Ask the Drain Brains: The Best Way to Handle Frozen Pipes
Ask the Drain Brains
By Marty Silverman
General Pipe Cleaners
Q: I dread winter. Every time an arctic blast moves south, the pipes freeze in one of my buildings. What method do you suggest to thaw the pipes and get the water moving again?
A: The first thing to do is insulate all your pipes, especially those located close to the outside walls. Then, when you hear a cold wave coming, turn off the water and drain the lines in the empty apartments. In many cases, you can place a work light under a sink cabinet to generate just enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing.
Once the pipes freeze, don’t use a blowtorch to thaw the pipe. You risk burning the house down. Don’t waste time with a space heater. They are too slow. Instead, rent or purchase a pipe-thawing machine.
Just plug the pipe-thawing machine into a 115-volt outlet and clamp the cables on either side of the frozen section of pipe. The pipe-thawing machine sends low voltage (about 5 volts) but high amperage current (between 300 and 400 amps) through the metal pipe. It’s safe to touch, and it doesn’t get the pipe red hot, so there’s no danger of a fire. Instead, it heats the pipe just a few degrees above freezing. Once the outer layer of water thaws, water pressure melts the rest. The water will be flowing again in minutes.