What to Do If Your Pipes Freeze

To find your home's water meter, look for a metal cover similar to this along the edge of your property.

To find your home's water meter, look for a metal cover similar to this along the edge of your property.

Despite taking every precaution to winterize your pipes, there's always the chance they could freeze. With this in mind, here are a few things to consider in the event of a frozen or broken pipe.

Do you know the location of the main water shut-off valve? Depending on where you live and your house type, the main shut-off valve may be in a utility room, crawl space, basement or at the meter. Wherever it is, make sure your family knows the location, and how to turn it off. Painting the valve a bright fluorescent color can help you to find it quickly, and tagging the valve with your plumber's name and phone number eliminates the stress of finding a plumber as water is spewing from your pipes.

If you turn on the faucet and nothing comes out, call your plumber immediately. You can find the frozen area by following the pipe until you come across a spot that appears swollen or has a rupture in the side wall. If that pipe has a separate shut-off valve, turn it off and leave the faucet open until the repairs are completed.

Rather than turning off the water supply, you can attempt a temporary repair of a small pipe with a patch or clamp. If the pipe only appears frozen, you can attempt to thaw it, but do not try to do so with a torch or open flame, as this could lead to a house fire or cause the pipe to burst. Try using a hand-held hair dryer on its lowest setting, but do not use it while standing in water to avoid electrocution. Be ready to cut off the main water supply if you discover a break in the pipe after you thaw the frozen area.

Do not assume that your pipes are impervious to freeze damage. Due to an unusual freeze in February 2011, San Antonio residents flooded utility companies with calls about burst water pipes and no water service. All the city could do was recommend that area residents call a San Antonio-area plumber to service their lines. Southern areas are much more susceptible to freeze damage because of the location of their water pipes. Taking extra precautions to winterize your pipes can help avoid frozen pipes when the forecast calls for temperatures below freezing.

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Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are especially vulnerable to freezing. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Bret S. of Pleasant Ridge, Mich.)

Worried about your pipes freezing due to bitter cold weather? Check out these pro tips on preventing frozen pipes, and learn what you can do if they freeze.

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