How to Tell if You Have Frozen Pipes

shutterstock_212927977If you haven’t taken precautionary steps, with today’s freezing rain and the low temperatures that are predicted for the next few nights, you could end up with frozen pipes. How do you tell if you have frozen pipes, and what do you do about it? Of course, the best thing to do is to take steps to prevent frozen pipes to begin with. However, if you haven’t done that, the next best thing is to know how to tell if you have frozen pipes, and what to do when you realize your pipes are frozen.

How to tell if you have frozen pipes

It’s pretty simple, if water comes out of some of your faucets, but not all of them, its very likely that you have frozen pipes.  Other clues, if your pipes have frost on them, or are bulging, or worse yet ice cold and split, you are in trouble! Frozen pipes can lead to burst pipes, and the prospect of a flood and water damage in your home.

What to do about frozen pipes

What prompts me to write on this subject is the fact that we had frozen pipes at one of our rental properties during the last bout of cold weather a couple of weeks ago. We knew about opening cabinet doors and dripping the faucets in freezing temperatures to help prevent frozen pipes, but forgot to instruct our new tenant to take those steps. We were lucky; when it warmed up the pipes thawed and did not break.

When we learned about the frozen pipes I did what we all do, I immediately Googled to find out what to do for frozen pipes. I found a lot of advice online, telling me to do everything from heating the affected area with a blow dryer, to calling a plumber to come out and cut into the walls to find and repair the frozen area, to not doing anything at all, and dealing with it after the thaw. I also called a trusted plumber, who advised me to:

1) turn up the heat in the house, open the frozen faucets and open the cabinet doors to introduce warm air and promote defrosting.

2) turn the water off at the main and leave it off until several hours after outside temperatures returned to normal to allow the frozen area to defrost.

3) when normal temperatures return and time has been allowed for the ice to defrost, test by turning the water on and check the faucets, if the water is coming out and there are no apparent leaks, you are good to go (best possible outcome) or, if you see a leak, or hear water spraying in the wall (worst possible outcome), turn the water off immediately and call the plumber to make repairs.

4) be ready to mop up any water that comes into the house if the pipes have in fact burst as soon as possible to lessen damage.

I was told this is the most cost effective way to respond to frozen pipes. The plumber indicated the cost of having them come out to open the walls and locate and defrost the frozen area would be much higher than the cost of cleaning up the controlled water flow and repairing after the thaw as described above.

You have to use your own judgement and decide what is the best approach for you. You can go to the expense of bringing out a plumber as soon as you think your pipes are frozen, and put them to work opening your walls, or you can wait until after the thaw, as we did.