiling anyway.
Pipes at Risk for Freeze
Pipes that are along an exterior wall are most likely to freeze during very cold weather. Pipes that are protected by insulation, between the floors of your multi-story home, or otherwise well-insulated are at a much lower risk of freeze during the winter months. Here is a small list of pipes that are more susceptible to freeze:
- Pipes that are in an outside wall.
- Pipes that are under the sink on an outside wall.
- Pipes that are in an unheated crawlspace or utility room.
How to Avoid Frozen Pipes
The best way to keep from having to thaw frozen pipes in the wall is to keep them from freezing. Moving water doesn’t freeze as easily as water that is sitting still inside the pipes. Leave your faucets on just enough to create movement in the pipes so the water has a much lesser chance of freezing. Here are a few more ways to avoid frozen pipes this winter.
- Leave the water slowly trickling from all faucets in the house. The water usage won’t do much to your water bill, and the pipes shouldn’t freeze because the water is constantly moving.
- Open base cabinets under the sink in the kitchen and bathrooms. This allows warm air to circulate under the sink and keep the pipes nearby warmer than normal.
- Electric pipe heat tape is an excellent choice to prevent frozen pipes. This is a ribbon style wrap with built in heating elements that goes around the pipes to keep them above freezing.
- Wrap unprotected pipe with insulation wrap that is designed to hug to the pipes and prevent freeze.
- A small portable heater placed under the sink, in the crawlspace, or in other areas that are prone to freezing will help keep the pipes from freezing.
- A heat lamp such as an infrared or incandescent light can be mounted or hung in areas where the pipes may freeze. The lamp can be turned on and off as needed to prevent freeze.
- Turn the heat up in your home during cold snaps. Homeowners generally try to avoid turning the heat up during a cold snap because they want to avoid costly utility bills. A warmer home will help keep he pipes within the walls from freezing if the walls are kept at a warmer temperature.
Tools for Thawing Frozen Pipes in a Wall
We mentioned several tools and supplies you may need in order to prevent or thaw frozen pipes in the wall. We have everything you need to address frozen pipes and ensure that they don’t become frozen again.