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Question DetailsAsked on 1/2/2018

What is the approximate cost of thawing frozen pipes in a 2 story house with a basement?

Water has filled the pipes in an unoccupied brick building which is part of an estate scheduled and for cleaning and modest renovation.

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2 Answers


Sounds like this is much more than one frozen spot in a pipe - this is why physically cutting off/disconnecting the pipes where they enter a house is a good idea on a house that is going to be left vacant for awhile - preferably outside the house.

Depends on how much pipe length is frozen - and on whether the building has heat now. If it does not have heat, not much use thawing them under current conditions unless you are ready to heat the house up and keep it up to temp to start the cleaning and remodeling maybe best to just have a plumber turn off the main water supply valve and temporarily cap the pipe there (to stop any leakage through the valve) and provide drain hoses from drain taps on water heater and boiler (if any) and such to drains, and open all faucets to allow water in the pipes to go into the drains when the pipes thaw naturally and to allow ofr discharge of any further free water trapped in the pipes.

There are a LOT of places where water could come out once it starts to thaw - so you have to plan on having someone there in addition to the plumber during the thawing process to immediately detect (commonly using a stethoscope or listen for running water sound in the pipes) and control any leakage - because thawing out pipes or bringing the heat back up in a house without observation can result in a lot of water damage. State Farm says average residential water damage claim from frozen pipe(s) is around $15,000 - and those are presumably mostly in occupied houses where the leakage is detected fairly soon. Turning the water back on if this house is still going to be unoccupied and not have workers in it might not be the best idea.

Best bet is a deliberate opening of faucets and drains and disconnecting all water-consuming appliances (water heater, softener, washer, dishwasher, water/ice supply unit in reefer, etc) then thawing out gradually, checking for leakage along the way. Every water-containing appliances/device needs to be checked for leaks or burst piping after it is thawed, cracking of tanks like toilet tanks and toilet bases, water heaters, water softeners, boilers, etc. Plus every fauceet and valve needs to be checked, because freezing can force the seals/gaskets out of the faucet, creating a leak point when the liquid water is back on.

Then once the pipes are thawed, gradually bring pressure back up in each isolatable line section and each water-consuming appliance one at a time, visually and with stethoscope checking for leaks over the course of at least several hours. I emphasize the stethoscope because with that you can track down TINY leaks. I have found leaks which you could hear running in the pipes by putting your ear to a faucet or pipe for several days but could not pin down visually, which when traced down by stethoscope in the walls turned out to have only leaked a cup or less of water - just a not even visible spray or occasional drip through a pinhole or leaking can be picked up by the noise. (Of course, no appliance or HVAC component can be runnig while tracking down this sort of leak).

So this commonly become a couple of hours for a plumber at least, plus a full shift or so for a helper to run around and check for leaks as the system thaws out. Hence, $500-1000 would not be an unusual number for this sort of full-building thawing out - which can also involve having to thaw out sewer line too in some cases. Additional cost (perhaps as much as twice as much) if you want them to actually provide the building heat to thaw the pipes, rather than using the building HVAC system for that.

Plus if the building is still going to be vacant after the reheating, it should be checked preferably about 4-6 times a day (by plumber or by a handyman or such you pay separately) for a couple of days for slow leaks which did not pop up - stethoscope plus a thermal infrared camera or cell phone retuned to the near-infrared side of the spectrum (recent iPhones and iPads have that capability built-in, other phones may need an app download) to check for wet spots forming in the walls or floors work well for that, limiting water damage to negligable rather than letting it get away for hours.

Plus, pipe and wall/ceiling repair at any leaks. Sometimes a house can freeze up solid and have no leaks or just a bit of spraying at faucets (forcing its way through seals) - in other cases you can get many splits in the piping.

Bear in mind, if the heat in the building was off on purpose, then any damage from frozen pipes will most likely NOT be covered by insurance - assuming the estate filed for continuation of the homeowner policy in the first place. If the building was vacant for an extended period of time without paying the extra premium for that coverage, or if the insurance company does not insure vacant buildings at all, could also void any water damage coverage. Generally leaking pipe repair is not covered - though soemtimes is in the event of an unplanned heating failure, though generally the flooding damage is covered if a policy was in effect. But with some carriers, not if the building was vacant for more than a specific period of time (commonly a month).

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


Oops - forgot to include these two links to previous questions about thawing pipes - but they related to a condition where presumably the freezing was limited in scope, not house-wide like your case may be. Course, you might be lucky - could be just one or two frozen spots which, once thawed out (and repaired if necessary) might show the rest of the house is unfrozen - or that the water froze near the entry point and did not fill the rest of the pipes in the house, which is probably the "best case" scenario for you.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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