Three Key Steps to Take If Your Pipes Freeze

In the winter, temperatures often dip below freezing, so you’re likely using plenty of heat to keep your apartment warm. If you’re unable to use your heat, though, it’s not just the possibility of being cold that should worry you – your pipes could freeze, too, wreaking havoc on your apartment’s plumbing and potentially causing costly water damage. Even if you are using your heat, though, your pipes could still freeze on especially cold days. If your pipes do freeze, here are three key steps you should take – and other steps to prevent your pipes from freezing in the first place.

Why you should avoid frozen pipes

Frozen pipes can cause extensive damage to your apartment – and if you live in an apartment building, the damage could extend to other units. As the water inside a pipe freezes, it builds enough pressure to potentially rupture the pipe, thereby causing expensive water damage to the property (not to mention your plumbing). When exterior pipes burst, they can create extra hazards, including slippery, dangerous sidewalks. Additionally, frozen pipes will make it impossible for you to access water from all your faucets.

Add here the signs of a frozen pipe

Frozen pipes are easiest to detect when they’re visible. If your water pipes are visible, check them for frost, which indicates a frozen pipe. If your pipes aren’t visible and the temperature outside is below freezing, then your pipes might be frozen if turning on faucets leads to little or no water. Unusual odors emanating from faucets or drains may also indicate frozen pipes.

The three steps to take if your pipes freeze

If your pipes freeze, you might want to panic. Instead, do your best to remain calm and take the following steps:

  1. Shut off your water supply. If your pipes unfreeze while water is still running, then this water might seep through cracks in your pipes, leading to the extensive water damage commonly associated with frozen pipes.
  2. Locate the frozen pipe and heat it. If you find an exposed water line that’s lined with frost or bulging, it’s likely frozen. You can thaw it using a hair dryer, intense lamp or light, a space heater, or a thermostatically controlled heat tape (but never a charcoal stove, propane torch, or other open-flame tools). However, not all water lines are exposed, so you may need to take other steps.
  3. Call a plumber (or your landlord). In the event you can’t find the frozen water line, you’ll need to call a plumber. Even if you can find the frozen water line, you might do well to call a plumber anyway. Frozen pipes can lead to significant damage and cut you off from a vital resource, so you may want to leave handling it to the experts instead of going DIY. That said, shutting off your water supply is a vital first step in all situations.

How to make sure your pipes don’t freeze

Dealing with frozen pipes is among the more stressful potential apartment living challenges. Make sure frozen pipes aren’t an issue for you by doing the following:

  • Properly manage your thermostat. To save money on your heating bill, you might be lowering your thermostat at night. When the very coldest nights of the winter arrive, you should avoid lowering your thermostat so low that your pipes are at risk of freezing. That said, if you’re planning to be away for an extended period during the winter and absolutely need to save money on your heating bill, experts say that leaving your thermostat at no lower than 55 degrees F is a safe enough bet.
  • Keep doors, windows, etc., closed. Sure, you’re likely doing this anyway in the winter, but you’ll want to keep this tip in mind if your apartment has built-in garage parking, attic access, or basement access. These spaces are indoors but not heated, so they’re at the highest risk for freezing pipes. Thus, in these spaces, make sure all doors, windows, etc., are fully closed and sealed.
  • Keep your kitchen cabinet and bathroom doors open. Some pipes in your house might run through exterior walls or cabinets. These pipes likely have insulation, yet they could potentially freeze too. That’s why you should keep the doors to your bathroom and kitchen cabinets open. Doing so allows warm air to circulate into these spaces, reducing the chances that your pipes will freeze.
  • Run water, but minimally. If you know that your sink uses an exposed water pipe, you can allow it to run just a trickling drip of cold water. This minimal flow can help to prevent freezing.
  • If needed, ask your landlord to install extra insulation. If you’ve already dealt with frozen pipes and are trying to avoid them in the future, have your landlord add extra insulation to the pipes that have frozen after you thaw them.

If you’ve had your pipes freeze, how have you dealt with it? Sound off in the comments!

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