One of the worst things that can happen to a home during the wintertime is to have a water pipe freeze and burst. What happens is that if the pipes are not protected by being wrapped in some type of insulation, when temperatures dip below freezing, the water in those pipes can freeze. When that occurs, the pipe is forced to expand, resulting in it bursting. For the homeowner, you now have a huge disaster on your hands.
To avoid risk of having your water pipes freeze you always want to make sure they are wrapped with insulation or heat tape. Even if your pipes are in an area of the home or garage that is warm, you have no guarantee that an accident will not happen. All it takes is one day of freezing weather, a loss of electricity, and before you know it, your home is now flooded, causing damage to the actual structure and all your personal belongings.
Although there are many different types of pipes, the most common are made from galvanized steel, copper, and CPVC, which is a plastic pipe. When it comes to repairs, each of these materials has their own characteristics, requiring them to be handled just a little differently. Now keep in mind that once any repairs have been made, you need to take precautions so this never happens again.
The first step is to locate the section of pipe that has frozen. During cold weather, if you find that a faucet in the home has a reduced flow of water or no water at all. In this case, you can be sure that you have a frozen pipe. The challenge now becomes finding the exact location of the damage but with a few pointers, it can be done. First, regardless of the type or pipe, you can tap on the pipe section by section until you hear a sound more solid than other sections.
If you have CPVC pipes, you can take a pair of large pliers and then squeeze gently various sections of the pipe. If the pipe does not yield, then you have discovered the frozen section. Another option is to try to flex the pipe. If a small cracking sound is heard, then you have found ice. You can also look for leakage or wet spots, which would be indicators. Remember that even if the pipe is frozen, unfortunately, it may not be found until you have already had a pipe breakage.
A very important key is that before you start trying to thaw or repair a pipe, the water pressure on that pipe must be relieved first. Typically, you would turn the main water supply off to the entire house. However, if you live on well water, then you would need to turn the water tank off or the breaker to the pump. When the pressure has been eliminated, the water line would be drained, opening the lowest valve in the home.
Remember when thinking about thawing a frozen pipe that you never use anything like an arc welder in that they can cause harm and they pose a fire hazard. To thaw a frozen pipe that has not yet burst, you can use a hairdryer or small propane torch. With a hairdryer, just be sure you sweep the air back and forth over the pipe rather than holding it on the pipe in one location. Additionally, make sure the cord or outlet is ground-fault protected. For the torch, you would be able to use this method on all pipe types except for the PVCP or plastic pipe. The flame will need to be kept small and moved over the frozen section of the pipe without keeping the heat on just one area. With this method, you need to wear heavy work gloves and protective eyewear.