It is common that homeowners throughout the five boroughs of NYC may experience a frozen water main throughout the winter months. A homeowner first becomes aware of a frozen water line after a sudden loss of water to the house. The pipe usually freezes overnight due to an extended period of time with no running water. It is suggested to leave a faucet running in the house at all times, even if it is a small drip of water. This would prevent the pipe from freezing as running water does not freeze.
The Average homeowner tends to panic and search the web for “plumber” and/or call the first plumber they see located in the yellow pages. This can be very dangerous for two primary reasons.
The average plumber does not necessarily know how to properly thaw a frozen pipe which may end up leading to additional damage
A water main contractor may lead you to believe that the only resolution is to replace the entire water main from the roadway to inside the house. Where this may be the case under some circumstances, there are additional measures (thawing) that should be attempted before replacing the entire water line.
Pros & Cons of thawing a frozen water main
If you are able to successfully thaw a frozen pipe it will save you a great deal of money as opposed to replacing the water main. There is a risk associated with thawing a pipe, especially if the pipe is old, lead and/or corroded. There is a possibility of creating a larger and emergency situation if the electricity causes the pipe to crack or split. This would result in the water line having to be replaced in full, many people do not wish to assume this much risk and end up replacing the water main in this case. It is especially common for a homeowner to opt into a new water line if the existing pipe is made of lead. This allows the owner to kill two birds with one stone and get rid of the traces of lead in their drinking water.
The process of thawing a frozen water line
Electrical thawing includes using a generator type electrical welder which is connected to the frozen pipe. High amperage is the key to thawing the pipe but can also short out electrical systems grounded to the pipes. Electrocution exposers are minor if using a DC current, but an AC current poses greater risk potential. It is highly suggested to hire a licensed plumber in the event that you do decide to attempt the thawing approach.
Read about a recent job where Harris Water replaces a frozen water line with a new copper water main here