How to Prevent Pipes from Freezing — and Thaw Frozen Pipes

Hands installing water pipe foam insulation
Wrapping exposed pipes with foam pipe insulation helps prevent freezing. (nsj-images, Getty Images Signature)

The pipes in your house need protection from the cold if the mercury drops down into the 20s Fahrenheit.

Here are some tips on how to prevent your pipes from freezing, and some tips on how to thaw them out safely if they do.

close-up of a dripping water faucet
Drip faucets in freezing weather. (aristotoo, Getty Images Signature)

How to Keep Pipes from Freezing

  • Insulate Pipes: Insulate hot and cold water pipes in the crawlspace under your house as well as in the basement, attic, and exterior walls (if accessible) with snap-on foam insulation. Make sure foam insulation fits tightly without gaps. Apply duct tape to joints in insulation, and miter foam around elbows, so joints in pipes are completely covered
  • Heat Pipes: Consider wrapping problem pipes with UL approved heat tape that has a built-in thermostat to prevent overheating. Follow the instructions that come with heat tape carefully to keep from causing a fire hazard.
  • Sprinkler System: Turn off your sprinkler system, and blow compressed air through the irrigation lines to drain the water.
  • Drip Faucets: Drip both hot and cold water at faucets in kitchen and bathroom. This not only keeps water moving through the pipes, but relieves built-up water pressure in the pipes if they should freeze. Set single lever faucets in the center so both hot and cold lines drip. Pay particular attention to pipes running in outside walls.
  • Laundry Room: If you don’t have a faucet in the laundry room, set your washing machine on warm, and start the fill cycle periodically for a few minutes to run water through the pipes.
  • Icemaker: Set your icemaker to make ice if the icemaker water line runs under house.
  • Cabinets: Open cabinet doors under sinks in the kitchen and bath if the cabinets are located on exterior walls, to allow inside heat to pipes.
Outdoor faucet cover in the winter with icicles on it
To protect exterior faucet around your foundation, either cover faucets with insulated foam covers. (Charise Wilson Photography, Getty Images)
  • Garage: Keep garage door closed during extreme cold weather.
  • Foundation: For houses with a crawlspace, ensure the foundation is completely enclosed. Fill any gaps in foundation walls with caulking or expanding foam. Close or cover the foundation vents under house during extreme cold weather.
  • Basement: Close and weather strip exterior basement windows and doors.
  • Garden Hose: Disconnect and drain garden hoses.
  • Exterior Faucets: To protect exterior faucets around your foundation, cover faucets with insulated foam covers, cut off water to exterior faucets and open faucets to drain pipes. You can also install exterior faucets that cut the water supply off inside foundation walls.
  • Check for Leaks: Once the weather has warmed up, turn off any dripping faucets and the icemaker. Then, monitor the water meter for any unseen leaks.

Red water shut off valve on a concrete floor
The first step to thawing frozen pipes is to shut off your water at the main shutoff valve. (Puripat penpun, Getty Images)

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • Cut Off Water: Locate the main cut-off valve, and have a water cut-off key handy before attempting to thaw out frozen pipes.
  • Open Faucet: Open the faucet the pipe runs to before thawing a frozen pipe to allow water to flow through the pipe and relieve any built-up pressure in the pipe.
  • Heat Frozen Pipe: Use a hair dryer, heat lamp, electric heat tape, or portable space heater to thaw frozen pipes that haven’t burst. Start from the interior faucet end of the pipe, and work your way toward the colder end of the pipe.
  • Check for Leaks: After pipes have thawed, turn off all water to faucets and the icemaker, and monitor the water meter for any unseen leaks.

Further Reading


  1. Great suggestions – good article!

    Beside insulating pipes from cold weather, or trying to use heat tape, a very effective way of protecting pipes from freezing is to introduce a circulating pump into the water system. By installing a circulation system, the water from the ‘hot’ side of the system gets sent to the ‘cold’ water line. This greatly reduces the possibility of water pipes freezing because the water temperature never reaches the critical freezing point.

    The best circulation system on the market that I’ve seen is the Hot Water Lobster. It is the only circulating pump I’ve seen that doesn’t need electricity to run. It can be installed anywhere in the water system, and save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in home repairs if frozen pipes burst from water expansion.

    That’s my two cents; I hope it helps!

  2. I have placed a space heater on my main pipes under my home but no water. All faucets are open and warm in house woth doors of cabinets open. I have a mobile home and the only thing I forgot to do was drip the water. It is currently 20 degrees with a feels like of 9. If I pour hot water down the drain will that help?

  3. Ok. Those are great tips! But what if you’re on a well. How do you thaw that? Haven’t had water for 3 days and I have 3 children.

  4. The weather has been about 20below zero. I ran the washing machine but set the temp at cold. The machine sits on an outside wall. When I checked the clothes, the laundry room was filled with water and leaked into the basement. After cleaning everything, I wanted to trace the source so I ran it again but changed the temp to cold/warm. It didn’t flood. What happened? If a piped burst, It would leak regardless of the temp.

  5. Having left my home for a few days, the key thing I did was shut off the elec. breaker for the water pump so that it wouldn’t just fill the house with water if things froze up. I also shut off the water to the toilet tanks and flushed them to empty and added RV antifreeze to my traps. Success! I did have a frozen line, but no puddles to clean up.

  6. My 2nd floor bathroom pipes freeze .they are on outside wall .they are coming up from basement my hose was built 1886 straight up walls .can I stuff instalaton from bottom just so far or from top down ? I always keep water dripping and a heater in the open door of cabinet sink.I don’t know what else I can do.

  7. I have a small building with copper pipes overhead. The building has a metal roof and it also has a drop ceiling. The pipes are insulated but have burst several times even with the water left running. Since the metal roof is corrugated it’s almost impractical to completely seal it from outside air. Someone has suggested putting a couple of light bulbs left on above the suspended ceiling to warm the area. What’s your thoughts on this.
    Thank you.

  8. Electric pipe wraps and insulation works the best as it is applied directly to the pipes. You may need to have somebody do this for you depending on how handy you are. It’s not a very difficult job to do. The one that I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned is antifreeze. You have to use RV antifreeze or pool antifreeze (Propylene Glycol). You can’t use regular automotive antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol) in your home water system.

  9. Do you have any advice to thaw out a frozen underground pipe? I have heaters on all exposed pipes, and the 20 feet that runs 24″ underground seems to be frozen. It has been 2 days now. I have the faucets opened and the temp went up to 39 degrees today, but nothing. Help!

  10. I had frozen pipes from this past Thursday till Sunday evening, when I finally got someone to come and put a kerosene heater under my mobile home to thaw them. I am still not sure if my heat tape stopped working. There is water that pools into the well where the pipes come up due to underground springs. I am on a limited income, and was told that a heating element put into the well to keep the water from freezing would be the answer. I would also like a less expensive alternative to heat tape at this time. My pipes are well insulated. Thank you.

  11. In our garage in Colorado, we have pipes that run from the main part of the house to a master bedroom built above the garage. They are well insulated in a special box the contractor built to protect them, but we still get concerned about the pipes freezing. Is there some kind of heat tape we could put on the bottom the box on the ceiling to supply additional heat. (we were thinking along the lines of the kind of heat system you put under tiles in the bathroom to keep it warm. At this point, we run a small heater, but it is expensive to run it and we don;t need to heat the whole garage.
    Thanks for your suggestions. Liz

  12. Heat tape works when dealing with ambient temps. If for any reason you have still experienced frozen pipes, I Would first look to reduce airflow. Pipe freeze is normally caused by air moving along a line. As for warming supply lines (colorado), yes radiant heat will help BUT would not be cost effective either. Unless you currently have a hydronic boiler, are skilled enough to handle the plumbing and necessary mixing valves-circulating pump. If the box built by your contractor has been made air tight and has been properly insulated, I would venture to guess you can reach single digit temps without issue. I would start looking at simply circulating your runs to the garage.

  13. heat wire and insulation. if your pipes are froze use a space heater on your main. give it some time. i’am in a mobile home i’ve never ran my taps since I used the heat wire

  14. We live in a townhouse and the hot water line froze between upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. We solved it by turning off the supply to the hot water tank and the sink in the downstairs bath, (leaving the faucets open on the upstairs bath) I then started the washer on hot (which is beside the water tank in the basement). When the hot water coming into the washer turned ice cold I turned off the washer and turned back on the hot water heater. AND THE HOT water started rushing into the upstairs bathtub with a noisy blast. The pressure from the hot water heater had forced the ice out of the pipe. Hip, hip hurrah!

  15. no power since Monday, and with temps in the single digits, we left every faucet in our house dripping. Staying with family until the power comes back on. Temps dropped to 16 Tuesday night, but only to 49 in the house. Do you think the residual heat will help keep them from freezing?

    • Hi Andrea,
      It will depend on where the pipes are located in relation to the outside, the material the pipes and house are made of, and whether the pipes are insulated or not. Dripping the water (both hot and cold) in every faucet (particularly those on outside walls) certainly will help. Given that you have no heat, you might want to run a small stream from each one rather than just a drip.

  16. Andrea,
    Best bet is to locate the shut off valve to the house and turn the water off. Open all the faucets, including the outside faucet, unil there is no water draining out of the outside faucet. Turn the breaker off to the water heater, if it is electric, or the gas off if it is gas. Close all the valves and rest easy knowing if they do freeze nothing will be damaged. Once power has been restored you can turn the water back on and check for leaks.

  17. Our pipes froze, despite leaving faucets dripping and a space heater blowing all night under the sink. We think the frozen section is underground between our garage and our utility room. How do I thaw this?? I’ve had heaters on the pipes for hours, and still no water. (I can get water from the main spout in the garage, so the blockage is somewhere after that.) Thank you for the help!

  18. Update on thawing pipes: I got ours thawed by doing the following: shut off the main water valve in our garage, to keep the cold water from flowing up against the frozen section. Heated the pipes with a heater (which I had been doing all day, to no avail). Once I shut the main water valve, the pipes thawed within 30 minutes! That ice cold water flowing in from the water line prevented the ice from thawing. Hopefully this tip will help other homeowners. 🙂

  19. What should I do if frozen pipe is before my water meter? I think blockage between main line to my house. Any suggestion? thank you

  20. Pipes froze yesterday.. and water was trickling in the basement faucet.. After increasing the home temp to 76 and opening up false ceiling in basement.. the trickle continues after a day on both first and second floors..funny thing is trickle stops all over the house when the basement taps are closed water flows thru cold pipes and cold water thru hot pipes . Any ideas?

  21. I live in a townhouse and when I turned the hot water handle in my downstairs bathroom, nothing comes out. One handle, the cold water is working fine in that bathroom. I left the water running during a horrible cold spell and when I came down in the morning it was running. I turned the handle off and when I turned it back on nothing. I have had the heat turned up to 75 and a heater in the bathroom for the past two days. All other faucets are working including my washing machine. I read some other posts and have the hot water running in my shower, upstairs bathroom faucet and kitchen faucet. This bathroom has had problems in the past, but when I put a heater on and the sun moves to that side it has always come back. Not sure if I should call a plumber since everything else works. It is supposed to go – 10 tomorrow night and don’t want the pipe in that bathroom to burst.

  22. All the faucets were dripping throughout the house but the pipe in the wall between the bathroom and the family room still busted

  23. Hi,
    For two years in a row, I have had frozen water pipes in our extreme winter cold here in Ontario. In 2014, I had absolutely no water coming into my home, from the water meter that entered my house, under a kitchen sink in the basement. This year I left water running gently, at the pipe coming into my home,at the kitchen sink, and had water there but, the rest of the house had no water but I was able to truck the water upstairs to flush toilets, 2015.
    What I would really like to know, is there some kind of an instrument, that will identify where my water line is freezing? My next thing I am going to try to locate my water lines, is to use a stethoscope on my ceiling, or to hear if the lines are on an outside wall, when the water is on full blast, now that the lines have been thawed. Will this work, God knows, but I am willing to try this method before I have to tear down cupboards, sinks and countertops etc. What can I do to elevate my freezing water pipes, without a lot of expense, or possible burst pipes in the future ?????

  24. Leaving your tap dripping day/night is an awful idea, environmentally, you’re causing your water heater to continually consume energy plus wasting water. We just turn off our outside water taps and never had issues with freezing/bursting pipes, here in canada it gets pretty cold too.

  25. In a nut shell if the plumber knew what he was doing in the first place he should have foreseen that it would be a future problem regardless whether he was told to put them there, plain and simple.

  26. I found the best device to keep pipes from freezing. Watts make an instant hot water device. It sits on your hot water system and has a timer with 15 minute intervals. It pumps hot water out into the system and at the far end eithor a sink or shower etc there is a valve that cross between the hot and cold side. When there is pressure on the hot side, the hot water flows back via the cold water lines putting hot water into the cold pipes. It then flows back to the hot water tank. When you open the cold it is warm for a minute or two but then goes cold. There is NO WAY the pipes can freeze. In the winter I set it for every 30- 60 minutes over night. We had 2 days of 0-10 degrees and I set it for every 15 minutes over night and 30 during the day. It is better than the heating wire method much safer. I have pipes under a floor that is an open patio below. I Was worried about heating wires and what happen when they have to be replaced? This device was was never meant for this and I even wrote to Watts to market it this way, but no reply.

  27. Hello, my furnace is broken, its below 7 right now. The furnace won’t be fixed for another day or two, its been broken for two days now. I have a gas fireplace going, space heaters and I am running water. I am concerned for freezing and bursting pipes. Also the outdoor hose was not winterized this year. i don’t want to cause any damage by winterizing the outdoor hose now, especially since I won’t have a furnace for two more days. Any tips? Thanks!

  28. I put a lamp next to the pipe… I’m hoping for the best as it’s Saturday and every store is closed, p.s. the lamp is under the house.

  29. My pipes are not frozen it is not too cold in our basement every time their faucet, water source in this house is runnomg EXCEPT the one in the kitchen. Any tips would be so helpful. My husband and I have looked all thru the pipe lines in the basement and didn’t find anything broken or leaked. Any ideas on what could be the problem?!? Please help!!

  30. We just went through very cold weather and I’ve had a very slow leak while it’s been 4 degrees. Its almost 35 degrees now but I can’t fix the leak for another few days and it’s supposed to stay in the 30’s and 40’s all week. Is it okay to leave the water on until I get the pipe fixed? It’s under the house.

  31. My sister lives in a really cold area and she wants to make sure that none of her pipes freeze or crack. It could be really useful for her to talk to a professional about how she can protect her home for problems or what to do if they do crack. I’ll be sure to tell her that she can thaw a pipe so that it doesn’t burst with a hairdryer or lamp.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here