Straight from the Tap

How to Thaw a Frozen Water Pipe


The low temperatures and cold winds of winter can make your water pipes susceptible to freezing, especially ones located in unheated or exterior areas of your home. And if a frozen pipes bursts, it can cause flooding and serious damage.

The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to prevent them in the first place. A thin flow of water from a faucet during the worst of the cold spell can help prevent plumbing or water service lines from freezing. If you are away from home for several days, turn the water off or leave the thermostat set at or above 55 degrees to ensure your home stays warm.

If the unthinkable does happen, you’ll have to act fast to minimize the damage and costs.

How to Identify a Frozen Pipe

If you turn on the faucet and no water or only a slight trickle comes out, there may be a blockage of ice somewhere in your plumbing. If the pipes are exposed, such as pipes under sinks or in a basement, you may be able to see the frozen portion of the pipe. Frozen pipes often have frost on them or may have a slight bulge. If you are unable to locate the frozen pipe or it is not accessible, you should call a licensed plumber.

How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe

If you have a frozen pipe that hasn’t burst, you need to thaw the pipe as soon as possible. You can contact a certified plumber or try to thaw it yourself. Here are some tips to help:

  • Turn on the faucet serviced by the frozen line. This will relieve some pressure and as the ice starts to melt and water begins to flow again it will help melt the ice in the pipe.
  • If you start to notice water leaking from the pipe as it thaws, then turn off the water supply to that section of plumbing or the entire house.
  • Apply heat in the general area by increasing the room temperature where the pipes are exposed or placing a portable heater or heat lamp in the room. Apply direct heat by wrapping an electric blanket or heating pad around the frozen pipe or using a hair dryer on the frozen pipe section.
  • Always follow safety guidelines when using electric appliances. Never stand in water while using an electric appliance and never leave them unattended while in use.
  • Never use a blow torch or open flame to thaw pipes. It creates a serious fire hazard and can cause more damage to the pipe.

What to Do If a Frozen Pipe Bursts

Pipes burst when frozen because water expands when it freezes, adding considerable pressure inside the frozen pipe. That pressure can cause a pipe to crack and burst. If a frozen pipes bursts, shut your water off at the master shut-off valve immediately to minimize flooding. A 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day! A shut-off valve is usually located near your meter where the water line comes into a basement or crawl space from the street. Unfortunately, you’ll have to call a plumber to repair the damaged pipe. Contact one as soon as possible and dry up any water. You may also want to contact your insurance agent, depending on the extent of the damage.

Frozen Meters

While your AMR transmitter cannot freeze, the meter itself can. If your meter freezes, you will need to contact us for a replacement before you will have water again. If you have an upgraded AMR meter, there is a charge associated with having to replace it.

If you have any questions about frozen meters or water lines, please contact Cleveland Water at (216) 664-3060.

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