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12/15/2016 - Thaw Frozen Pipes Safely

Starting this afternoon and tonight temperatures in Maine are expected to drop into the negative to single digits as a blast of arctic air covers the region. Unfortunately, experience has shown that the onset of brutally cold weather often results in frozen pipes . . . and frozen pipes sometimes result in home owners not thawing out the pipes in a safe manner.


The safest way to thaw a frozen water pipe is to use an electric hair dryer. Open the tap to allow any melting water to escape from the pipe. Turn on the hair dryer and focus the heat on the area where the suspected ice blockage is located. Within a few minutes the water should start flowing.


The use of a propane torch is not recommended. Too often a home owner will accidentally ignite nearby combustibles, such as the paper backing on fiberglass insulation or a wooden portion of the house while using a hand-held torch to thaw their pipes.


Some experts say the use of electric space heaters can be used to warm up an area as long as the heater is monitored and several feet from nearby combustibles. However, propane-fueled space heaters are not recommended for use in this case.


In the long run home owners have several options to prevent their pipes from freezing. Moving the pipe from areas prone to freezing (basements, outside walls, etc.), adding more insulation or using heat tape can prevent a freeze up. A short term solution is to open a faucet to allow water to slowly drip out. While this method is not completely fool-proof, moving water will freeze slower or in some cases not freeze at all.


The Consumer Product Safety Commission has made a set of recommendations specific to heat tapes. Heat tapes should be newer than three years old and approved by Underwriter’s Laboratories or Factory Mutual. Heat tape should also be purchased for its intended use (i.e. there are heat tapes specifically made for water pipes as well as other heat tapes used to prevent heating oil from gelling up as it runs in the line from the tank to the furnace.)


For questions on dealing with frozen pipes safely please contact the Bangor Fire Department at 992-4700 or your local fire department.