Having toilet pipes freeze during the year’s cold months can be aggravating, to say the least. Not to mention, it can be pretty terrifying if one day you wake up and your toilet isn’t working the way you’d like it to. We’ll take a look at how to tell and what to do if your pipes freeze, so you’re completely prepared for next time.
Imagine this; it’s a cold morning in December, you’ve had your cup of coffee, and now it’s time for the routine bathroom visit. Business as usual until you flush the toilet, and magic does, in fact, not happen. A crappy situation (see what we did there), and now what? We’re glad you asked. Not sure where to go from here? Let’s dive in.
How Do I Know If The Pipes Are Frozen?
First, how do you know if the pipes in your house are frozen? And what causes it? There are a few things to check for and several different parts of the pipes that can be frozen, all leading to-you guessed it, various problems.
Let’s start with looking at why pipes freeze, primarily in the winter due to poor placement. For example, lines in a home’s crawl space or attic with poor insulation or within an exterior wall are prone to freezing. On the other hand, pipes built in well-insulated areas are much less likely to freeze over and cause problems.
One of the first warning signs is reduced water flow. You’ll notice this in the toilet itself, as it may be excessively slow to refill and may only fill partially. Sinks and showers will also run slower if the pipes begin to freeze.
Another way to determine if the pipes are beginning to freeze is if you notice frost coating the outside of the lines or if they appear to be bulging.
Can You Use The Toilet If Your Pipes Are Frozen?
There are several different places your pipes can freeze, which determine whether or not you can use the toilet when the pipes are out of commission. Here are the places the pipe can freeze and whether or not to use the toilet or randomly visit a friend who has one.
Frozen Water Supply Line
If the water supply line is frozen, you can still flush the toilet. The catch? You can only flush it once. This uses up the water left inside the tank. Now, because the supply line is frozen, water cannot flow into the tank, lowering the amount of water in the bowl. In other words, yes, you do have to pee on someone else’s pee.
Frozen Drain Pipes
If the drain pipes are frozen, we wouldn’t recommend flushing the toilet at all. While this is less likely than the freezing water supply line, it is still a problem. Without the water having the proper means to drain, it will continue to back up and eventually overflow.
Moral of that story is? Don’t flush the toilet.
How Long Does It Take For Pipes To Unfreeze?
There are several different methods for unfreezing pipes, some varying in the time it takes to thaw. Let’s take a look at the different techniques to unfreeze frozen pipes.
Hot water can be used to unfreeze frozen pipes. To do this, simply pour a bucket of hot water down the pipe, taking care not to go too fast. Make sure to run the water into the pipe and avoid getting any on the outside of it. Hot water outside the pipes will likely refreeze, causing more issues. Typically, this process takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, depending on the cold weather and insulation of the pipes in question.
A hair dryer or any other controllable heat source, such as a space heater, can be used to unfreeze pipes. Run the heater or hair dryer along the pipes, about a foot away from the actual pipe itself. Make sure to apply the heat source evenly, as too much heat in one spot for a prolonged period leads to bursting. This process also takes roughly 30 minutes.
Bursting Pipes; What To Do
Frozen pipes can burst; trust is, it is no fun when they do. They tend to burst under certain conditions; let’s discuss them.
Poorly insulated pipes freeze and thaw as the temperature fluctuates, causing them to expand and contract. This weakens the pipes, making them prone to bursting. If your regular water has high pressure, when pipes freeze, they usually can’t handle the amounts of ice, causing the pipe to burst.
If a pipe bursts, begin by shutting off the main water line. From there, open any faucets to drain the water and slowly start warming the pipes using one of the above methods. In the instance of a pipe bursting, it is best to contact a professional.
How To Keep Pipes From Freezing
Frozen pipes are a nightmare. Thankfully, there are several ways to prevent these pipes from freezing.
One way to prevent pipes from freezing in the winter is to install heating cables along the length of the pipe. This method works best for easily accessible pipes, such as those in a crawl space or attic. This cable auto-regulates and provides safe heat to the pipes to prevent them from freezing.
Another great way to keep pipes from freezing is to line them with insulation. This is a common practice even in places where freezing is not as common. The insulation traps the heat with the pipe, helping to prevent any excessive freezing.