A frozen faucet outside of a home, connected to a pipe that may burst.

How to Fix Frozen Pipes

Updated January 3, 2019 . AmFam Team

When the weather turns cold, your pipes need protecting. But even with the utmost care, the frigid temperatures could still cause them to burst. Here’s how to react when a frozen pipe starts spilling water all over your home.

When the weather turns frigid, you’re not the only one in your home feeling the chill. If your plumbing is older or poorly insulated, a cold snap can cause the water in it to freeze. Once water freezes, it expands. Weakened metal or plastic pipes can have a hard time managing the expanding water. And when it gets to be too much, the pressure buildup in your pipes can cause them to burst and send water flowing into your home.

That’s why we’ve put together a quick, handy guide to help you minimize the damage and get your life back to normal as soon as possible.

What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze and Burst

The key to saving the day when your pipes freeze? Taking action quickly. When the unexpected happens and you’ve got a winter-time leak on your hands, use these tips to fix it fast:

Turn off your main water supply. Find your home’s main water valve and turn it off. Part of your home safety precautions should include making sure everyone in the family knows where the main shutoffs are for both water and electricity.

If you live in an apartment and don’t have access to the main shut off, contact your landlord immediately and let others in your building know, too.

Call a plumber. Contact a professional plumber as soon as possible. If a big chill has settled into your region, the plumbers will be super busy — so make sure you let them know the urgency of your situation. And while urgent service will probably cost you more than normal service, it’s well worth the extra dollars to get a pro on the scene and keep your floors, walls and valuables safe from water damage.

Drain the pipes. You’ve already turned off the main water supply, so now it’s time to drain what you can out of the pipes. Turn on all the cold taps, then switch off the hot water heating system and turn on all the hot taps. Flush all the toilets in your home, too — getting all the residual water out of your pipes will help you avoid further freezing, bursting and leaking.

Assess the Water Damage

After you’ve done all you can to prevent any further damage from occurring in your home, now’s the time to see what you’ll need to clean up. Use these tips to investigate your home thoroughly and stay safe in the process:

Find the water damage. Depending on the extent of the leak, you might need to turn off the electricity to the water-damaged areas of your home. Don’t forget to look up and check your ceilings — and if you see a bulge or a sag, your ceiling is holding water and it’s not safe to be under it. Make note of all the areas where you notice damage and evacuate your family and pets in the event of any danger.

Contact your American Family Insurance agent. After you’ve made sure there’s no danger and you’ve cleaned up any standing water, get in touch with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to see if your homeowners insurance will cover the damage to your property. Your agent will walk you through your options and help you begin the claims process. If you need advice on what professional services you’ll need, like a plumber, clean-up crew or construction contractors, your agent will often be able to recommend the best people for the job.

Clean up the water. If you caught the leak early and there’s no immediate danger, you can begin the clean-up while you wait for a plumber. A wet/dry vacuum will do a great job of pulling water out of carpets. If you don’t have one, consider renting one from your local hardware store. Dehumidifiers, towels, mops and buckets come in handy, too. Use whatever works best for your situation.

However, make sure to follow the directions of your agent or claims department. If they tell you to wait on a particular step, do so.

Fix Frozen Pipes That Aren’t Leaking

If you discover that the pipes in your home are frozen but haven’t burst yet, you might be able to save yourself some intensive cleanup and a hefty bill from your plumber. But again, acting quickly is key —if a pipe freezes and there isn’t a substantial weather warmup coming, it’s only a matter of time before they could burst.

Turn on a water faucet. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle of water comes out, that’s a big clue that you have a frozen pipe. Keep the faucet on as you progress through the next steps!

Thaw the frozen pipes. Never, ever use an open flame to thaw a pipe. Here are the only methods you should ever use to thaw a frozen pipe:

  • Use an electric hair dryer to safely thaw the pipe. Don’t prop the hair dryer up on a chair, ladder or wall and leave. Move the hot air around the pipe to equally distribute the heat.
  • Cover some bath towels in hot water, wring them out and apply them to the pipes. Have a few ready, as the towels will cool quickly once they come in contact with the pipe.
  • Keeping your home warm in the first place can help prevent frozen pipes, so turn up your thermostat when you notice a freeze has occurred to get the water moving again.

Professionals may recommend other methods such as space heaters and heat tape, but allow them to set them up safely in order to avoid water coming into contact with electricity.

Check for more frozen spots. When there’s one frozen pipe in your house, there’s a good chance there’s more. Check all the faucets and toilets in your home to make sure water is flowing freely and at normal pressure levels.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

To avoid the mess, hassle and expense of frozen pipes in the first place, proactive prevention is your best course of action. Use the following tips to prevent frozen pipes and enjoy a stress-free winter.

Know where to look. The pipes most susceptible to freezing are outside or located in unheated interior areas like basements, attics, crawlspaces, garages and cupboards, running against exterior walls where there is little or no insulation. Be sure to pay close attention to pipes in these areas and watch for freezing, especially if there’s a big freeze in the forecast.

Add insulation. If your attic, basement or crawlspace isn’t well insulated, this extra step will not only add some protection to your pipes but will make your home more energy efficient, too.

Insulate your pipes, too. Cover your vulnerable pipes with insulation to give them a blanket of coverage. Things like newspaper or blankets can work in a pinch, but go to your local hardware store and pick up some insulation meant to save you from a frozen pipe disaster.

Caulk cracks. If there are cracks in the foundation or walls, sealing them can help keep your home and your pipes warm. Have a professional contractor make sure your basement is sealed appropriately, or use some of the same tips we offer for waterproofing your basement — they can often help keep the heat in and your pipes flowing!

Turn off outdoor water faucets. Disconnect your garden hoses and turn off the water supply to spigots. Once you turn off the water to outside areas, leave the faucets open to allow them to drain. If any water is left inside those pipes, it can now expand and freeze without causing a break.

Let it drip. Letting water drip from your faucets every once in a while can keep the lines open and prevent freezing. Don’t worry about the threat of high water bills — a slow drip for a few minutes every few days can do wonders.

Open cupboard doors. For pipes under sinks, open cupboard doors to help the warm air circulate. Pipes are especially at risk if they’re located on or near exterior walls and are uninsulated.

Keep it heated. During very cold stretches, keep your thermostat at a warmer setting, day and night. If you’re going to be away for long periods of time during the winter, it’s best to set the temperature in your home at 55 degrees or warmer.

Relocate pipes. If you have regular issues with frozen and burst pipes, it might be time to relocate them. This can be an expensive solution, but it may save you money and hassle in the long run.

When it comes to frozen pipes, a little precaution goes a long way toward helping you protect your home and your property. Take it even further by touching base with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to make sure your policy is up-to-date and gives you the peace of mind you deserve.

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