What Shouldn't You Do If Your Pipes Freeze?

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Any homeowner in a cold climate needs to know how to deal with frozen pipes. While prevention is always the best medicine, it's easy to end up with an occasional frozen pipe, even in a well-prepared home with insulated plumbing. Once a pipe freezes, your next steps can be critical in preventing a messy and potentially costly clean-up.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help minimize the damage from a frozen pipe. Unfortunately, there are also some things you can do that might worsen the situation. If you are dealing with one or more frozen pipes in your home, avoid these three common and potentially costly mistakes.

1. Immediately Thawing the Pipe

Several things happen when a pipe in your home freezes. Since frozen water expands, there's typically pressure applied in all directions. However, liquid has a fixed volume, which means that no amount of pressure from growing ice will compress the liquid water in your pipes. As a result, that force will push outward on your plumbing.

One possible result from this situation is that your pipes will bulge and break, but the damage isn't always so immediate or obvious. The pressure on a frozen pipe may cause small cracks that you won't notice immediately and won't leak due to the ice inside. Thawing your pipe may cause a leak. Instead, turn off the water to the affected section of plumbing before doing anything else.

2. Leaving Your Faucets Closed

Remember that the expanding ice in your plumbing exerts a force in all directions. Your pipes will bulge partly because of the incompressible liquid before and after the ice "plug." Allowing faucets to drip is common advice to help prevent freezing, but it's also a critical step after one or more of your pipes have already frozen.

You're essentially creating a relief valve by opening faucets in the affected portion of plumbing. Instead of forcing the ice to try to compress the liquid between the plug and faucet, you will allow it to instead push water out of the pipe. This relief can help prevent additional damage to the pipe while also draining water to prevent a leak if the pipe bursts.

3. Attempting a Quick Fix

You generally want to thaw your pipe as slowly as possible. If you can "naturally" thaw the pipe by allowing warm air into the space it occupies, that's usually the best option. Hair dryers, heat guns, and water towels are other options, although you want to be mindful of nearby water when using electricity. It's also best to use low heat settings when thawing with a hair dryer or heat gun.

If in doubt, it's best to call in a professional. Plumbers in cold regions have plenty of experience thawing pipes, and a visit from an expert will be much cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of a burst pipe. 

For more information, contact a local company like Right Away.