Thawing Frozen Pipes


With all the cold weather in NY, our cold water pipes have been freezing.  Now the hot water line just broke, which really surprised me since I thought that one would take not freeze since it was for hot water.  Is there anything I can do to fix the problem?

Actually, there is a good reason.  Cold water has more air entrained in it than hot water.  The process of heating water forces the air out of the water.  As the water freezes, more pressure is applied faster to the soft copper walls.  As a result, hot water pipes freeze, expand and break at a faster rate than cold water pipes.

Also, since hot water is not on all the time, the water in the pipe never stays warm for very long after it is run making it just as susceptible to freezing as a cold water pipe.

To prevent frozen pipes, there are a couple of things you should do.  First, insulate the pipe.  You can do this with foam tubes, fiberglass tubes and/or fiberglass pipe wrap.  If you notice that the same pipe freezes all the time, then y might want to consider having that pipe re-run through a warmer section of the house.  Also check for areas outside where cold air might be getting in to the area where the pipe is freezing as some additional weather stripping or insulation may be needed in those area as well.

If your pipes are frozen, electric heat tape can be used to help thaw them out.  I must caution you though; heat tape can be dangerous if improperly used.  Be certain the product you have has a built-in thermostat, is UL listed and properly installed.  A common mistake is to wrap the tape on top of itself as it goes through the pipe.  This can cause over heating and potentially a fire.  Read and heed all manufacturer instructions when putting the tape on.

If the pipe is still frozen, you may need to hire a plumber with a pipe thawing machine, or rent one yourself from a local rental company.

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