Boise Fire Department
News Release

Dennis Doan
Boise Fire Chief

Contact: Char Jackson
(208) 570-6548


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Frozen Pipes: The Big Thaw can be more damaging than the Big Freeze!

Boise, Jan 22, 2013 - Weathercasters say the average temperature in Boise so far this month has been in the teens! That is unusually cold and lots of homes and businesses have reported water issues because of frozen pipes. But according to insurance carriers it’s often the big thaw, not the big freeze that causes most damage. The best way to prevent an insurance claim from flooding is to act now to avoid preventable damage from frozen and burst pipes as the thaw sets in (that forecasters are promising!).  

Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the "strength" of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break.

Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Also, pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.

Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, space heater or other open flame device to thaw frozen pipes. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. All open flames in homes present a serious fire danger, as well as a severe risk of exposure to lethal carbon monoxide.

For more Winter Heating Safety Tips, go to /public-outreach/safety/winter-heating-tips/

Note: If you are a United Water customer and find you have no water, United Water requests you call them immediately at 362-7304, or the 24-hour emergency number 362-1300. If the problem is United Water's responsibility, they will fix it at no charge. If their technicians find the problem is the homeowner's responsibility, they can provide further direction.

To Thaw Frozen Pipes:

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Likely places include pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, if you are a United Water customer, call their emergency number above. If not, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.

During Cold Weather, Take Preventive Action:

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF

Future Protection:

  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing. Pipes can be relocated by a professional if the home is remodeled.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • When the weather warms up, check unused portions of your water system for freezing damage and leaks to avoid possible flooding damage from undetected cracked or broken pipes.
  • For more information, please contact a licensed plumber or building professional.

Other Tips

  • If you discover a water leak or burst pipe, it’s important that you stop the flow of water as soon as possible.

  • NEVER use a range or an oven as a supplemental heating device. This is a safety hazard and can be a source of potential toxic fumes.

  • If you'd like to read more about winter safety tips, visit the  National Fire Protection Association's safety website or the American Red Cross.