Published onFebruary 11th, 2021
Will Frozen Pipes Thaw on Their Own? How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you are a property owner or manager in New York City, the risk of frozen pipes skyrockets on cold winter days, especially when the thermometer dips below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. You may have wondered: will frozen pipes thaw on their own? Here’s the answer to that question, along with some tips on how to thaw frozen pipes and prevent this problem in the first place.
Frozen Pipes Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Thaw on Their Own
Risk of bursting
Frozen pipes will eventually thaw on their own, but it could take days or even weeks. If New York City is experiencing a brutal cold snap, the temperature could stay below freezing for many days.
Meanwhile, the water in the pipes could be expanding. The laws of physics say water always takes up more volume as it freezes. When your pipes can no longer contain the expanding ice, they will burst. This not only breaks the pipes and makes your plumbing system unusable, it may cause serious water damage as well.
Therefore, in most cases, pipes shouldn’t be allowed to thaw on their own. Follow the steps below to thaw them.
Here’s How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
Locate the frozen pipe
First, locate the pipe that is frozen. There are a few ways to do this. Most obviously, there will be no water coming from the tap or appliance it serves. If the pipe has been frozen for a while, you may even see ice protruding from the spigot where dripping water has frozen. We see this sometimes in unused and unheated properties and outdoor faucets.
A frozen pipe is usually in the coldest part of the property, such as along an exterior wall that doesn’t get much sun. It may also be under a cabinet or running through a crawlspace that is exposed to the outside. You may feel a pipe is extremely cold or notice frost or water beading on it.
Pro tip: if one pipe is frozen, there’s a good chance others are frozen as well. Double check all your taps and appliances (dish washer, clothes washer, etc.) to make sure water is running there.
Open the faucet
Next, open the faucet leading from the frozen pipe. Make sure to open both the hot and cold taps if applicable. This relieves pressure in the system. As the pipe thaws, it will allow melted water to exit, which will also help speed up the thawing process.
Apply heat carefully
Turn up the heat in the room where you are working. This will warm the pipe.
Start closest to the faucet or where the water flows into the interior of the property. When the ice melts, you want it to have someplace to go.
Apply heat carefully to the frozen area of the pipe. Depending on the tools you have available and the anatomy of your plumbing, you can try different approaches:
- A hairdryer is often very effective. Just be sure to avoid having it come into contact with water, and never leave the hairdryer running unattended.
- Place a portable heater nearby, such as a heat lamp or space heater. Again, watch out for shock risk with water in the area.
- If you can purchase electrical heating tape, this can be wrapped around the pipe to slowly melt the ice inside.
- Hot towels work in a pinch if you have none of the options listed above. You will have to keep reheating the towels as they cool, which is labor intensive.
Never use a blowtorch or any kind of open flame to thaw your pipes.
Call Sanitary Plumbing for hard-to-reach pipes
Pipes that are inside walls or located in other challenging locations may require the assistance of a plumber. They will likely have to remove a section of wall or apply infrared heating to deal with the problem.
The Best Defense Is a Good Offense
Ideally, you want to prevent your pipes from freezing in the first place. This will save you a lot of headaches in the future. Follow these tips:
- Keep the thermostat set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or above any time the temperature outside falls below 28 degrees. Be sure to inform tenants of this as well, as they may mistakenly turn down the heat to save money when they’re not home.
- Open the cabinet doors under the sinks when deep freeze weather hits and keep them open for the length of the cold weather.
- When the temperature plummets, leave faucets running just a tiny bit to discourage pipes from freezing.
- Close garage doors and other places where cold air can rush inside and cause pipes to freeze.
- Insulate your pipes whenever possible. If they’re readily accessible, this is a DIY job; otherwise, call your plumber for assistance.
- Disconnect exterior hoses and cover outdoor spigots in the fall before the first freeze.
- Drain pipes that won’t be used during winter, such as those in empty units undergoing renovation with no heat. Shut off the water at the source, and then run the faucets and flush the toilets until all the water is gone.
If you need help locating a frozen pipe, insulating your pipes, or dealing with the aftermath of a pipe burst, Sanitary Plumbing is happy to assist. Call us at 212-734-5000, or use our handy online form to schedule an appointment. We’re available 24/7 for emergencies. Hopefully, if you follow the advice above, you won’t have to call us for a burst pipe this winter!