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

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

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  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.

  13. Liz Neumann Says:
    February 3rd, 2015 at 10:30 am

    In our garage in Colorado, we have pipes that run from the main part of the house to a master bedroom built above the garage. They are well insulated in a special box the contractor built to protect them, but we still get concerned about the pipes freezing. Is there some kind of heat tape we could put on the bottom the box on the ceiling to supply additional heat. (we were thinking along the lines of the kind of heat system you put under tiles in the bathroom to keep it warm. At this point, we run a small heater, but it is expensive to run it and we don;t need to heat the whole garage.
    Thanks for your suggestions. Liz

  14. gene horhut Says:
    February 16th, 2015 at 11:10 am

    This is very good advice. Thank you!

  15. Susan May Says:
    February 16th, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    i got heated wrap pipes last year frozen today whats the point

  16. isaac gomez Says:
    February 18th, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Heat tape works when dealing with ambient temps. If for any reason you have still experienced frozen pipes, I Would first look to reduce airflow. Pipe freeze is normally caused by air moving along a line. As for warming supply lines (colorado), yes radiant heat will help BUT would not be cost effective either. Unless you currently have a hydronic boiler, are skilled enough to handle the plumbing and necessary mixing valves-circulating pump. If the box built by your contractor has been made air tight and has been properly insulated, I would venture to guess you can reach single digit temps without issue. I would start looking at simply circulating your runs to the garage.

  17. jimmy Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I live in a mobile home, I put a electric heater plug into a surge po. and it is 12 degres this morning my water did not freeze.

  18. stacey parent Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 10:32 am

    heat wire and insulation. if your pipes are froze use a space heater on your main. give it some time. i’am in a mobile home i’ve never ran my taps since I used the heat wire

  19. Robert Whittlinge Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    We live in a townhouse and the hot water line froze between upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. We solved it by turning off the supply to the hot water tank and the sink in the downstairs bath, (leaving the faucets open on the upstairs bath) I then started the washer on hot (which is beside the water tank in the basement). When the hot water coming into the washer turned ice cold I turned off the washer and turned back on the hot water heater. AND THE HOT water started rushing into the upstairs bathtub with a noisy blast. The pressure from the hot water heater had forced the ice out of the pipe. Hip, hip hurrah!

  20. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Congratulations! Be sure to check your water meter when no water is running in the house to make sure you don’t have an unseen leak after the pipes froze. If the flow indicator on the meter turns at all when no water is being used, you have a leak.

    Read our article on How to Check a Water Meter to Find Plumbing Leaks to find out more.

  21. Andrea Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    no power since Monday, and with temps in the single digits, we left every faucet in our house dripping. Staying with family until the power comes back on. Temps dropped to 16 Tuesday night, but only to 49 in the house. Do you think the residual heat will help keep them from freezing?

  22. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Andrea,
    It will depend on where the pipes are located in relation to the outside, the material the pipes and house are made of, and whether the pipes are insulated or not. Dripping the water (both hot and cold) in every faucet (particularly those on outside walls) certainly will help. Given that you have no heat, you might want to run a small stream from each one rather than just a drip.

  23. Anthony Says:
    February 19th, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Best bet is to locate the shut off valve to the house and turn the water off. Open all the faucets, including the outside faucet, unil there is no water draining out of the outside faucet. Turn the breaker off to the water heater, if it is electric, or the gas off if it is gas. Close all the valves and rest easy knowing if they do freeze nothing will be damaged. Once power has been restored you can turn the water back on and check for leaks.

  24. Suz Says:
    February 20th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Our pipes froze, despite leaving faucets dripping and a space heater blowing all night under the sink. We think the frozen section is underground between our garage and our utility room. How do I thaw this?? I’ve had heaters on the pipes for hours, and still no water. (I can get water from the main spout in the garage, so the blockage is somewhere after that.) Thank you for the help!

  25. Suz Says:
    February 21st, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Update on thawing pipes: I got ours thawed by doing the following: shut off the main water valve in our garage, to keep the cold water from flowing up against the frozen section. Heated the pipes with a heater (which I had been doing all day, to no avail). Once I shut the main water valve, the pipes thawed within 30 minutes! That ice cold water flowing in from the water line prevented the ice from thawing. Hopefully this tip will help other homeowners. :)

  26. Jake Tuyner Says:
    February 21st, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    What should I do if frozen pipe is before my water meter? I think blockage between main line to my house. Any suggestion? thank you

  27. Viswa Says:
    February 21st, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Pipes froze yesterday.. and water was trickling in the basement faucet.. After increasing the home temp to 76 and opening up false ceiling in basement.. the trickle continues after a day on both first and second floors..funny thing is trickle stops all over the house when the basement taps are closed ..hot water flows thru cold pipes and cold water thru hot pipes . Any ideas?

  28. Barbara Says:
    February 22nd, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    I live in a townhouse and when I turned the hot water handle in my downstairs bathroom, nothing comes out. One handle, the cold water is working fine in that bathroom. I left the water running during a horrible cold spell and when I came down in the morning it was running. I turned the handle off and when I turned it back on nothing. I have had the heat turned up to 75 and a heater in the bathroom for the past two days. All other faucets are working including my washing machine. I read some other posts and have the hot water running in my shower, upstairs bathroom faucet and kitchen faucet. This bathroom has had problems in the past, but when I put a heater on and the sun moves to that side it has always come back. Not sure if I should call a plumber since everything else works. It is supposed to go – 10 tomorrow night and don’t want the pipe in that bathroom to burst.

  29. Helaine Smith Says:
    February 28th, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Water pipe burst in the wall between the bathroom and the family room
    What can I do about that?

  30. Helaine Smith Says:
    February 28th, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    All the faucets were dripping throughout the house but the pipe in the wall between the bathroom and the family room still busted

  31. Donna Says:
    March 15th, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    For two years in a row, I have had frozen water pipes in our extreme winter cold here in Ontario. In 2014, I had absolutely no water coming into my home, from the water meter that entered my house, under a kitchen sink in the basement. This year I left water running gently, at the pipe coming into my home,at the kitchen sink, and had water there but, the rest of the house had no water but I was able to truck the water upstairs to flush toilets, etc.in 2015.
    What I would really like to know, is there some kind of an instrument, that will identify where my water line is freezing? My next thing I am going to try to locate my water lines, is to use a stethoscope on my ceiling, or to hear if the lines are on an outside wall, when the water is on full blast, now that the lines have been thawed. Will this work, God knows, but I am willing to try this method before I have to tear down cupboards, sinks and countertops etc. What can I do to elevate my freezing water pipes, without a lot of expense, or possible burst pipes in the future ?????

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