Winter is coming, and you are probably having chills already, no matter how great your heating system is. Every homeowner frightens their water pipes would freeze as soon as the temperature drops. Yet, this may not be the end of inconveniences, as the pressure gathering in there can cause your pipes to burst. This takes us to a question – How to thaw frozen pipes underground?
Down below, we will answer this, but a couple of extra FAQ questions that will prepare you for the upcoming winter and prevent any accidents in your home.
How can you tell your pipes have frozen?
Imagine the following situation.
You are getting ready for work, it is early, and seemingly freezing cold outside.
Well, you have no other choice than to move on with the routine, walking into your bathroom.
A grumpy face in the mirror makes things even worse, and you are having a proper, warm wash would fix things.
The next second, you are turning on the faucet, and what happens?
Not a single drop is coming out of it! Even if the water is trickling out slowly, you can be almost 100% your pipes have frozen.
Most of the times, this happens to the part of the pipe that is located underground.
Keep calm and inspect the situation.
The main thing to do now is to determine whether the pipe has ruptured or not.
If everything points out to the first scenario, you have no other options than to call a professional plumber.
On the other hand, if you were a bit lucky, and the pipe is still in whole, you can continue with reading our guide on how to thaw a frozen pipe.
What to Do to Prevent your Pipe from Rupturing
Just because the pipe hasn’t ruptured yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t at all.
You still have time to fix things but have to act accordingly.
Here is what to do to thaw your pipe:
Is the issue with the pipe isolated or more of a general kind?
First things first – you want to determine what you are working with.
In order to define the problem you are dealing with, you should turn on every single faucet in your home – no exceptions.
For this task, you may need some help from a family member or a friend, who would check half of the faucets, while you are checking on the other half.
Our Ultimate Guide on How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Underground
If water is flowing out of all faucets, with one exception, that means your problem is fixable and we will guide you through the right steps.
However, if more than one faucets are not working, that is a problem of another nature, not the frozen pipe issue.
In this case, you can’t do anything but to call a plumber to perform the task for you.
How to Find Frozen Pipe?
Now that you have determined the issue, it is about time to explore it on a deeper level.
When we say deeper, we truly mean it.
So, when a pipe freezes, it usually freezes on a couple of critical points.
For instance, if there is a portion of the pipe that is badly or not at all isolated, you can expect the ice to block it right there.
Also, it may happen a portion of the uninsulated pipe is located in the chilliest place in your home, basement, attic, or garage.
Surprisingly, pipes freeze underneath your kitchen or bathroom cabinets.
The best way to detect the frozen portion is to feel along the pipe.
At a certain point, you will come to the frozen part of it, of course, if the pipe is accessible.
If you cannot find the frozen pipe, that means the pipe is frozen underground.
This is what we’ll focus on.
Keep in mind that thawing underground pipes is challenging, and that we would advise calling a professional to help you with the task.
However, if you want to deal with this on your own, don’t worry.
While it does take a bit of skill, it isn’t too challenging to deal with.
Here are some of the ways you can thaw frozen pipes that are underground:
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Underground
If you are dealing with a more complex issue and you can’t reach the frozen pipe easily, these are the options to choose from:
- Increase the temperature in your home
Probably the easiest way on how to thaw enclosed pipes is to turn the heat in your property.
Sometimes, all you need to do is to turn the thermostat up, and the ice blockages will disappear as if they were never there.
However, this applies to smaller blockages only.
- Use an infrared lamp
When the blockage is deeper in the pipe and turning the thermostat up doesn’t seem to help, an infrared lamp may come up as a solution.
Place it as close to the blocked portion in the wall. Infrared lamps give off a significant amount of heat, which should be just enough to penetrate the wall and defrost the pipe.
- Cut out a section of the wall
Even though this is the most invasive method when thawing frozen pipes, sometimes you would have no other choice.
Of course, you can always call a plumber, but if you are comfortable with cutting out a small section, you thaw the frozen pipe yourself.
Once you do this, any of the above-mentioned techniques will do, as you will have direct access to the pipe.
Another Method for Thawing Pipes Underground
Sometimes, the upper methods might seem impossible, or cutting out the portion of the wall isn’t an option.
This is especially the case if the pipe in question has frozen underneath your home.
Fortunately, there are few things you can do even if there is no way you can reach your pipe.
And don’t worry – this isn’t a true outdoor project.
You don’t have to go outside on a freezing cold to deal with this issue.
Here is how to thaw frozen pipes if the above methods aren’t good for you:
- Fill the storage container using approximately five gallons of water. The water’s temperature isn’t important.
- Unhook the water meter to get access to the supply line.
- Take the full storage container and place it underneath the pipe opening.
- Look for the valve that you can run the nylon tubing through.
- If you have one, attach the hose to it.
- If you don’t, take the gate valve and attach it to the supply line. This will let you to stop the flow.
- Use a pump to force the water through the hose. The temperature isn’t too important. Although you might want it to be on the warmer side.
- Feed to hose into the supply line all the way until you reach the blockage.
- Work the tubing through the supply line until the whole blockage is melted by the water from the hose.
- Keep on pressing the tubing until you can see the water flowing freely. This will indicate there are no more blockages.
- Shut off the valve when the water starts flowing freely.
- Reconnect the meter.
- Reopen the valve.
If you wondered how does a plumber thaw frozen pipes, their methods are similar to this one.
Always remember this – When applying heat, no matter of the technique you are using, to a frozen pipe, the first thing you should pay attention to is not to use a blowtorch or a propane torch. Using it will make the water within the pipe to boil and, as you wouldn’t know whether all the ice is gone, resulting in a massive explosion.
The second thing to be careful about is using a heating device with an open flame.
You should never, ever do so, as otherwise, you would expose yourself to combustion fumes, which are poisonous.
How to Protect Your Underground Pipes from Freezing?
While now you know how to thaw frozen underground drain pipe, it’s always better to prevent your pipes from freezing instead of fixing the issue once it happens.
While there isn’t much you can do to keep your underground pipes from freezing, you should ensure the rest of your pipes are warm and running.
This will help keep the underground ones in motion.
Here are a few tips for keeping your underground pipes protected:
- Insulate exposed piping, to keep them warm.
- Keep faucets running, even if the stream is slow. As long as you have running water, the chances of the pipes freezing are very low.
- If no matter what you do certain pipes keep on frizzing, try using some thawing products that can help you keep the pipes clear.
- If possible, make sure your pipes are buried deep. The deeper the pipes are, the warmer their surroundings will be.
- Use sleeves for new construction that will keep your pipes warm.
- Wherever possible, use good insulation.
- Drain the pipes entirely when you go on vacation.
What to Do Once the Pipe Begins to Thaw?
As soon as the water starts flowing out of your faucet, you will know you did the right job.
Yet, there are a few steps more to undertake to make sure everything is okay.
First, leave the faucet running for a couple of minutes.
This will clear off any ice left on the inside.
Then, turn the faucet off and slide your hand along the pipe.
Even though this is not a common scenario, sometimes pipes start leaking after being frozen.
In this case, go and turn off the main water valve in your home.
Now, you have two solutions – to either patch the pipe or to replace it completely.
A short-term solution for your leaking pipe is to wrap some waterproof tape around it.
If you have a hardware store somewhere in the neighborhood, drop by and get yourself a patch kit for plumbing leaks.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main reasons pipes freeze?
Pipe freezing is a common problem.
Every property faces certain issues during the winter months, but freezing pipes can make a real mess in your home. In the worst case, pipes will burst due to the expanding of water.
Most frequent reasons why pipes freeze are:
- If your pipes are exposed to severe cold, you can expect some of them to freeze during winter, even a couple of times during the season. Hose bibs, water sprinklers, and swimming pool supply lines are prone to freezing more than other types of pipes.
- Sometimes, the only solution for your exposed pipes is to relocate them. Take this into account, but double-check the steps you should undertake in this situation.
- Pipes located in basements, attics, crawl spaces, and cabinets – unheated interior areas, freeze from time to time as well.
- Pipes with no insulation, installed against your exterior walls, may be critical during the winter months.
Will frozen pipes thaw on their own?
However, there is some risk involved.
If you wait for the pipes to thaw by themselves, you can end with some water trapped between the faucet and the ice.
This will increase the pressure inside the pipe.
If this happens, you are risking a pipe burst.
Not to mention that you might end waiting for months until the pipe is thawed by itself!
Because of this, it’s better to learn how to thaw frozen pipes underground on your own, and to deal with it on time.
How do I protect my pipes from freezing?
If you want to outsmart cold weather this year, make sure to follow our recommendations:
- Don’t put antifreeze in your water sprinkler supply lines and swimming pool supply lines. Antifreeze is harmful to pets, humans, and the environment.
- Hoses used outdoors, just like the ones we mentioned above, are best to store inside during winter. Yet, make sure to leave the outside valve open, as this is a way out for any water remaining in there to flow out, instead of causing the pipe to burst.
- Install heat tapes, heat cables, and pipe sleeves (specific products intended for pipe insulation), to prevent your pipes from being exposed to low temperatures.
- If you are a bit tight on a budget, wrap some newspaper around the pipes
- Keep the doors on your garage and basement closed.
- Let the warm air into your cabinets by leaving them open.
- When traveling, make sure to set the thermostat to about 55 Fahrenheit.
- Go for the same temperature even when you are home, and don’t change it during day or night.
- Keep cabinet doors open. This will allow warm water to circulate and keep the pipes inside the wall running.
- Seal any areas that the cold air can use to enter your house. This includes exhaust vents, cable TV wiring, and hose bibs.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Underground Recap
Even a bit of ice in your pipe can cause you headaches.
Yet, just as we explained, you can take plenty of steps to thaw the frozen pipe and prevent damage to your property.
We would recommend starting with this task as soon as possible if you just noticed the issue.
The longer you wait – the more damage (very expensive to fix) can occur, such as pipe bursting.
We did our best to explain the whole unfreezing process in a straightforward and simplified way.
Now that you know how to thaw frozen pipes underground, make sure to double-check our advice on how to prevent this inconvenience in your home and save yourself time and money.
Michael Davis is a heating & plumbing expert who currently works as independent contractor in SC. He also writes for Plumbertip.
For almost 10 years he worked on various plumbing tasks across South Carolina.