Many people arrive in Japan from places where it simply does not get cold, and are unaware that they need to worry about things like frozen pipes. In most places in Japan, the temperature does not fall below freezing that often, and as a result the pipes have not been insulated as well as they could be. Often, the water pipes are located outside the house to allow easy access, compounding the problem.
Outdoor pipes located on the north side of the building will remain cold during the day. Piping that faces south, west, or east may defrost during the day on their own, but are still susceptible to freezing overnight or during a cold spell. The best answer to this problem is to pay attention to the weather and take preventative steps to avoid freezing.
Preventing Frozen Pipes
When you notice the temperature will fall below 0ºC/ 32ºF, your best bet is to:
- 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.
- Leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 12 ºC/ 55ºF and keep airflow over the pipes (by opening cupboard doors, etc).
As Japanese homes are often built with exposed pipes, the first option is the best one. Inside heat will not warm outside pipes! If you do find yourself with frozen pipes, you may be able thaw them yourself.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
Thawing frozen pipes can be dangerous if done incorrectly. An open flame should be used ONLY by a qualified professional. If you are unable to thaw your pipes any other way, you should call a professional before using any type of flame device on your own. Besides the fire hazard, you could over-heat the pipe and cause a steam explosion.
Here are the steps you can take, safely, if you wake up some frigid winter morning to find a pipe has frozen.
- Open faucet so steam produced by your thawing activities will be able to escape.
- Start thawing pipe at the faucet, and work back toward other end of frozen section. As you melt the ice, water and steam will come out the open faucet. If you started in the middle, steam produced by melting ice could get trapped and build up enough pressure to burst the pipe. If the pipes are frozen solid, the order is a must. If your pipes are outside and were working yesterday (lightly frozen), you may want to reverse this order and start outside.
Pipe-thawing options: Here are a couple safe ways to thaw your home’s pipes.
- The most popular and safest pipe-thawing option is to use hot water. Wrap and secure a heavy towel around the pipe to concentrate and keep the heat against it. Using a bucket to catch runoff water pour hot or boiling water over the towel. Repeat as required.
- If you want to avoid the messiness of thawing with hot water you can try a heat lamp or hair dryer as heat source. These work much less quickly. NEVER use an open flame to melt a frozen pipe because it is extremely dangerous.