Cold weather presents many hazards, including frozen pipes. Especially in warm climates where temperatures rarely dip below freezing and pipes aren't well-insulated, a single night of cold temperatures can wreak havoc with your plumbing, and when the frozen pipe is behind a wall, the challenge is even greater. Here are some tips for dealing with a frozen pipe that's just out of reach.
Locating the Problem
Assuming your pipes haven't burst yet (at which point hundreds of gallons of water would be gushing into your home), your first clue that you have a frozen pipe will probably happen when you turn on a faucet and either no water, or only a very small trickle of water, comes out. To isolate where the pipe is frozen, you'll want to work backwards from the dysfunctional faucet, tracking the pipes as far as possible with a flashlight. Look for places where frost is beginning to accumulate on the exterior of the pipe. If the situation is starting to get serious, there may also be bulging or fissures. Because pipes in exterior walls without adequate insulation are especially prone to freezing, if you trace your pipe through all visible locations and can't identify where it is frozen it's time to start suspecting the pipes you can't see.
Water On, Heat Up
The simplest approach at this point is to raise the temperature of your home. Return to the faucet that wasn't working. Make sure it is all the way open. That way if the pipe begins to thaw, the water will have somewhere to go and you'll know right away if your approach is working. The advantages of this tactic are that it is easy and doesn't require targeting a specific location. Unfortunately, this approach may also require a significant amount of time before being effective, increasing your risk for a burst pipe.
Another way to attack a frozen pipe behind a wall is with a heat lamp. Making your best guess about where the frozen pipe is, direct a heat lamp towards the wall in that area. (Because of the risk for starting a fire, never use a torch or other open flame for this purpose!) Infrared heat lamps are especially well suited for this procedure because they are able to heat the unseen pipe without heating the air around them.
Remove The Wall
If attacking the problem remotely doesn't work, it may be time to get at the pipes directly. Use a drywall saw or other tool to cut away a small section of wall near where you believe the pipe is frozen. You can then use a flashlight to identify exactly where the problem is and begin thawing using a blow dryer or heat lamp. Electric pipe heating tape can also be applied and used to warm the pipe at this point. Once the water is flowing again, consider insulating the pipe before repairing the wall to prevent problems in the future.
Because frozen pipes can quickly change to burst pipes, which can result in thousands of dollars in damage, follow these tips as soon as you realize there is a problem. And if you are unsure how to proceed, don't hesitate to contact a local plumber like A Gareleck & Sons Inc, who will be able to quickly locate and resolve any issues related to frozen pipes.