Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing and Thaw Frozen Pipes

Wrapping exposed pipes with foam pipe insulation.

Wrapping exposed pipes with foam pipe insulation helps prevent freezing.

Winter has arrived, and that means bundling up to try to keep warm. You might not realize it, but the pipes on your house need protection from the cold as well if the mercury drops down into the 20s F.

Here are some tips on how to prevent your pipes from freezing and some tips on how to thaw them out safely if they do.

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

  • Insulate Pipes: Insulate hot and cold water pipes in the crawlspace under your house as well as in the basement, attic, and exterior walls (if accessible) with snap-on foam insulation. Make sure foam insulation fits tightly without gaps. Apply duct tape to joints in insulation, and miter foam around elbows, so joints in pipes are completely covered.
  • Faucet dripping

    Drip faucets in freezing weather

  • Heat Pipes: Consider wrapping problem pipes with UL approved heat tape that has a built-in thermostat to prevent overheating. Follow the instructions that come with heat tape carefully to keep from causing a fire hazard.
  • Sprinkler System: Turn off your sprinkler system, and blow compressed air through the irrigation lines to drain the water.
  • Drip Faucets: Drip both hot and cold water at faucets in kitchen and bathroom. This not only keeps water moving through the pipes, but relieves built-up water pressure in the pipes if they should freeze. Set single lever faucets in the center so both hot and cold lines drip. Pay particular attention to pipes running in outside walls.
  • Laundry Room: If there isn’t a faucet in the laundry room to drip, set your washing machine on warm, and start the fill cycle periodically for a few minutes to run water through the pipes.
  • Icemaker: Set your icemaker to make ice if the icemaker water line runs under house.
  • Cabinets: Open cabinet doors under sinks in the kitchen and bath if the cabinets are located on exterior walls, to allow inside heat to pipes.
  • Installing foam cover on outdoor faucet.

    Covering outdoor faucet.

  • Garage: Keep garage door closed during extreme cold weather.
  • Foundation: For houses that have a crawlspace, make sure the foundation is completely enclosed, and fill any gaps in foundation walls with caulking or expanding foam. Close or cover the foundation vents under house during extreme cold weather.
  • Basement: Close and weather strip exterior basement windows and doors.
  • Garden Hose: Disconnect and drain garden hoses.
  • Exterior Faucets: To protect exterior faucet around your foundation, either cover faucets with insulated foam covers, cut off water to exterior faucets and open faucets to drain pipes, or install exterior faucets that cut water supply off inside foundation walls.
  • Check for Leaks: Once the weather has warmed up, turn off any dripping faucets as well as the icemaker, then monitor the water meter for any unseen leaks.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Cut-off valve on copper pipe

Cut-off valve on copper pipe

  • Water Cut-Off: Locate the water main cut-off valve, and have a water cut-off key handy before attempting to thaw out frozen pipes.
  • Open Faucet: Open the faucet the pipe runs to before thawing a frozen pipe to allow water to flow through the pipe and relieve any built-up pressure in the pipe.
  • Heat Frozen Pipe: Use a hair dryer, heat lamp, electric heat tape, or portable space heater to thaw frozen pipes that haven’t burst. Start from the interior faucet end of the pipe, and work your way toward colder end of the pipe.
  • Check for Leaks: After pipes have thawed, turn off all water to faucets and the icemaker, and monitor the water meter for any unseen leaks.

Further Information

Please Leave a Comment

12 Comments on “How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing and Thaw Frozen Pipes”

You can follow comments to this article by subscribing to the RSS news feed with your favorite feed reader.

  1. Vincent Says:
    January 21st, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Great suggestions – good article!

    Beside insulating pipes from cold weather, or trying to use heat tape, a very effective way of protecting pipes from freezing is to introduce a circulating pump into the water system. By installing a circulation system, the water from the ‘hot’ side of the system gets sent to the ‘cold’ water line. This greatly reduces the possibility of water pipes freezing because the water temperature never reaches the critical freezing point.

    The best circulation system on the market that I’ve seen is the Hot Water Lobster. It is the only circulating pump I’ve seen that doesn’t need electricity to run. It can be installed anywhere in the water system, and save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in home repairs if frozen pipes burst from water expansion.

    That’s my two cents; I hope it helps!

  2. Brenda Buckley Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I also leave my DishWasher door open, it is located on the north wall of my home. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Elaine Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    I set my dishwasher to run at 5 a.m., and plan to run the washing machine at midnight. I’m still scared though!

  4. Pat Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I have placed a space heater on my main pipes under my home but no water. All faucets are open and warm in house woth doors of cabinets open. I have a mobile home and the only thing I forgot to do was drip the water. It is currently 20 degrees with a feels like of 9. If I pour hot water down the drain will that help?

  5. heather Says:
    January 8th, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Ok. Those are great tips! But what if you’re on a well. How do you thaw that? Haven’t had water for 3 days and I have 3 children.

  6. Rose Says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 12:50 am

    The weather has been about 20below zero. I ran the washing machine but set the temp at cold. The machine sits on an outside wall. When I checked the clothes, the laundry room was filled with water and leaked into the basement. After cleaning everything, I wanted to trace the source so I ran it again but changed the temp to cold/warm. It didn’t flood. What happened? If a piped burst, It would leak regardless of the temp.

  7. Margi Knott Lord Says:
    January 16th, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Having left my home for a few days, the key thing I did was shut off the elec. breaker for the water pump so that it wouldn’t just fill the house with water if things froze up. I also shut off the water to the toilet tanks and flushed them to empty and added RV antifreeze to my traps. Success! I did have a frozen line, but no puddles to clean up.

  8. Fran shane Says:
    October 31st, 2014 at 9:18 am

    My 2nd floor bathroom pipes freeze .they are on outside wall .they are coming up from basement my hose was built 1886 straight up walls .can I stuff instalaton from bottom just so far or from top down ? I always keep water dripping and a heater in the open door of cabinet sink.I don’t know what else I can do.

  9. Blake Sheldon Says:
    November 15th, 2014 at 8:01 am

    I have a small building with copper pipes overhead. The building has a metal roof and it also has a drop ceiling. The pipes are insulated but have burst several times even with the water left running. Since the metal roof is corrugated it’s almost impractical to completely seal it from outside air. Someone has suggested putting a couple of light bulbs left on above the suspended ceiling to warm the area. What’s your thoughts on this.
    Thank you.

  10. Cheryl Khan Says:
    December 22nd, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Electric pipe wraps and insulation works the best as it is applied directly to the pipes. You may need to have somebody do this for you depending on how handy you are. It’s not a very difficult job to do. The one that I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned is antifreeze. You have to use RV antifreeze or pool antifreeze (Propylene Glycol). You can’t use regular automotive antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol) in your home water system.

  11. Catherine Says:
    January 10th, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Do you have any advice to thaw out a frozen underground pipe? I have heaters on all exposed pipes, and the 20 feet that runs 24″ underground seems to be frozen. It has been 2 days now. I have the faucets opened and the temp went up to 39 degrees today, but nothing. Help!

  12. Julie Says:
    January 14th, 2015 at 9:12 am

    I had frozen pipes from this past Thursday till Sunday evening, when I finally got someone to come and put a kerosene heater under my mobile home to thaw them. I am still not sure if my heat tape stopped working. There is water that pools into the well where the pipes come up due to underground springs. I am on a limited income, and was told that a heating element put into the well to keep the water from freezing would be the answer. I would also like a less expensive alternative to heat tape at this time. My pipes are well insulated. Thank you.

We want to hear from you! In addition to posting comments on articles and videos, you can also send your comments and questions to us on our contact page or at (800) 946-4420. While we can't answer them all, we may use your question on our Today's Homeowner radio or TV show, or online at todayshomeowner.com.

Click to check out all our great giveaways!