How to defrost a frozen pipe safely and quickly

Ah, frozen pipes – the bane of homeowners during freezing winter weather. When water freezes, it expands, and your pipes aren’t exactly fans of that expansion. It’s like trying to squeeze into skinny jeans after Christmas dinner – uncomfortable and potentially disastrous. When a block of ice forms in your pipes, it can reduce water pressure or even create a watertight seal that stops water from flowing to the taps. In this article, we discuss how you can restore running water through your pipes, what you should do if a pipe bursts, and how to prevent pipes from freezing again in the future.


How to identify frozen pipes

Wondering how you know if your pipes have turned into icy popsicles? Well, firstly, there’s the obvious sign: no water coming out of the faucet, or your water pressure reduces significantly.

Listen to your pipes closely – pipes, when they’re not feeling frosty, are usually silent workers. But if you start hearing strange noises, it’s a red flag. The expansion of frozen water can cause odd rumbles in the pipes.

If a pipe is frozen, it is going to feel colder than usual. Run your hands very carefully along the pipes and if you find a section that is freezing cold, you’ve hit the icy spot.

You may also notice visible frost or ice accumulation on the pipes or even bulges, particularly where the pipe is exposed to the outside.

If you spot any of these signs, you might have a frozen pipe situation on your hands.

So, what’s the big deal? Why worry about a little ice in your plumbing system? Well, when water freezes, it doesn’t just affect one place. It builds up pressure like a water balloon, and when that pressure becomes too much for your pipes to manage, it can cause the pipe to burst, which you want to avoid.

How to thaw frozen pipes

Once you have located the frozen pipe, you’ll need to thaw it out gradually. This is crucial if you want to prevent potential damage and water-related disasters. Rapidly applying intense heat can lead to a pipe bursting or cracking due to sudden ice expansion. By gradually thawing the pipe you will minimise the risk of water damage by allowing for controlled water flow, reducing the chance of flooding. Additionally, it will help avoid thermal stress on pipes, preserving their structural integrity and minimising the risk of fractures. Prioritising safety with gradual thawing also reduces the likelihood of fire hazards associated with rapid heating (never use an open flame to thaw pipes). Patience during the thawing process lets you monitor for leaks and check the overall condition of the pipe, ensuring a safer and more effective resolution.

Follow the following steps to help you thaw a frozen pipe safely:

  • Turn of the inside stop tap. If you notice a potentially frozen pipe, promptly shut off the interior stop tap, typically situated beneath the kitchen sink or in a downstairs bathroom, kitchen cupboard, or under the stairs.
  • Identify the frozen pipe. As mentioned earlier, determine which pipe is frozen. Look for areas that are unusually cold or show visible signs of ice or frost. Listen for strange sounds along the pipework too.
  • Open the faucets. Open the faucet connected to the frozen pipe (or open all the taps to drain the entire system if you are not sure on the precise location of the frozen area). Opening the faucet helps relieve the pressure in the system to reduce the chance that the pipe will burst. It also allows water to flow once the ice blockage is removed.
  • Locate the frozen point. If you’re unsure where the pipe is frozen, start from the faucet and work your way backwards. Feel the pipe with your hands to identify the frozen section.
  • Apply heat. There are several safe methods to apply heat to the frozen pipe:
    – Hot towels or rags: Soak old towels or rags in hot water and wrap them around the frozen pipe.
    – Hairdryer: Use a hairdryer on the highest heat setting to warm the pipe gradually. Move the dryer back and forth along the frozen section.
    – Space heater: If your pipe is in a basement or garage, place a space heater in the room with the frozen pipe, ensuring it is a safe distance away from flammable materials.
    – Hot water bottle: Why not hold or tape a hot water bottle to the affected area.
    – Heat tape. Wrap the frozen pipe with electrical heating tape or a specialised electric pipe heating cable. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.The important thing to remember that safety is the top priority. Never use an open flame, such as a propane torch, to thaw pipes. It not only poses a risk of damage to the pipe, but it is a significant fire hazard too. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable in any way, it’s better to seek professional help rather than risking damage or injury
  • Be patient. Thawing a pipe takes time. Be prepared to wait at least 30 to 60 minutes. Be patient and apply heat continuously.
  • Check for leaks. Once thawed, turn off the heat source and turn the inside stop tap back on to check the water flow has been restored. Check for any visible leaks. If you find a leak, turn off the water supply and repair the pipe before restoring the water flow.
  • Prevent future freezing. To prevent the pipes from freezing again, insulate the exposed pipes and seal any gaps or cracks in walls and floors to keep chilly air out.
  • If in doubt, call a professional. If you are unable to locate the frozen pipe, if the pipe is burst, or if you are uncomfortable handling the situation, it’s advisable to call a professional plumber for assistance.

What to do if you have a burst pipe

In the unfortunate event of a burst pipe follow the following steps:

  • Turn off the water supply coming into your home at the stop tap.
  • Switch off your boiler.
  • Open all your taps to drain the system as quickly as possible, saving water in a bucket for flushing the loo and washing your hands. 
  • When the water stops running. Turn all the taps off. 
  • Call a qualified plumber to repair the burst pipe. 
  • While you wait for the plumber to arrive, mop up any water as soon as possible to prevent water damage and the formation of mould and mildew. Fans and dehumidifiers can also be set up in the area to help absorb the water and dry any affected surfaces.


How to prevent pipes from freezing in the future

Preventing pipes from freezing is crucial, especially in wintry weather, to avoid potential damage and costly repairs. Here are seven effective ways to prevent pipes from freezing:

Insulate exposed pipes

Insulate pipes that are exposed to cold temperatures, especially those in unheated areas like basements, crawl spaces, and attics. Use pipe insulation sleeves, heat tape, or other insulating materials to provide a barrier against the cold.

Seal air leaks

Seal any gaps or cracks in the walls, floors, and around windows and doors. Chilly air draughts can contribute to freezing pipes. So, by preventing these draughts, you help maintain a warmer environment around the pipes.

Keep interior temperatures consistent

Maintain a consistent temperature in your home, even when you’re away. Set your thermostat to a minimum temperature, usually no lower than 55°F (13°C), to prevent the interior from getting too cold.

Let faucets drip

In extremely frigid conditions, allow faucets connected to exposed pipes to drip slowly. The movement of water can help prevent freezing. This is particularly useful for faucets along exterior walls.


Use space heaters

Place space heaters in areas with pipes to provide additional warmth. Ensure proper safety precautions, and never leave space heaters unattended. Space heaters can be a temporary solution during extremely cold periods.

Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses

Disconnect garden hoses from outdoor faucets and drain the water from them. If the hoses are left connected, water can freeze and expand, potentially causing damage to both the hose and the faucet.

Ensure your boiler is serviced annually

An annual boiler service will not only help to keep you safe, but it will provide efficiency, and peace of mind too.

Regular maintenance helps detect and address safety issues, preventing potential carbon monoxide leaks and ensuring the safe operation of the boiler. It also improves efficiency by cleaning key components, reducing energy consumption and lowering utility bills. Annual servicing minimises the risk of unexpected breakdowns, prolongs the boiler’s lifespan, and complies with warranty and legal requirements. It provides homeowners with confidence in the reliable and safe functioning of their heating system, contributing to a comfortable living environment.

Remember that prevention is key, and it’s much easier to take these measures before the onset of freezing temperatures. Regular maintenance and vigilance during freezing weather can help you avoid the inconvenience and expense of dealing with frozen pipes.

If you suspect frozen pipes are staging a takeover in your household, it’s time to act. Grab a hairdryer or some hot towels and start thawing those pipes – just be gentle.

And of course, if things get too chilly to handle or you’re not sure where to start, don’t hesitate to call in the cavalry – our qualified team of heating engineers will be happy to help.