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Unfreezing your frozen waterlines

by Mark Bower

If you've gotten a cold snap and have discovered your without water, most likely you've had a waterline freeze-up. Probably the hardest part about unthawing a frozen waterline is determining exactly where it is froze.

First, check all of your faucets. Are you getting water from any of them? If not, then most likely your main waterline to the home is froze. If you are getting some water, then the likely culprit is a tear or opening in your belly that's letting cold air reach a nearby waterline.

If your main waterline is froze, first thing you should do is check the heat tape. It should feel warm to the touch. If it doesn't, make sure the outlet that the heat tape is plugged into is working. If you have a thermostat on the heat tape, make sure that it isn't located in a warm spot preventing the heat-tape from coming on. If none of these suggestions solve your problem, then you'll probably need to replace the heat tape.

If your heat tape is warm and your still not getting any water, the next likely place that's froze is your water riser. Your water riser is where your water comes out of the ground. Often times the riser comes up through a small culvert. Your heat tape should extend down into the culvert several feet along the waterline. Then, insulation should be stuffed around the top of the culvert. If you don't have any insulation covering the top, you may be froze down past the heat tape's reach. Some water risers have a heat rod that runs down the center of them. Make sure this heat rod is plugged in and working. Like the heat tape, it'll feel warm to the touch.

Sometimes you'll find that your froze-up in the water heater room, especially if you have an outside access to your water heater. Make sure your access door is well sealed, not letting in any drafts.

If you find a pipe that's froze, it'll usually be very cold to the touch. Unthaw it using a heat gun. Never use an open flame, like a torch. A hair dryer may also work, but a heat gun like those used in stripping paint work exceptionally well on a medium setting. When unthawing, have an open faucet so you can tell whether or not your succeeding. For freeze-ups deep inside culverts, you may have to rent a nibco-type heater to help unthaw them. If your whole main line is froze because of a bad heat tape, install a new heat tape and let the heat tape unthaw it. It may take several hours to unthaw.

If you've tried all these suggestions and still can't find the location of your freeze-up, then please don't hesitate to e-mail me at We strive to answer 'emergency' type questions immediately.

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