It’s inevitable, we live in Canada and that means winter will come. Along with the snow, comes the cold, and with the cold – potential for frozen pipes. Aside from the damage that is caused when pipes freeze, expand and then burst, thawing them can cause more harm than good.
When pipes freeze it is tempting to find the frozen section of pipe and simply use a torch to melt the ice. Never do this! Pipes freeze when warm air cannot reach them. Using a torch becomes hazardous as the open flame can ignite nearby combustibles or wood framing and quickly get out of control. The key to safely thawing frozen pipes is to apply slow, even heat. For example:
· A Hair dryer
· A Heat lamp
· A Heating cable
· An Electric Pipe Thawing Machine
· Hot wet towels wrapped around pipes
Ideally, it is recommended that a competent plumbing contractor is hired to safely thaw the frozen sections of pipe and inspect for any damage. If the frozen piping is limited to a small area and you feel comfortable thawing the pipes yourself, follow the safe thawing precautions described below.
· Survey the area around the frozen pipe and remove any combustible materials.
· If combustible material can’t be removed, use thermal barriers (i.e. ceramic flame guard or heat shield) to protect it.
· Have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher nearby at all times. The extinguisher should have a minimum rating of 3A 10BC.
Taking these precautions is the best way to prevent fires and thaw pipes safely.
Of course, the easiest way to deal with a frozen pipe is to prevent it from ever freezing. Some basic steps to aid in this are listed below:
· Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines, following the manufacturer’s or installer’s directions.
· Remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
· Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
· Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-Listed “heat-tape”, “heat cable” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
During cold weather, take preventative action:
· Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage
· When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
· Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair if the pipes freeze and burst.
· If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set the temperature no lower than 55F or 13C