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What to do if your pipes freeze at home, according to plumbing experts

How to prevent your pipes from freezing
How to prevent your pipes from freezing 02:08

Millions of Americans are facing frigid temperatures and winter storms – and with the cold weather may come hazards like frozen pipes. If you are in area affected by a freeze, and you find the pipes in your home have frozen, here's what to do to thaw them out.

Steps to take immediately if your pipes freeze at home.

Pipes can start to freeze when the temperature in Southern states reaches 20 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When the water starts to freeze, the pipe could burst.

If you turn on your faucet on a cold day and only a trickle comes out, your pipes are likely frozen. This is more likely to occur in pipes against exterior walls that are close to the cold outdoors as well as where the water enters your home, through the foundation, according to American Red Cross.

The Red Cross advises you keep your faucets open as you begin the process of thawing out your frozen pipes. This way, as water is able to run through them, it will help melt the ice in the pipe.

The Department of Energy has a map that shows the likelhood of pipes freezing, depending on where you live.

How to thaw frozen water pipes

You can use common heat sources to help thaw out frozen pipes. Wrapping a heating pad around an affected pipe or using a hair dryer to blast it with hot air can help. You can also put a space heater in front of a frozen pipe, or wrap a pipe in a hot towel – but do not use open flame devices like a blowtorch, a gas heater or charcoal stove, the Red Cross advises. 

You should keep applying heat until full water pressure is restored. "Even if it gets to 25 degrees, that may be enough for it to thaw out,"said David Butler, master plumber for Milestone Home Services, told CBS News Texas. "If it does, that way [water] can start trickling through." 

This method works when you can locate a frozen pipe. However, if you can't access a frozen pipe, you may need to call a plumber.

Another way to slowly thaw pipes is to let the heat of your home warm them, the CDC says. You may need to open cabinets under kitchen and bathroom sinks to help expose the pipes to the heat of your home. 

"Make sure and clean the cabinet completely out, nothing under there that can be flammable, and keep it at least two feet away from any combustibles," Butler said.

If you run into an emergency situation where you can't get water or a plumber, the CDC says snow water can be used as a water source. Just boil it for at least a minute, which will kill most germs. This method, however, won't get rid of chemicals that could be in the snow.

How to prevent your pipes from freezing again

If you know you are going to be hit with freezing temperatures, allowing a trickle of water to run through your faucets may help prevent pipes from freezing, according to the Red Cross. 

Keeping your home warm – both day and night – and opening cabinets to expose pipes to the warm air will also help. You may have a higher heating bill, but a burst pipe might be even more expensive, the Red Cross says. "Better waste the water than have the water damage from a frozen pipe," Butler said. 

If you're going to be away from home during cold weather, keep your thermostat at no lower than 55 degrees. 

Pipes near exterior areas – like those in your garage or attic – are more likely to freeze. Make sure your garage door is closed and add insulation. Both hot and cold water pipes should be insulated, the Red Cross says. 

"You can get pipe insulation at a home store. You can do this type of work yourself," Jeff Strom of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, told CBS Minnesota

Other outdoor water sources, like hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines and water sprinkler lines can also be at risk of freezing. A Pittsburgh-area plumber told KDKA you should make sure your hose bib is turned off and that the hose valve located inside your home is also off.

The CDC also urges people to heat their homes safely. If the power goes out, using the stove for heat is not safe. Instead, try fireplaces, portable heaters and bulking up the blankets. 

If your pipe does burst, the Red Cross advises turning off your water at the main valve and calling a plumber. 

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