Frozen Pipes

Plumbing Tips | June 17, 2013

What should you do if a water pipe freezes?
When water freezes, it tries to expand inside the pipe. It pushes against the sides of the pipe, as well as any nearby valves, seams or faucets. The freezing action of the water is more than capable of rupturing any pipe.

Unfortunately, a water pipe may freeze even if you have taken precautions. Perhaps you lost electrical power for several hours, the temperature inside your house fell & the pipes froze. Or maybe you left for vacation, turned down the heat & weren’t expecting an early freeze. Or perhaps your heat tape quit working, and you didn’t find out until you discovered none of the faucets worked!

Whatever the cause, it’s important that you thaw out your pipe for two (2) reasons:

  • 1) You almost certainly need the water
  • 2) You should be home while the pipe thaws, in case the pipe and/or joint is ruptured

Bear in mind that a frozen pipe doesn’t leak since the water is ice so you will discover a leak only after the ice melts. If you’re not home, a ruptured pipe can cause a great deal of damage.
Methods for thawing frozen pipes:

CAUTION! Before you try any of these methods, first open the faucet that the frozen pipe supplies. The steam you create while heating the pipe can burst the pipe if it doesn’t have an escape.

Method #1: Use electric heat tape on the pipe, & wait for it to thaw out. This is a good method to use because it slowly thaws the pipe, which means it reduces wear & tear on the pipe itself.

CAUTION! Remember to use only heat tape certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory for use with mobile homes. Be careful never to wrap the heat tape back over itself. This could cause it to overheat & start a fire.

Method #2: Wrap the pipe with several layers of cloth or toweling and pour hot water over the cloth/toweling. Repeat several times until the pipe is unfrozen.

Method #3: Direct a heat lamp on the pipe itself. Place the lamp at least a foot away from the pipe. Cover adjacent areas with a layer of aluminum foil so the heat doesn’t scorch these materials. Be sure the heat lamp is on dry ground! Even better, plug it into a ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet.

CAUTION! Do not use any direct heating method if the frozen pipe is next to a gas pipe! Call a professional for help!

METHOD #4: Hold a hand operated hair dryer to the pipe & slowly move up & down the length of the frozen section. Be sure you are standing on dry ground. Because you are working this close to water, plug the dryer into a GFCI protected outlet.

You will know the pipe is thawed out when water starts to trickle out of the open faucet. Let the water run for a while to completely clear the pipe. Finally, close the faucet & check for leaks.

CAUTION! Do not use a propane torch to thaw out frozen pipes, even if it has a fire spreader attachment. This is not only a fire hazard, but it’s also a quick way to destroy your plastic plumbing pipes.

How to Install Heat Tape
Don’t run the risk of letting your water pipes freeze. It’s relatively easy to install heat tape & it’s a good way to prevent major damage to your manufactured home. If your freshwater pipes are already wrapped in heat tape, check that the heat tape was properly installed and periodically check the heat tape to be sure it isn’t worn or frayed.

To check existing heat tapes, use the directions that follow. It’s an important safety check of your home. Many manufactured home fires are the result of improperly installed heat tape.
You should apply heat tape to all exterior water supply piping & shu7toff valves. Also protect any interior water pipes that run along outside walls or anywhere that the temperature may drop below freezing.

How much heat tape you will need depends on the length, size & type of the pipe. You need to know the pipe length & diameter & the number of valves or faucets along the run. To determine how much heat tape you’ll require, consult the manufacturer’s guidelines.

CAUTION! Because you are basically wrapping an electrical wire around your water supply pipes, it’s very important that you:
- Read all instructions
- Use only laboratory-tested heat tape, authorized for use with manufactured homes.
- Do not cross the heat tape back over itself. This could overheat the tape and start a fire.

If your water supply piping is plastic, ONLY use automatic thermostatically controlled heat tape. Non-automatic heat tapes can damage plastic pipes, especially if the taped pipes are covered with insulation.

For this job you’ll need automatic heat tape (the kind with a thermostat), electrical tape, and pipe insulation (which could take the form of a waterproof insulated pipe jacket, or pipe insulation with vapor seal cover). Some heat tape kits combine several of these items.

STEP 1) Check pipes
Do not install heat tape over leaking pipes. Not only will a slow leak damage insulation, but it may also short out the heat tape. Pay particular attention when you check the pipe joints for leaks.

STEP 2) Attach to pipe
Use only automatic heat tape, with heavy rubber insulation around the wires. Do NOT use non-automatic heat tape as this could damage plastic pipes. Start with the plug end next to the outlet & run the heat tape the entire length of the freshwater supply pipe. Also wrap the water pipe below ground level, to the frost level. Methods for attaching heat tape to the pipe vary. Some types
of heat tape wrap around the pipe, some run along one side of the pipe. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

STEP 3) Attach heat tape
Space wraps according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Use electrical tape, not electrical wire, to hold he heat tape in place. It is very important that you never cross the heat tape back over itself; this creates a real fire hazard.

STEP 4) Insulate
It’s a good idea to cover the water pipe & heat tape with pipe insulation or pipe jacketing. If the insulation does not have a weather-protective
outer surface, you will need to cover it with a waterproof wrap.

STEP 5) Plug it in
Don’t forget to plug in your heat tape before the onset of cold weather. Do not use an extension Cord. The heat tape must plug directly into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacle. You should find a GFCI protected outlet underneath your manufactured home, near the water Inlet. If not, you will need to install one.

Tips for safe heat tape installation
The life expectancy of heat tape ranges on usage. May tapes now have a thermostat that when the temperature drops below a certain degree, it will turn on.
• Heat tape should not be used over the thermal insulation or near flammable materials.
• Check heat tapes at least once a year
• When you purchase new tape, get the correct size for the intended job. Do not overlap or wrap at 90 degree or more
• Install according to the manufacture instructions. Not all heat tape can be used over plastic pipes.

**These important steps will help prevent future freezing.
This is just a helpful tool; please consult with a professional for advice