The last thing any homeowner wants to deal with in the dead of winter is a frozen pipe. Not only do frozen pipes cut you off from essential water for your daily needs, but there’s always a chance the pipe could burst and lead to much bigger issues.

Knowing what to do when frozen pipes happen to you despite your best efforts to prevent them is crucial. You could potentially stop the pipe from bursting and save yourself a small fortune in property damages. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Do Pipes Freeze in the First Place?

If you’re new to owning property in a cold climate, your first run-in with a frozen pipe may come as an unpleasant surprise. It’s normal to be confused and to wonder how it happens in the first place. Factors like the following can make the water in your pipes more likely to freeze than average, so be on the lookout.

Very low temperatures

The freezing point for water is 32 degrees. However, the temperature outside generally needs to be much lower to actually freeze your pipes, as most are well protected. Frozen or burst pipes typically become a likely possibility at about 20 degrees or lower.

Exterior wall location

If your pipes run through an exterior wall, they’ll naturally be a lot closer to the frigid air outside and more likely to freeze. This is especially the case if you don’t have enough insulation in your walls.

Drafts or lack of heating

Pipes in locations that are drafty or don’t directly benefit from your home’s heating system are more susceptible to freezing, as well. (Think attics, basements, and similar areas.)

You can help lower the likelihood of frozen pipes by keeping your home warm and properly insulated. Add insulation to unheated spaces, and seal up any exterior cracks that could let in drafts.

If you know low temperatures are expected, it can help to open your pipes, allowing thin trickles of water to flow through them. You can also try opening the cabinets underneath your sinks to help warm air from your home circulate around the pipes.

How to Handle a Frozen Pipe

Although preventing frozen pipes is always best, sometimes they still happen despite a homeowner’s best efforts. The most likely sign that you’re dealing with one is an inability to get water from one or more of your faucets, so act fast if that happens when temperatures plummet.

Turn off your water

The first order of business is to get to your home’s main water supply valve and shut it off. If you don’t know where it is, call your utility company and ask them to help you locate it. If you do know where it is, make sure others in your home know, too.

Locate the frozen pipe

Next, you want to try to locate the frozen pipe. Chances are, it’s somewhere cold, like your basement, attic, exterior wall, or crawl space. Often, frozen pipes are frosty on the outside.

Open the faucets

Before you get to work on the pipe, open up any faucets connected to it. Once the trapped, frozen water starts to thaw, that water will need a place to go. Opening the pipes beforehand provides this and helps relieve built-up pressure.

Inspect the pipe for damage

Check the affected pipe for signs that it may already be damaged or close to bursting. Examples include cracks, leaks, or anything similar. If you see anything like that, call your plumber.

Try to thaw the pipe

Attempt to thaw the pipe with a hair dryer or portable space heater. (Never use a blowtorch or other open flame.) You can also try soaking towels in hot water and wrapping them around the pipe.

When in Doubt, Call a Professional

If you’re unable to thaw your frozen pipe yourself, call a good emergency plumber for help right away. If you’re in or near Wichita, Comfort Systems is available for emergencies and on-call 24/7. They’ll be able to get your pipes flowing again in no time, as well as ensure there’s no lasting damage.