Thawing Outdoor and Well Water Pipes
While Raleigh area winters generally aren’t too severe, it’s not uncommon for overnight temperatures in December, January, and February to dip well below 20 degrees. Temperatures that low can cause your outdoor and well water pipes to freeze, interrupting your water flow and even causing pipes to burst. We shared how to prevent your outdoor and well water pipes from freezing before, but today, we’re sharing how to thaw them out quickly to prevent costly damage to your pipe systems once they’re frozen.
Discovering Your Water is Frozen
When you turn on your water and little to no water comes out of the faucet, chances are, there is a pipe frozen outside. Because the frost line depth in Raleigh is between 10 and 20 inches, the water in the well itself is much too deep to freeze, and your well pump is either also below the frost line or is insulated to prevent freezing. That leaves a frozen pipe as your most likely culprit.
The most likely area your pipe is frozen is along the exterior of your home or right where it comes into the foundation. Check for bulging sections specifically where ice has caused the pipe to expand, but if you are unsure you can work in sections of the pipe until water begins to run through.
Locating and Turning Off a Main Water Valve
Your first step to thawing outdoor or well water pipes is to prevent them from bursting before you can thaw them. This means you’ll want to shut off the main water valve to stop water from trying to flow into your house.
To do this, first locate your pressure tank. This is typically a large blue or steel tank that is most likely located near your hot water heater in your garage, basement, or utility closet. If you’re having trouble finding it, find where the exterior pipes enter your home and follow them, and it should lead you directly to your pressure tank.
Next, locate the shut off valve on the pipe. If it’s a lever, it will be parallel with the pipe in ‘On’ mode, so you’ll want to turn it 90 degrees until it is perpendicular with the pipe to shut it off. If you have a gate valve that looks like a wheel, turn it clockwise to turn it off (think “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” if that helps you remember!).
Note: You’ll want to shut off your hot water heater while your main water valve is shut off to prevent pressure from building up in the tank and causing it to overheat.
Thawing the Frozen Exterior or Well Water Pipe
Before you begin thawing out the frozen well water pipe, turn on the faucet closest to it. As the ice blockage begins to melt, the water will run through the pipe, melting any additional ice buildup.
There are several ways you can thaw out an exterior pipe. If you have a source of electricity near by, you can wrap the pipe in a heating pad set on low or you can use a hair dryer set on a lower heat setting to melt the ice within the pipe. Be sure to not stand in any kind of water when using an electrical device to avoid shocks.
A less involved method allows you to use electric heat tape or heating cable to wrap the pipe. Apply the tape or cable snugly, in a single layer, around the pipe (think of creating a candy cane stripe effect rather than covering the whole pipe or winding it around multiple times). This can also be reused as a preventive measure.
If there are no sources of electricity nearby or there is standing water, wrap towels soaked in hot water around the pipes, changing them out as the water cools. This may take a bit longer, but it is the safest method.
Never use a blowtorch or any source of open flame to thaw out your frozen pipes. The water could boil and cause the pipe to burst or you could get injured.
Once water begins running through the pipe at a standard pressure, go ahead and turn the water back on from your well, and begin focusing on preventive measures to keep your well water pipes from freezing in the future.
When to Call a Professional
While thawing a pipe on your own is generally easy to do, there are times when it’s necessary to call professional help. If a pipe has already burst and needs to be replaced or you are unable to locate or access the frozen area, reach out to a professional who is familiar with well water pipes!
This winter, if you experience any issues with your well or its components, reach out to the team at A & T Well and Pump! We offer 24/7 emergency repair service in addition to all types of maintenance needs. Reach out to us at (919) 291-4063 or fill out our contact form to learn more about our services!