Monday, February 05, 2007

Unfreezing pipes

Chicago is colder than Anchorage today. (and probably yesterday, as well) We've had a bunch of days with highs in the single digits. Nothing like waking up to the current temperature of -8 with windchills of -25 to -35. Needless to say, I'm taking the opportunity to spend as little time out of the house as possible.

What wonderous task did we accomplish this weekend as a result? Yep, the title gives me away-we spent several hours unfreezing our pipes.

First, to all those cold weather newbies out there- how do I prevent my pipes from freezing?

1. Do not, if at all possible, have water pipes running through outside walls. If you must do it, add a lot of insulation, and if possible insulation with Heat Tape

2. Keep your heat on! It's tempting to save money by turning your heat off when you leave town in the winter. However, unless you completely drain your system and turn off the water supply, be prepared to come home to a mess. After our tenants turned off their heat last year resulting in their heating pipes freezing, we now suggest 62 degrees as the appropriate temperature. Depending on your insulation situation, I've heard suggestions of a minimum heat of at least 55 degrees.

3. If you know there will be a period of time of really cold weather, leave the hot and cold water trickling for any fixture that has piping in exterior walls.

4. You can also leave the cabinets open underneath fixtures to insure more warmth getting to the pipes.

My problem? I forgot to leave the cold water at a trickle. Whenever I used the kitchen sink, I'd turn the hot water on. Since I was using it frequently, I didn't think there'd be a problem, but I forgot to turn the cold water on for a couple days.

Okay, your pipes are frozen (since no water is coming out of the tap)- What do you do?

1. Open up the cabinets under the fixture that won't dispense water. We usually grab a space heater and put it under there (not unattended, and a safe heater, use caution and follow manufacturer's instructions)

2. Figure out where you can get access to pipes, as well as the most likely "freezing" location. For us, this usually means removing the stove, and/or dishwasher. We cut into the drywall the first time we had a problem (Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass in 2004), which makes it easier. If you haven't cut into the drywall before, you will need to do this. (use a utility knife or drywall knife to score/cut the drywall, and take it out).

It really helps that we have photos of our piping. If you are doing any renovation, I highly recommend taking photos of all the piping before drywall goes up.

3. Once you get to the pipes, heat them up using a hair dryer or heat gun. Leave the water "running" so you can hear when you've accomplished your goal.

4. If all this "fails" you can always call a plumber who may have the capability to put an electrical charge through the pipes, depending on the distance between the accessible pipe and the sink. (I got an estimate of $700 or so for this and was told the total length of pipe could only be 75 feet or so. It really depends on what the plumber's tools are as the plumber who came said that was the length of their cord but they came bigger.)

As a final caution, which probably goes without saying, but it is imperative to deal with frozen pipes ASAP. If left alone, pipes will burst, wreaking havoc. (water damage, etc.) My Sister-in-law's neighbor went away on vacation and came home to a completely flooded house. (the water supply was not turned off so once the pipe burst, water kept on streaming out)



Blogger Chris Emery said...

I could have done with reading this post a month and a bit ago when our pipes froze for the first time! I had to work it out for myself, but thankfully had no burst pipes by the end.

February 05, 2007 6:23 PM  
Blogger Chelsea said...

Thanks for the info! My last post was all about how happy we were that we got most of our plumbing done, and right after posting it I noticed that our pipes were froze up in our downstairs bath. With this being our first house, I totally freaked out not knowing what to do for sure. I was able to unfreeze them before anything bursts with the help of a space heater and a blow dryer. I didn't know that you should keep the faucets turned on a bit to keep the pipes from freezing up again. So, I was able to use your information last night, and so far we haven't frozen up again! :)

February 06, 2007 11:03 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Great! Glad it helped! The first time ours froze, it was a guessing game. I hoped to save some from the headaches we experienced.

February 06, 2007 11:31 AM  

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