How To Thaw & Prevent Basement Pipes From Freezing

On those extremely cold nights, one of the most common questions that we homeowners ask ourselves is whether or not it’s cold enough to freeze the pipes in the basement. Knowing what signs to look for, and how to deal with frozen pipes is important.

If you notice any of the following signs, then there could be a good chance that your water pipes have frozen and you should take immediate action.

  • Water not coming out of your faucet
  • Signs of pipes bursting
  • There is frost on the pipes
  • An unusual smell is coming from your water pipe

What Do You Do If Your Pipes Freeze?

If your water pipes freeze, there are a few different things that you can do right away. 

#1. Locate the frozen pipe

For you to thaw a frozen pipe, you need to locate the frozen pipe first. The first step is to turn on all of the faucets in your home to see if you have any water flowing through them. If there is no water, then the pipe coming into your home might have frozen.

All exposed pipes like those under your sink or in your basement are more vulnerable to freezing. Look for signs of frost on them or if they have bulged out slightly.

When thawing, remember to open all your faucets, including both the cold and hot. Doing so will help to reduce pressure in your piping system and allow water to flow once the thawing process happens. 

#2. Check for drafts around the foundation walls

Pipes located along your exterior wall are more prone to freezing during cold weather. The problem may be due to cracks or gaps in the foundation that is letting cold air into your basement. Another reason could be due to poor or no installation on your exterior walls. If this is the case, then consider fixing the small crevices with spray foam insulation or tucking a layer of fiberglass between your water pipes and your interior foundation. 

#3. Use a space heater or heat lamp

A space heater or heat lamp can help in thawing a frozen pipe. The trick is quite simple. Just place the device near the frozen pipe to thaw the ice inside. When using this method, be cautious not to cause further damages, and do not use any open flames such as a blowtorch or propane heater to thaw the pipes with. 

#4. Apply an electric heat cable

Using an electric heating cable is one of the most effective solutions that work fast in unthawing frozen water pipes. Wrap the heating cable around the pipe, and it will distribute the heat evenly throughout your water pipe.

If your basement tends to get cold during the winter, it might be a good idea to wrap the pipes in a heating cable and have them turned all during the colder months to avoid freezing. 

You can buy a 24-foot heating cable from Amazon for just under $100. Click here for the current price.

At What Temperature Do Pipes Freeze Without Heat?

Trying to determine at what temperature will cause your pipes to freeze might be difficult to pinpoint exactly. However, there has been researching conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois, where they have concluded that the threshold for pipes to freeze without heat is 20ºF (-6 ºC).

How Long Does It Take Pipes To Freeze and Burst?

Knowing how quickly pipes can freeze and burst is important so that you can take action right away on those extremely cold nights. Pipes will begin to freeze at 20ºF, and it could take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours for the water inside of the pipe to completely freeze.

Can Pipes Freeze and Not Burst?

Not all frozen pipes crack or burst, and this is why thawing can help remedy the problem. What happens when temperatures drop is that the water in your pipes freeze forming hexagonal ice crystals which tend to occupy more space compared to when it is in liquid form. Remember that water molecules expand whenever it freezes, and this is why it requires extra space.

In case the water that is trapped and frozen inside your pipe begins to melt and flow quickly through the pipe, then your pipe may burst. The pipe may burst if the water is forced through a closed faucet by the expanding frost in the pipe. 

The other instance when your water pipe burst is when the ice melts due to temperature variations and the pipe starts to fluctuate due to inconsistent volume changes. Those changes result in an unnecessary expansion, which could make your pipe burst or leak. 

Repeated contraction and expansion of water inside your pipe may make it burst. Such contraction and expansion often result in pressure difference within the pipe, which leads to leaks, especially where pipes are connected.

What To Do To Avoid a Frozen Pipe From Bursting 

Turn off your homes water supply immediately

Turning off the main water supply to the home can help prevent the frozen pipes from bursting. The sooner you shut it off, the better, because it eliminates further damages like flooding if the pipes do end up bursting. 

Open faucets around the home

When you open the faucets to sinks around your home, you will begin to relieve pressure in the pipes and allow unfrozen water a way to escape safely.

Thaw the frozen pipes

There are a few different ways that you can go about thawing a frozen pipe, and one of them is by wrapping it with an electric heating cable. Other options would be to use a heat lamp or space heater.

Heating and insulation of vulnerable pipes using foam sleeves or fiberglass can prevent pipes from bursting. Most plumbers recommend rubbing the pipe with a warm towel as a way to help thaw them. Once wrapped, you can pour hot water on the towel to concentrate warmth and reduce freezing.

For extreme cases that you may not be able to resolve on your own, you can contact a professional plumber for help. The plumber would be able to come out and examine the pipes for any damage that the frozen water might have caused.

What Happens If a Pipe Freezes and Then Bursts?

If you have a pipe freeze and then burst, you need to take immediate action.

Step #1 – Start by turning off the main water supply to the home, and if it is necessary, also turn off the power to the area of the home that is affected.

Step #2 – Call a professional plumber to come out and take a look at the problem. You might also need to call in water damage professional as well if you have severe water damage on drywall, carpets, or flooring, etc

Step #3 – Begin the cleanup process right away to prevent mold growth. Remove as much of the water as you can by using buckets, shop vac, and mops. Remove wet carpet, boxes, wood, and furniture from the basement, and try to salvage what other items that you can that never got wet.

How To Prevent Water Pipes From Freezing

If it is very cold outside and you are worried about your pipes freezing, one trick that you can try doing is to turn on a faucet on the cold side and let the water slowly trickle or drip out. If you do not have any heat in your home, you can turn on both the hot and cold on the faucet and let the water flow a little more then just a trickle.

Leaving the water to trickle out will allow the water in the pipe to keep moving through the pipes and prevent it from freezing.  Although your water bill might go up more during those cold days, it will save you the cost of having to hire a plumber to unfreeze the pipes.

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