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I sometimes visit a relative's house, and sometimes her water pipes are frozen. Is there a way to quickly thaw them, insulation aside? I'm not looking for a permanent solution, I am just looking for a quick unfreeze tip.

My relative hates insulation. I can't convince her otherwise. Running hot water down the drain and manually heating the pipe doesn't work, because I it could very easily crack the PVC.

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    Be wary of these answers: Heat it. Cold does not exist, per se, but heat does and when you apply too much heat to something quite cold, shrinkage/growth occurs (depending on the elements involved). So, apply flowing cold water to a pipe frozen with water is applying heat -- cold water is warmer than frozen water. Boiling water is likely to leave you boiling... mad at broken pipes! – Sylas Seabrook Dec 12 '14 at 2:42
  • Quickly is not good. It introduces more stress onto the pipes. The damage occurs on the pipes when they freeze, the damage becomes apparent when the pipes thaw. With any solution use caution take your time be prepared to turn your water off. Often when pipes freeze so do drain pipes, and you should be checking for new leaks there, especially P traps and such. – Jon Dec 12 '14 at 8:42
  • @Jon Okay, I'll try to get her to winterize them. – QuyNguyen2013 Dec 12 '14 at 12:57
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Heat the area where the pipe is frozen. Here are some tips:

  • Drape a heating pad over the pipe (assuming it is dry on the outside)
  • Use a hair dryer on the area
  • Place a space heater in a safe place near (but not dangerously close to) the pipe

Running the water down the line will help the process go more quickly. (Running water is not frozen water, and therefore is warmer than what you're trying to melt. As the running water passes the ice, it lends some heat energy to the ice, helping to melt it from the inside).

But be aware that there is always a chance the pipe may explode. Also be sure you know where the water turns off up the line, just in case.

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    This is the most balanced answer. Would like to have seen some more attention to caution when going to extremes. Still, +1. – Sylas Seabrook Dec 12 '14 at 2:43
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Most of the hack solutions have some to significant safety risks. In this case the most appropriate solution is the use of Electric heat tracing, heat tape or surface heating this is provides heat to the pipe in a safe way. Every year there is a story on the news about someone dying and/or burning their house down trying to defrost frozen pipes.

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Obviously, you must heat the area where the pipe is frozen.

First, try turning on the faucets. If water flows, run warm water through the pipes and this should thaw the pipe.

If this doesn't work locate where the frozen part of the pipe is. Check in either the basement (if it is unheated), or places where the pipe goes outside. Heat the frozen part using a hair dryer, or even by pouring warm water over it.

  • Yes, locate the frozen area, look for cracks, if there aren't any, heat the pipes a little, then run water through them. Friction is warming. – J. Musser Dec 11 '14 at 23:09
  • It's quicker if you pour boiling water down the drain. – user100 Dec 12 '14 at 0:30
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    @KevinJohnsrude waterpipes are not the same as drainage pipes... I don't think your solution will work – RichardBernards Dec 12 '14 at 13:25

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