How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

Frozen pipes are common here in the Rochester, NY area during the winter months. Thankfully there are a bunch of tips and tricks to follow to help reduce the chances of your pipes freezing. The last thing you need is for them to freeze and burst.  You’ll learn:

  • How and why pipes freeze.
  • How to recognize a frozen pipe.
  • How to thaw out frozen pipes.
  • What to do if your pipes have burst.

If you’re interested in learning how to prevent burst pipes, keep reading How To Keep Pipes From Freezing.


How & Why Your Pipes Freeze

Did you know that when water freezes it can expand in volume by 9-10%? As the water freezes, it expands within whatever is holding it; in this case, it is pipes that help water into and out of your home. Since a majority of household pipes are unable to withstand that much pressure, the pipe will burst. 

Often, where the pipe cracks are away from where the actual ice is. This occurs when there is a weak section in the pipe. Weakness can happen from previously frozen pipes, or if the pipes are older.

There are specific points in which your pipes may be more susceptible to freezing than others. Some examples can include:

  • Uninsulated pipes such as those in an attic, garage, or under cabinets. Pipes that follow along exterior walls also have the potential to freeze when it is cold enough.

  • Pipes that are exposed outdoors such as hose faucets and water spigots.

  • Any underground pipe when the frost line gets deep enough. Most water lines are between 3-4 feet below ground, however, the frost line can get close to 3 feet down.

How to Recognize a Frozen Pipe


There are some tell-tale signs you may have a frozen pipe. Recognizing these signs could potentially save you in damages to your home, costly repairs, and an awful headache. See if you know all the signs of frozen pipes in your home.

Your Faucets Aren’t Running

No water when turning on a faucet is often the first sign you’ll notice if your pipes have frozen. There might be a trickle, but then it stops; this is often because ice has formed within the pipes. This happens overnight when temperatures are at their lowest. Pipes are most likely to start freezing when it gets to 20 degrees F or below. 

Frosty Pipes

Usually, when you have no water, you start looking at your pipes. You may notice frost has formed on some sections of the pipe. This is very likely because of ice, and the culprit behind not having running water.

Bulging Pipes

This is the biggest warning sign that your pipes are frozen and about to burst. The pipe bulges when the ice is expanding beyond the restrictions of the pipe. It is just a matter of time before it cracks or bursts. Turning off the water will stop more pressure from building up, but the pipe must be thawed out quickly in hopes to prevent it from bursting.

Damp or Wet Walls

If there are pipes behind a wall that appears wet, likely, a pipe has already burst. If this is the case, shut off the water immediately and call a professional. A plumber can address the burst pipe issue, and Rock Environmental can address any water damage that may have occurred. Allowing too much time to go by gives more time for mold to grow and cause more damage.

How to Thaw Out Your Frozen Pipes


If you can, there are a few steps you can take to work on thawing out your frozen pipes. Additionally, there are a few different methods you can use to help melt the ice and get water flowing again. You will surely want to get the ice melted quickly to avoid the pressure building up and causing the pipes to burst.

  1. You’ll want to turn on your faucets. Even though water isn’t coming out, this will help you know when the pipe has thawed out (you’ll suddenly hear rushing water).

  2. Try to find the section of the frozen pipe. Once you have found the area that's frozen, check for any breaks or cracks in the pipe. If there is water nearby, it could have cracked as it froze. If this is the case, call your local plumber before trying to thaw the pipe.

  3. If everything appears ok, you can use one of the heating methods to thaw out the pipe. 

  4. Continue applying heat until the water pressure has been restored fully. You will then want to check other faucets in the home to make sure that the water is working properly throughout the home.

  5. Check your other pipes once the ice has been melted to be sure there aren't any other cracks or burst pipes anywhere. If you see water anywhere, call your plumber.

  6. Lastly, if you are unable to find or access the area of the frozen pipe, call Rock Environmental to help. We can find the frozen pipe quickly and effectively thaw it out for you.

**Most importantly, never use an open flame or extreme heat to thaw out frozen pipes. Something like a blow torch or a heat gun could cause extreme damage to your pipes.

Tried & True Methods to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Electrical Heat Tape - Heat tape is a good way to thaw out your pipes. This is something that can be purchased at your local hardware store for a relatively decent price. If your pipes are frozen, head to the store and purchase the tape. 

The line is taped to your pipes and plugged in allowing for the pipe to be heated and the ice thawed. Plus, you will have it available for when temps drop again!

Wrap Pipes With Towels Soaked in Warm Water - If you do have some running water, you can soak towels with warm water and wrap them around the area of frozen pipes. These would have to continuously be changed and can be messy, but they can work.

Use a Hair Dryer or Space Heater - Many people have a portable space heater or a blow dryer in their homes. If your pipes are frozen and easily accessible, then using one of these devices can help to thaw out the pipes. If using a space heater, you should remain nearby to monitor and be sure everything remains safe.

What if the Meter Freezes?

When temps reach a freezing point, even your water meter may freeze. Thankfully the meters are the responsibility of the utility company. If you think your meter may have frozen, or if the lid is cracked or missing, give the water company a call. 

You should never try to thaw out your meter, severe damage may be caused. If the meter is frozen, the water company can either thaw it out or make the necessary decisions to take care of the situation.


    What to Do if Your Pipes Have Burst

    If you have determined that a pipe in your home has indeed cracked or burst, there are a couple of recommended steps you should take to take care of the issue. 

    • If you can, turn off the main water. This will likely be in the basement or on a meter outside of your home.

    • If you have water pooling or dripping in your home, do your best to clean it up (wiping down with towels, adding catch buckets)

    • Check with a neighbor and see if they are having the same issue. If you didn’t find a specific cause of the leak, there may be the main break which would likely affect your neighbor too.

    • Call a professional plumber to check out the cracked or broken pipes.

    • Call Rock Environmental to come and assess any possible water damage you may have. If needed, we can also talk with your homeowner's insurance company and see what can be done to help cover the costs of damages.

    How to Keep Your Pipes from Freezing

    Since freezing pipes are very common in our area during cold weather months, we have compiled a list of various ways how to keep pipes from freezing. Some are easier than others, but each method on their own, or combined with others have been deemed helpful.

    • A helpful Fall task is to shut off, drain, and disconnect any outdoor hoses and faucets. Some people have spigots, turning off the main water to that and draining the lines can help reduce frozen pipes. Any hoses should be disconnected and drained as well. If you can, keep the water turned off until the weather warms back up.

    • Turning the faucet on overnight at a small trickle can help prevent the pipes from freezing. Depending on the temps, even a water drip can suffice. The best faucet to choose is the one furthest from the main water line, the water will keep moving through all the other pipes with the faucet on.

      For safe measures, you can put all faucets at risk to a low trickle. For most in the
      Rochester area, running a single pencil-thick trickle of water for 24 hours consumes 60 to 70 gallons of water. Doing this adds just 20 cents to your water bill.

    • Keep garage doors shut, especially if there are main water supply lines within the garage. Keeping the circulating cold air out can be helpful.

    • Purchase a sensor that can alert you to freezing. These are good if you will be away for an extended time during the colder months. Some sensors can connect to an app on the phone, this way you may be able to notify a neighbor or relative there may be an issue while you are away. 

    • Keep your thermostat at a consistent temperature throughout the day and night. Doing so can help to prevent pipes from freezing. If you are planning to be away for an extended time, it is best to not set the temp any lower than 55 degrees. Your energy bill may increase slightly, however that cost is minimal compared to repairs due to a burst pipe.

    • Make sure you know where your main water line shut-off valves are. It would also be helpful to have them marked with reflective tape in case you need to find them in the dark.

    • When you know temps will drop below freezing, it can be helpful to open kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Doing so can help circulate the warm air heating your home through the cabinets and pipes. This can be especially helpful if your bathroom or kitchen plumbing is on an exterior wall.

    • While it may not always be feasible, relocating your exterior pipes may be a wise choice to help prevent freezing pipes. It is something to keep in mind if you are planning a remodel of your home.

    • Proper pipe insulation can go a long way in helping fight frozen pipes. Caulking and sealing around any cracks and along window sills can help also. In spaces where vents and pipes come into the home, it is important to make sure they are properly sealed as well.

      Additionally, if you can, insulating the pipes can help as well, especially in a basement or attic since most are not heated spaces. There is insulation made for pipes, or you could use a pipe sleeve or newspaper.

    • Heat tape or cables are a great way to prevent frozen pipes. Purchasable at most hardware stores, they are installed around pipes prone to freezing keeping them heated during the cold months.

    The smallest crack in a pipe can cause hundreds of gallons of water to leak out. If a pipe bursts, serious flooding could occur in a basement or other areas of your home. Most basements hold water heaters and other important components to the home. The damage and costs associated are too risky to not try and prevent your water pipes from freezing.

    Preventing your pipes from freezing and potentially bursting is very important during the winter months. However, Rock Environmental is prepared to help with any water damage that may be resulting from the burst pipe. Standing water leaves the potential for mold growth, and that turns into a whole new issue.

    If your pipes are frozen or have already burst, call a plumber to resolve the issue. If you have any damage, call Rock Environmental!

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