Providing Plumbing Solutions Since 1986

How Can I Tell For Sure If My Pipes Are Frozen?

Frequently Asked Questions

Water lines can freeze for any number of reasons. Drains can also freeze. If it happens once, they will likely freeze again given the right conditions. However, there are ways to minimize the risk and make your plumbing more secure.

How Do I Know If My Pipes are Frozen?

If freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chill coincide with a reduction of water coming out of your taps, the water is likely to freeze in your plumbing line. If no water comes out, it’s likely frozen. If the water lines run along an outside wall, they are susceptible to freezing. Other factors include minimal insulation.

A frozen pipe.

Signs of a Frozen Pipe

The most obvious sign of a frozen water line is a reduced flow of water from the tap. There may be frost on the pipe. You may hear gurgling sounds and banging as water tries to flow around bits of ice in the line. There could be signs of condensation or small cracks on the surface of the pipe. The pipe may start to bulge. The pipe bursts.

How Do I know If My Drain is Frozen?

If it freezes, water will not go down the drain and it will start to back up, filling the sink or fixture. If your drain is frozen, listen for the sound of a drip which means the water can’t get past an obstruction from accumulated food debris, grease, etc.

As there are other reasons a drain may block or become plugged, freezing temperatures must be sustained for a while for drains to freeze. Below-zero wind chill will also contribute to frozen drains. Fixtures that have drain pipes located on an outside wall are at risk of freezing. Minimal insulation will also contribute to freezing conditions for plumbing that is located on an outside wall.

Signs of a Frozen Sewer Line

If there is minimal or no water going down the drain, your exterior sewer line could be frozen. It may also smell like a sewer. All drain pipes connect to the main drain which runs from the inside of the house to the outside where it connects underground to the main municipal sewer line. Other indicators include visible frost, gurgling noises, and possible leaks if the sewer line cracks.

Temperature and Wind Chill

Freezing temperatures that are sustained for some time and below zero wind chill must be present for plumbing to freeze. Wind chill is one of the biggest contributors to freezing pipes. If your plumbing is located against an outside wall, the water lines and the drain may freeze. Other contributing factors include minimal insulation in the exterior wall. Under-insulated crawl spaces are also susceptible. If none of the above applies and you are having problems with water flow in your pipes and drains, there are other factors present. Call Plumbtech Plumbing to diagnose the problem and fix it.

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Where is My Plumbing Most Likely to Freeze?

If the fixture is located in a cupboard or vanity that backs onto an exterior wall, the plumbing is closed off from the heat in the room. As they are not exposed to heat, water and drain lines are more likely to freeze. Plumbing that runs along an exterior wall may freeze if there isn’t enough insulation and the temperature drops below freezing for several hours, particularly if there is wind chill. Wind chill makes everything colder. It is one of the biggest reasons pipes freeze.

Snow as an Insulator

A buildup of snow on the outside of a house will offer some insulation protection to plumbing that runs along an exterior wall. However, plumbing will still be vulnerable to freezing in the space above the snow on the exterior wall where plumbing is enclosed in a cupboard, such as a kitchen or bathroom sink.

How Do I Thaw the Pipe?

Call Plumbtech Plumbing because they have a thawing machine, especially for frozen pipes. The thawing machine can melt the ice safely, without damaging pipes or your house. Attempting to thaw it on your own may make matters worse. Using hot water to thaw outside plumbing will not help because it freezes faster than cold water.

A hair dryer may be worth a try or a heat gun but make sure you keep it a safe distance away from pipes especially if they are plastic. Do not use a propane torch to thaw a water line. Plastic will melt and can damage the surrounding areas with the flame. Most plumbing is located near walls, floors, or cabinetry. There is a huge risk of fire and a lot of damage could occur.

Other Vulnerable Areas

Plumbing in any outbuildings such as a shed or shop may also be vulnerable to freezing. If the house plumbing feeds a garage or a second self-contained dwelling such as a ‘granny suite’ or ‘garden suite’ in the back yard, all may be vulnerable to freezing if conditions are right. If the lines are buried under, or run through a driveway from the street, well, lake, or other water source going to the house, there is an increased risk of freezing.

There is no protective insulation when the driveway is cleared of snow during the winter months and when vehicles driving over it, and people walk on it, the cold is driven below the frost line. It will also occur when winter activities take place over your buried water and drain lines.


Add insulation to all vulnerable pipes. Add a heated trace cable to prevent pipes from freezing. Erect a barrier preventing ATVs, snowmobiles, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, walking, or other winter activities from taking place over your buried water line and pipes.

Do the same if you’re on a septic system that has a small chamber to pump wastewater to a septic bed. Prevent people from walking on it by placing something over it that can be seen above the snow. On the inside of the house, keep vanity doors and kitchen cupboard doors ajar if the plumbing runs along an outside wall.

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