Frozen pipes?: Torch the pipe, not the house

Speedy Rooter Plumbing

 Q.  I am worried about frozen pipes this winter– how do I thaw my pipes during the winter chill?

 A. If you have a crawl space, you need to take precautions to keep pipes from freezing in the first place. Most basements are heated. Very seldom do pipes freeze in basements.

For crawl space homes, your first step as winter approaches is to shut off the air vents from the outside– this keeps the air circulating. If you forget to shut these off, cold air will come in and freeze the pipes.

Also, if possible, cloak your main water shut-off valve with electrical heat tape. The main shut-off comes up from the ground into the house– just wrap tape around this pipe.

Another tip for winter is to leave a couple of faucets dripping. At cold temperatures (under 30 degrees), keep any faucet on, especially if the house is not well insulated– this keeps the water moving through the pipes.

If these precautions fail and you have no water coming into your house, there are a few ways to thaw the frozen pipes.

Before even thinking about thawing, close the main shut-off. Copper pipes will swell up and split if you leave the valve on. With split pipes, the thawing process will result in a deluge.

One way not to thaw is to stick a kerosene heater underneath the house. One homeowner decided kerosene would heat the pipes, but instead it set the house on fire. He opened the crawl space, set the heater under there, and let it burn for days. Once it ran out of fuel, the heater began to shoot out sparks and flames, and eventually ignited the insulation. Unfortunately, the whole house burned down.

Moral of the story: under no circumstance should you put any fire underneath the house for extended periods of time.

There are two options for thawing pipes. You can put a space heater underneath the crawl space, or we (a plumber) can torch the pipe where it comes in. We move the torch back and forth on the valve to thaw out the pipe.

For frozen pipes, homeowners may want to suck it up and hire a plumber. Homeowners usually put too much heat on the pipes and end up doing damage. When you melt the pipe, a replacement is necessary because water will go everywhere.

If the torch doesn't work, you may have to wait until warmer temperatures come back and the pipes thaw naturally.

Bill Roberts of Speedy Rooter Plumbing