How to Find Frozen Pipes in Your Home

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Updated September 20, 2021
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Warming up frozen pipes is the easy part. Finding where to do so is harder.

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Narrow down the possibilities, then gently unthaw to avoid potential damage

Water expands when it freezes, causing your home’s plumbing, which is already under a lot of pressure, to swell and expand. That’s why taking action as soon as you notice your pipes are frozen is a good idea.

But wait—most homes are equipped with hundreds of feet of plumbing, and there are specific things you need to avoid doing so you can safely thaw out your pipes once you locate the frozen area.

These four tips will help you safely find and fix your frozen pipes.

So many water pipes

Your home is crisscrossed with water pipes. Every sink and shower has its own piping, plus there are pipes that come in from the outside to supply your home. There can be hundreds of feet of pipe inside, and somewhere in that web of metal or PVC is a section filled with ice.

The frozen part can be anywhere from near a single faucet to where the main feeder pipe enters the house.

1. Check the Most Likely Areas First

Any type of plumbing, whether it be PEX or copper pipes, can freeze when inclement weather strikes. The first key to locating frozen pipes is to narrow down the possibilities. 

Areas with less heat, such as your basement, attic, unused rooms in your home, rooms that run along exterior walls, and crawl spaces are often the most vulnerable.

Grab a flashlight and/or use your hand to feel pipes in these areas to see if you can locate the frozen pipe.

2. Turn On All Faucets

Turning your water on can also help narrow down your search.

If pipes in one room or area of the house aren’t working, it’s likely that the freeze is near a split in the main line that goes to that section of your home. If none of your pipes are working, the frozen section is likely near (or right next to) your main water source.

Here’s a proactive tip for unfreezing your pipes: If cold weather is expected for several days, let a few faucets gently run water once you unthaw your pipes. This keeps liquid moving through your plumbing and can prevent them from freezing again.

3. Know What You’re Looking For

It’s not always easy to identify when a pipe is actually frozen. Common signs of frozen pipes include:

  • A layer of condensation on the outside

  • A white area (frozen condensation) on the outside

  • Small surface cracks

  • Bulging or swollen pipes

  • Odors coming from the pipes (or from the sinks that lead to it)

If you feel like you’ve located the pipe but see no obvious signs of ice on the exterior, use your hands to check along sections of the pipe to find the frozen spot. There may be multiple frozen areas in one area, so check the length of the pipe to be safe.

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4. Gently Warm Your Pipes

Don’t rush to unthaw your pipes once you locate the frozen area. Gently unfreezing your pipes is the best way to protect yourself and your plumbing from damage. 

Ways to gently warm your frozen pipes include:

  • Wrap the frozen area in a towel doused with warm water

  • Apply an electric heating pad around the frozen section

  • Run a blow dryer along the length of the frozen area from a few inches away

Avoid using any drastic methods to warm your pipes, such as applying a blow torch. In this case, faster is not better. Superheating your pipes could cause them to burst or compromise them permanently, which could cost thousands in repairs (as well as pose a safety hazard to you).

For best results, contact a local plumbing professional for help with frozen pipes. 

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