An industry expert explains the best ways to handle frozen pipes.
Q: I dread winter. Every time an arctic blast moves south the pipes freeze in one of my buildings. What method do you suggest to thaw the pipes and get the water moving again?
A: The first thing to do is to insulate all your pipes, especially those located close to the outside walls. Then, when you hear of a cold wave coming, turn off the water and drain the lines in the empty apartments. You can place a work light under a sink cabinet to generate just enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing in many cases.
Once the pipes freeze, don’t use a blowtorch to thaw the pipe. You risk burning the house down. Don’t waste time with a space heater. They are too slow. Instead, rent or purchase a pipe-thawing machine.
Just plug the pipe-thawing machine into a 115-volt outlet and clamp the cables on either side of the frozen section of pipe. The pipe-thawing machine sends low voltage (about 5 volts) but high amperage current (between 300 and 400 amps) through the metal pipe. It’s safe to touch, and doesn’t get the pipe red hot so there’s no danger of fire. Instead, it heats the pipe just a few degrees above freezing. Once the outer layer of water thaws, water pressure melts the rest. The water will be flowing again in minutes.