How to prevent pipes from freezing? How to thaw frozen pipes in extreme cold

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Alabama and much of the Southeast are bracing for a round of frigid temperatures.

It’s cold?

The National Weather Service warned that temperatures on December 23, 24 and 25 could be some of the coldest Alabama has seen in years, with temperatures dropping into the single digits.

With the bitter cold comes the chances of frozen pipes. Water expands as it freezes, and the expansion can put pressure on whatever contains it, including metal or plastic pipes. These pipes can burst.

The pipes most at risk of freezing are those exposed to intense cold, such as outside hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines. Also at risk are water supply pipes in unheated indoor areas such as basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages or kitchen closets, or pipes that run against exterior walls with little or no insulation.

READ MORE: How cold will it be at Christmas? And the snow?

The Red Cross has some tips on how to protect your pipes from freezing:

  • Drain water from pool and sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer or installer instructions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless instructed to. Antifreeze is harmful to the environment and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife and landscaping.
  • Remove, drain and store used hoses outdoors. Close the internal valves that supply the external hose bibs. Open outer hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the external valve open so that any remaining water in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to rupture.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • Check at home other areas where water supply lines are located in areas without heating. Look in the garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Hot and cold water pipes in these areas must be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products designed to insulate water pipes, such as a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL Listed “heating tape”, “heating cable” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection for exposed pipe – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that generally do not experience frequent or prolonged below freezing temperatures.
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide greater freeze protection.

How to avoid frozen tubes

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate through the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaning products and household chemicals out of reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let cold water run from the tap served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even a trickle – helps keep the pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature day and night. By temporarily discontinuing use of lower night temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but may avoid a much more expensive repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you are traveling during cold weather, leave the heater on in your home, set to a temperature not lower than 55° F.

How to Thaw Frozen Tubes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely locations for frozen pipes include exterior walls or where water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt the ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the tube section using an electric heating pad wrapped around the tube, an electric hair dryer, a portable heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping the tubes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a torch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you cannot locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you are unable to de-ice the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all the other faucets in your home to find out if there are any additional frozen pipes. If one tube freezes, others can freeze too.