Various methods on how to thaw / unfreeze a frozen water pipe.

Jan 28, 2014 by

With the recent extreme cold weather in the Northeast, you are probably now past preventing a pipe from freezing and are hopefully looking for a solution to get the water running again rather than a plumber to fix a burst pipe. I too am was in this situation. I have a 6 foot section of shower and tub frozen in a wall. If your pipe has not burst (yet). I combed the interwebs and compiled here various methods you can do to unfreeze / thaw frozen pipes or at least prevent the pipe from bursting. As with any DIY project use common sense especially when working with heaters and heat generating tools.

Open the faucet
I am guessing you found out that the pipe is frozen because the water does not come out of the faucet or does so slowly. Leave the faucet open. If it is dripping slowly, leaving it open may solve the problem. The slowly moving water will not freeze and can eventually move the frozen water. keep a faucet dripping in the future to prevent the pipe from freezing. You can also turn off the water main to the house. And open a faucet lower than the one that is stuck.

Add Heat to the Area
If the pipes run through unconditioned unheated space, add heat. You can so this by:

  • An oil immersion space heater
  • An Infrared heaters will warm an area directly.
  • Opening a door from a heated space and adding a basic fan to blow hot air into the cold space.
  • Use a kerosene heater. Available to rent from Home Improvement stores and tool rental companies.

Add heat directly to the pipe.
If the pipe is in a basement or crawlspace, you can add heat to the space that the pipe is in.

  • Use a hairdryer pointed at the wall where the pipe is.
  • Use a heat gun (Hairdryer on steriods)
  • Propane blowtorch is usually not recommended. You can met the solder at the joins causing a leak or set fire to the surrounding area.
  • cover the pipe with warm wet towels
  • open the termination of the pipe and pour hot water in.

Expose the pipe to warm air.

  • Get access to the pipe. I was able to remove the shower mixing valve cover. This small access solved the problem after 24 hours of a space heater in the bath was unsuccessful. I unscrewed the two screws holding it on. I did not remove completely otherwise the bracket inside would have fallen into the wall.
  • Cut open a section of drywall and add heat. repair drywall is a lot less expensive that repair a broken pipe along with the associated water damage.

Insulate the area.
Of course you may have wished you insulated prior to the problem. As a preventative measure there are foil backed insulation tape and insulation pipe “noodles”. There are also heat cable tape products that you plug in to a standard electrical outlet. Some of these come with automatic thermostat. But what about right now? Is cold air blowing in that  was not issue before. Maybe there is a gap you did not notice, or one opened up. Look for daylight coming in. Feel around for cold air blowing in. I had this problem a 1/8 gap by the garage door. Air was blowing in and that was enough to freeze the hot and cold water supplies as well as the bath sewer drain. replacing with a new 2×4 solded the problem. You could use insulation batts, spay insulation in a can, plywood or 2x4s to seal a hole or gap.

If you do not have the proper tools, try a tool sharing / tool lending library or rent from a Home Improvement stores or tool rental companies. You can even try to buy the tool on craigslsit and then later resell if you no longer have the need. I hope this information is helpful. Let me know in the comments if you have any other solutions or suggestions.

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