Cold Weather and Clogged Drains

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Cold weather can affect your house’s plumbing in a variety of ways, especially once the outside temperatures dip below freezing.
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Cold weather can affect your house's plumbing in a variety of ways, especially once the outside temperatures dip below freezing. Knowing the potential dangers to your plumbing from the cold weather helps you take steps to keep your plumbing functioning properly and prevent cold weather clogs. Here are some clogged drain causes and what to do about each issue.

Vent Pipe Clogs

Cold weather may bring problems with the plumbing vent pipes in your house, especially if two or more drains in your house clog at the same time. The plumbing vent pipes connect to multiple plumbing fixtures. They vent sewer gases from the drainpipes, as well as allow for fresh air to flow into the pipes. If ice collects inside the vent pipes to the point where the ice clogs the pipes, the drains connected to the blocked pipes may behave as if they are clogged. All of this will lead to clogged or slow drains in winter.

Drainpipe Clogs

Your house's drainpipes may clog at any time of the year when debris such as soap scum and hair collects on the walls of the pipes. This buildup eventually cuts off any passageways for water to drain. This can result in a clogged sink in winter.

Oil and grease that you use to cook may also create clogs in the drainpipes. Due to this propensity to clog drains, oil and grease should not be washed down your sink drains. Oil and grease cause increased risk of cold weather clogs. In cold weather, the grease or oil stiffens more in the pipes, making it more likely that there will be winter plumbing clogs in the pipes. If you suspect the drainpipes have frozen, pouring hot or even boiling water down the drain should eliminate the ice blockage.

Thawing Pipes

You may thaw out either drainpipes or plumbing vent pipes, restoring your plumbing to its regularly operating condition. Applying a direct flame to a frozen pipe using a blowtorch or similar device can cause the pipe to split from the extreme temperature increase. Instead, heat the pipe with a hair dryer or wrap towels that have been soaked in hot water around the frozen pipe. If the vent pipes are frozen, you can also pour hot water down the pipe openings to break up the ice clog.

Prevention of Cold Weather Clogs

Once you have had problems with the cold weather leading to clogged pipes, you need to take steps to ensure the pipes do not freeze again. This is important for convenience sake and to help prevent frozen pipes, which can break, according to the American Red Cross.

Increasing the temperature in the part of the house where the pipes have frozen helps prevent future problems. Insulate unfinished basements or attic spaces to keep pipes from freezing, or slide insulation sleeves over the pipes. If grease or oil has caused a frozen kitchen sink drain pipe, pour any grease or oil you have used to cook into a container and dispose of it, rather than washing it down the drain.

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Steven Symes

Steven Symes has been writing for six years. His articles have appeared on a number of websites, including some regular columns. Symes has been writing professionally since 2005. He currently holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Brigham Young University and is partway through an Master of Arts in English at Weber State University.