How to Deal with Frozen Pipes to Minimize Water Damage

The mercury is quickly approaching zero as the wind whirls around the outside of the house, making it feel 10-20 degrees colder than the thermometer is registering. Wind chill of this nature is no friend to your water pipes and can cause a great deal of damage. Many of us have felt that sick feeling in our gut when we’ve turned on the tap, expecting a flow of water to fill our cup, but only see a trickle escape the faucet. The pipes are frozen and we need to act fast before they burst. Here are a couple quick tips if you are dealing with this problem, that may at least help you to minimize flooding and loss from water damage.

The Hair Dryer vs Frozen Pipes – the Heat Is On

Many reputable insurance agencies will suggest using a hair dryer to thaw the pipes as long as there is no standing water on the floor. The last thing you want to deal with is electrocution as well as flooding. Hair dryers can be pointed in specific directions, making the most use of the heat. Remember to be careful not to overheat your hair dryer. Give it a break to cool down every so often. A word of caution: You never want to use a lit flame to thaw your pipes, even if they are copper or galvanized. This type of high heat can lead to further problems within the structure of the pipes themselves.

The Towel vs Frozen Pipes – Both Hot and Cold

Another solution is to heat some water, then soak towels in the hot bath and wrap them around the frozen pipe. Leave the towels in place until they lose their warmth, then repeat the process until the pipes thaw. Make sure the faucet is turned on, so the water will have a place to escape. You’ll know you’re making progress when chunks of ice begin to sputter out the tap as the rush of water and air push the ice forward.

But what if you’re too late and the pipe bursts? Although water spraying in all directions can cause even the calmest person to panic… don’t. It’s time to think fast. The first thing you want to do is quickly run to the main valve and shut off the water. If the main valve is on the other side of the house and you have a bath towel handy, wrap it around the pipe first to minimize the spraying. The towel will quickly become saturated and the water will begin running out the bottom as opposed to spraying everywhere. If you have a large bowl, bucket or tub handy, place it beneath the wrapped towel to collect the water, then run to the main valve and turn it off.

Prevention vs Frozen Pipes – the Wisdom of Being Proactive

Of course, the best solution is to do what it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. But in the case those efforts fail, the above steps can be taken to minimize the effects of frozen pipes. Water damage is unforgiving and can take its toll on most objects and surfaces. Be mindful of the weather and don’t let a winter storm creep up on you unaware. It’s been said that, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Those are wise words, that not only will save you a lot of time and money, but give you peace of mind as well.

Tips from the City of Bothell

Following is a link to a great document from the city of Bothell, Washington that outlines a few more great tips and talks some more about prevention. If you live in Bothell City and are dealing with frozen pipes or any other issue with water and are not sure how to turn of your water main the city can do this free of charge. Just call 425-488-0118 during normal business hours.

One of the great tips from Bothell is to be sure the water meter box lid is closed since cold air can enter and actually cause freezing at the entry point. Another great tip is opening the water faucet nearest to the pipe that has frozen, which will help prevent the pipe from bursting by relieving the pressure from the expanding ice.

Here are the “Cold Weather Plumbing Tips” from Bothell City:

Washington Water Departments by City

If you have frozen pipes and need to shut off your water main, but don’t know where it is or how to do it, here is a quick reference for who to call if you need help shutting off your water after hours. This list includes Bothell and surrounding cities. During normal hours simply call your utilities department in your area.

Bothell (425) 488-0118
Bellevue (425) 452-7840
Kenmore (425) 398-4400
Woodinville (425) 487- 4100
Mountlake Terrace (425) 744-6214
Kirkland (425) 587-3900
Shoreline (206) 361-8100
Lynnwood (425) 248-9060
Everett (425) 257-8821
Mill Creek (425) 745‐1891 (daytime number only)
Redmond (425) 556-2500

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