How to Prevent, Diagnose and Thaw Frozen Pipes

In late 2022, winter storm Elliott produced a devastating winter blizzard that left millions without power in over 25 states, and overall travel chaos. Homeowners across the country were left in dire conditions such as burst pipes, flooding, and a lack of power. Here are some tips from the American Red Cross on how to protect and treat your home’s pipes from winter storms like Elliott.

Why pipes freeze:
Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the strength of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are:

  • Pipes that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines.
  • Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.
  • Pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

Here’s how to protect your pipes from freezing:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put anti-freeze in these lines unless directed. Anti-freeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor water spigots. Open the outside spigot to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a «pipe sleeve» or installing UL-listed «heat tape,» «heat cable,» or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.

When brutal cold weather hits follow these 5 action items:

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much costlier repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

How to thaw frozen pipes:
Oh no! Despite all your preparation, you turned on a faucet and only a trickle of water came out. You likely have a frozen pipe. Probable places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation. Here’s how to thaw that frozen pipe:

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, or you can’t thaw the pipe yourself, call a licensed plumber for assistance.

Unfortunately, if one pipe freezes others may freeze too. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes.

Your pipe has burst, now what?
If a pipe bursts, you should immediately shut off your main water supply valve. Leave the faucets on to fully drain the pipe and relieve any remaining pressure, and flush all toilets. Immediately contact a licensed plumber so the flooding doesn’t incur damage to the rest of your home.

While you wait for the plumber, there are steps you can take to reduce the damage. Start by moving furniture and any valuable items as far away from the burst pipe as possible. Doing this will also make it quicker and easier for the plumber to access the problem area when they arrive.

If you can see and access the leak, plugging it with rags can staunch the flow and protect your walls and insulation. You can reduce damage to your floor by placing buckets to catch any flowing or dripping water.


For over 20 years, ALE Solutions has been a leader in providing temporary housing for displaced policyholders and adjustors. Visit our website, to learn more. For additional information on weather safety, disaster preparedness, and solution updates, subscribe to our blog.


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