Frozen Pipes?

Here is what to do to prevent and repair frozen pipes.

Quick Video: Shutting Off the Water At the Meter

Quick Video: Shutting Off the Water at the Valve Box

Quick Video: Thawing Out Your Frozen Water Pipes

The extreme cold and freezing temperatures over the last few days has left many with plumbing issues. If you tried to use a faucet/toilet/shower and the water isn’t working, you may have a frozen pipe.

How Do You Know If You Have A Frozen Pipe?

If you try to use a faucet and suddenly there is no water coming out on either the hot or cold side, there is a high likelihood you have a frozen pipe. Unless the freeze is on an exposed portion of the pipe, there is no way for you to tell where the pipe is frozen in the wall. It is just a matter of waiting.

A frozen spot may or may not have damaged the pipe. You usually won’t be able to know this until it thaws out and the damaged spot becomes an active leak.

Keep in mind that single-handle shower valves and tub/shower combination valves have a pressure balancer inside of them. This means that if the hot water or cold water is shut off (whether by a freeze or by turning off the water heater valve) then little to no water will come out of that faucet at all (whether you turn it to the hot side or to the cold side).

Step 1: Strengthen Your Defense

If you have had one pipe freeze, act quickly to prevent anything else in the home from freezing.

  • Open cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate as close as possible to the pipes to prevent another burst pipe.
  • If possible, keep your thermostat set higher. It may be warm enough for you in the living spaces, but the colder it gets outside, the warmer it will need to be inside the house to protect the pipes running through the walls.
  • Run water at the fixtures – expecially those on the outside wall. Keeping up a steady drip or slow trickle will significantly help keep the pipes from freezing. Make sure you are dripping both the hot and the cold handles on the faucets to prevent a burst pipe on both lines.
  • If what you are doing isn’t working, or if you can’t keep the heat on to the house, then fill up the bathtubs with water. You will be able to use this water to flush your toilets by dumping a bucket directly into the toilet to initiate the siphon.

Step 2: Know How To Shut the Water Off

If you are in danger of having frozen pipes or if you already have frozen pipes, it is imperative that you know how to shut the water off to your home. Even if a frozen pipe isn’t currently leaking, it may start leaking when it thaws.

  • There is a main property shut off valve at the water meter by the street.
  • You also should have an accessible shut off valve at the water heater and also at the main water line where it comes into the home. These valves may be round handles or lever-style handles. Turn the round handles clockwise until they stop to shut the water off (it may take many turns). Rotate the lever handle clockwise so that it is perpendicular to the pipe to shut the water off.
  • The water heater valve will be on the pipe going into the right-side inlet of your water heater. If it is not corroded and relatively easy to turn, you can shut the water off to the hot water system here.
  • The main shut off valve will usually be in a plastic box in the front flower bed where the water line enters under the foundation (if your home was built before 2010). If your home was built more recently, there is a greater chance that your water line is behind an access panel in the garage wall or laundry room wall. If the valve is buried, inaccessible, or difficult to operate, it is best to leave it alone.
  • Finally, in order to shut the water off to the house, you must remove the lid to the meter can. These are typically round black lids by the street in this area. There is usually a “lock” with a comma-shaped keyhole in the lid. A meter key (or sometimes a screwdriver) can be used to remove the lid.
  • Then, behind the water meter will be a little circular valve with a raised notch and little tabs on the sides. A meter tool (or sometimes an adjustable wrench) can be used to rotate the top of this valve clockwise to shut the water off to the house.

Step 3: Try To Thaw The Pipes

Here are a few things you can do to attempt to restore flow to a frozen faucet:

  • If possible, keep the water flowing. If the pipe is partially frozen but water will still come out of the faucet, keep that water trickling through the faucet to help it warm up.
  • If you have access to the frozen pipe, you can use a hair dryer, space heater or some other source of gentle heat to thaw the pipes out. If you can put a space heater under the cabinet, that may be enough to thaw out pipes in the wall.

IF YOU THAW OUT A FROZEN PIPE, YOU MAY EXPOSE AN ACTIVE LEAK THAT WILL CAUSE WATER DAMAGE TO YOUR HOME UNLESS THE WATER IS TURNED OFF. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO THAW OUT YOUR PIPES IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO IMMEDIATELY SHUT THE WATER OFF TO THE HOME!

Dealing With Insurance

If you had a burst/frozen pipe in your home, it is just as important to act quickly with the logistics as it is with the immediate response. Once the water has been shut off and you’ve taken steps to prevent further damage, it is important to document everything. Take photos of everything damaged by the water as well as any exposed plumbing issues.

Go through your insurance policy and reeducate yourself on the particulars – what is covered, what the deductibles are, etc… Using this information, determine whether you will make a claim or not. When in doubt, it is usually a good idea to make the claim. Keep in mind that there may be hidden water damage that will be an added expense to remediate.

Next, you need to think about contractors – plumbers, water damage restoration specialists, drywall installers, etc… You may choose a preferred contractor recommended by your insurance company, but you don’t have to. You are much more likely to get a reputable contractor that will stand behind their work if you shop around and are picky about who you select. Remember to always choose contractors who specialize in their particular field – not generalists.

At Legacy Plumbing, we work for you, the homeowner, and your best interests are our priority. As such, we don’t bill insurance companies directly, but we are happy to provide any follow-up support and information you need as you are submitting the invoice to the insurance company. We can take photos of the work and document it on the invoice as well as provide any breakdown the insurance company needs of the work.

Protect Your Tankless Water Heater

If you have an exterior wall-mounted tankless water heater, it likely has features to prevent it from freezing as long as power stays on to the house. If power goes out, however, there are some steps you should take to prevent damage.

Run a low volume of water through the water heater to prevent freezing.

If it gets too cold for the water heater to protect itself from freezing (or if power goes out to the home), take the following steps may prevent the water heater and external piping from freezing:

  • Turn the water heater off and close the gas supply valve.
  • Turn on a hot water valve at a sink or tub inside the house so that the trickle of water is about 1/4″ thick.

If you cannot flow water through the heater in this way, you will need to drain the heater.

  • Turn off the temperature controller.
  • Close the gas and water valves and turn off the power.
  • Open hot water drain plug at the hot water outlet.
  • Remove water filter to drain the cold water.

Once the weather warms up and the heater/pipes thaw, here is how to start it up again.

  • Confirm that all water drain plugs are removed, that the gas supply is turned off, and that all taps are closed.
  • Screw in the hot water drain plug.
  • Screw in the water filter in the cold water inlet.
  • Open the cold water supply.
  • Open a tap and confirm that water flows, and then close.
  • Turn on the power.
  • After confirming that the temperature controller is off, turn on
    the gas supply.
  • Turn on the temperature controller.
  • Check the water heater and the piping for leaks.

These are the steps recommended by Rinnai (one of the most prominent tankless heater manufacturers in this area). This basic process applies to other brands as well. Remember, your house may have multiple tankless heaters. Follow these steps for each heater and its hot water system.

This is a bottom-view of a Rinnai Tankless Heater

Here Are Some More Helpful Videos

Watch This Video On Shutting Water Off To Your House

Watch This Video On Shutting Water Off To Your Water Heater

Watch This Video On Lighting Your Gas Water Heater

Watch This Video On Protecting Your Outdoor Faucets

Watch This Video On Shutting Water At A Single Fixture

Watch This Video On How To Light Your Gas Fireplace