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Winter and Your Pipes - Not Always a Good Mix

I don’t think any of us are hoping to ever need this information, but with Winter settling in, and the thermostat dipping into the single digits, it’s not a bad idea to be prepared. If the worst should happen, and I’m talking about frozen pipes, it’s better to know how to remedy the problem ahead of time. We did a little research and pulled together a few tips from local experts on what to do if you think your pipes have frozen. As always, if ever in doubt, our first advice is always employ the help of a licensed professional.

So, how do you know if your pipe is frozen? There are a few signs to look for and if you answer yes to any of the symptoms below, you may have an issue with one of your pipes.

  • The outside temperature has fallen below 32 degrees.

  • A faucet or drain is omitting a strange smell.

  • Strange sounds such as bubbling noise or whistling are coming from a drain.

  • No water or only a very small trickle is coming out of a pipe.

  • Frost is evident on the exterior surface of your pipe.

If you discover that your pipes have frozen, the most important thing to do is to act quickly. Be sure you take the proper steps in thawing the pipes so that you don’t create a bigger issue. If your pipe should burst, the water can create extensive damage to your property. If you have any questions or doubts, your best bet is to always call a professional and have them assess the problem. In the mean time, here are a few steps you can take on your own.

  1. Locate the Frozen pipe. Begin by turning on the faucet. If no water spills out, there is a good chance it’s frozen and a better chance that there could be other pipes in the same area that have frozen as well. If you’re dealing with an exterior pipe and one that is exposed, it’s usually easy to pinpoint the section of pipe that’s creating the problem. Look for a bulge in the pipe or a frosty condensation on the surface.

  2. Open the faucet. Allow the water to flow out by turning each knob on. If you have both hot and cold water, open both valves. By doing this, you’re releasing pressure that may be building up and you create a place for the water to drip free as it thaws.

  3. Begin thawing the exposed pipe. If you can see the pipe, always begin thawing the ice closest to the faucet and work your way down the pipe to the blockage. In doing this, you’re allowing the water to escape and not creating any more un-needed pressure. You can:

  • Use a hairdryer to safely and slowly apply heat to the exterior of the pipe. Take caution not to expose the hair dryer or any other electric device to water while handling. This will put you at risk for electric shock.

  • Place a heat lamp or space heater at a safe distance from the pipe, creating gentle exterior heat, and generating a slow thaw and drainage. Make sure to follow all safety instructions and never leave a space heater unattended. Space heaters can topple and become a fire hazard.

  • Warm a few towels in a hot water bath or in the microwave and wrap the pipe.

  • Purchase electrical heat tape at a local hardware store and apply the tape directly to the pipe. This method is often used as a preventative measure as well. Be sure to follow all safety instructions noted by the manufacturer prior to using electrical heat tape or any heat source in your home.

If your pipe happens to be hidden behind an enclosed surface, you can start by turning up the heat in your home which may be an easy solution to your problem. It is, however, a good idea to leave this to a professional and call a plumber. Using heat lamps or space heaters against drywall can create a dangerous situation and fire hazard.

Never attempt to thaw a pipe with an open flame. It will damage the pipe and could catch surrounding surfaces on fire. When using any heat source, be sure to follow all safety instructions and never leave the product unattended.

If the worst should happen and your pipe should burst, shut off your water immediately! It’s a good idea to know where your shut off valves are. When a steady stream of water is pouring into your home, you’ll thank yourself for doing your homework. Once the water has been turned off, call a plumber who can assist you with repairing your pipes and recommend a restoration service company who is trained in water damage. Proper restoration is extremely important. If not done correctly, you will end up with mold, which can be very dangerous to your health and well-being.


It’s never too late to protect your home from pipes freezing in the future. It’s a good practice to:

  • Keep your heat on during cold weather.

  • Allow a very slow drip to stream from any “at risk” faucet.

  • Keep your interior doors open allowing the heat to circulate.

  • Seal up all holes and cracks.

  • Add insulation where needed especially on where pipes fall along exterior walls.

  • Remove exterior hoses and shut off interior valves that feed to the hose.

Paquin Design Build is a custom home builder on the Eastern Shore. Beyond building custom homes, we specialize in home remodeling and renovations. Our homebuilding service area extends from Anne Arundel County and Annapolis to Kent Island and Grasonville, and as far as Easton and St. Michaels. We are opening an interior showroom, specializing in kitchen and bath design in mid-February and it is adjacent to Rt. 50 in Grasonville. The showroom will showcase cabinets and countertops, sinks, faucets, tubs and tile, showers, lighting, and floors. Visit our showroom for all of your home remodeling and renovation projects.

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