The winter is great for snowfalls and all but you won’t be able to enjoy it if the flush of your toilet suddenly stops working. You will face this problem and the reason could very well be the weather instead of bad plumbing. Freezing pipes are a common issue that many homeowners sometimes face in cold countries.
With that being said, there are certain things which you can do to get rid of this situation. We will go with the evergreen “prevention is better than cure” methods of solving this situation in this article. We will tell you some easy, yet effective ways to come up with a solution to this problem.
Table of Contents
The Preventive Measures
Through extensive research and survey, we were able to identify two major causes of freezing that your toilet pipes come across. One of them is involved directly with the toilet while the other one tends to the overall piping of the house. We will talk about both of them to keep your toilet pipes from freezing.
Tricking the Toilet Tank
Remove the top covering of your toilet tank and you will see some water that’s stored and ready for the next flush. You will have to work with the parts inside the tank. Don’t worry, that water is not filthy as it comes directly from the supply line.
Keep the Flaps Open
Bring a piece of cotton thread or string and attach one of its ends with the small clip on the flap inside the tank. Raise the flap a little bit so that water can go through the flap and then tie the other end of the thread to anything inside the tank.
When you flush, this flap is raised enough so that all the water stored on the tank can rush down and clean your toilet. Then, the tank is refilled by the water from the toilet pipe. Because we kept the flap open a little bit, water inside the toilet pipe will keep flowing at a slow rate and will prevent freezing.
Use a plumber’s antifreeze
While we are talking about tricking the toilet tank, it is safe to mention another useful trick to prevent frozen pipes. Plumber’s antifreeze toilet liquids are a good choice for keeping ice away when your toilets will not be in use for a long time – like when you are traveling. Make sure to use a plumber’s antifreeze rather than a car antifreeze and wear safety goggles and gloves. You will first turn off the toilet tank’s water supply and remove its lid. Then, flush the toilet so that all the water leaves the tank and there is ample room for pouring in the antifreeze. Flushing the toilet again will get the antifreeze into the bowl, where it will stay for as long as the toilet remains unused. This is going to prevent problems with frozen pipes, tanks, and bowls while you are gone. Frozen water in the toilet can crack the bowl and tank apart from damaging the pipes, especially because of prolonged disuse. So, antifreeze liquids make a simple and effective solution to reduce such risks. They offer the best preventive measure if you do not want to actually handle the pipes and fixtures by yourself.
Tending to the Main Water Pipes
If the water doesn’t reach the toilet pipe, then the above trick is of no use. That’s why to prevent the toilet pipe from freezing, we will have to keep the water flowing on the other main pipes.
We will share with you the most common and proven ways of keeping the water running inside the pipes even in the coldest of the days.
Stop the Airflow
Check for passages that let cold air in and out of your home. This may not seem like a deal-breaker, but it’s the case sometimes. If there’s something that can dramatically increase the freezing process other than the negative temperatures itself, it’s the cold airflow.
Water pipes are seen inside the basement of some houses. Make sure there are no windows open inside the basement of your house. After that, check for any small holes and close them with pieces of unused clothes or rags. If pipes are running in the attic, make sure you block off any holes that allow airflow.
Use the Warmer Air of Your House
Open the doors of the kitchen and the bathroom cabinet. This will allow the comparatively hotter air from inside the house to circulate the plumbing inside.
However, do this only after when you’ve sealed all the incoming air passages. If you feel that cold air is coming from the cabinet, then do a better sealing.
Once all the suspicious gaps are sealed, there is less chance of cold air sneaking in and freezing the pipes. This will also help you use a space heater in the bathroom more efficiently as no warm air will escape through the gaps. You want to make sure that the toilet pipes – and all plumbing pipes for that matter – do not get frozen. So, instead of switching on whole-house heating, simply use a space heater for more localized heating. The temperature should be just warm enough to keep the pipes ice-free, so there is no need to set the heater at very high temperatures. This is both cost-effective in terms of smaller bills compared to whole-house heating and cheaper than any hefty repairs from burst pipes and bowls.
Warm air from a heater will keep the walls and the pipes inside them at a comfortably warm temperature. This is a great option for those who already use heating systems like radiant flooring and smart heating. With radiant flooring, the underground pipes can be warmed up to keep the ice away and thaw out any frozen cold spots. However, there is always the risk of this frozen water leaking through gaps once heated by the radiant floors, so make sure to seal pipes thoroughly and close the water supply until all the ice has melted and evaporated from the pipes. This will help you address one problem without unleashing another in the form of surprise leaks.
If you use smart heating, then monitoring your pipes will be much easier as smart sensors and smart thermostats will do the main work for you through automation. You can set the smart thermostat to the required warm temperature in the bathroom or basement – wherever your pipes are exposed to freezing. The thermostat will automatically regulate the ambient temperature and send you alerts via apps if it gets too cold.
These are some ways of exploiting the warm air in your house/bathroom to keep the toilet pipes from freezing, assuming there are no air leaks in the house or cracks in the pipes. If heating systems are not an option and you have detected minor freezing issues, just pick up a blow dryer for temporary and quick fixes here and there!
Use Pipe Insulation
Pipe insulation is soft pipe covering made of sponge and foam. They are great for keeping preventing the water from freezing. They come in different diameters for fitting different pipe sizes. Not only that, but there is also a certain level of thickness that you can choose from regarding the cushioning of the sponge and foam.
Identify the pipes which are freezes at first. It is only because of them that the water can’t move forward. So, take in the measurements with a measuring tape and head over to the hardware store to buy adequate amounts of insulations.
These come in small sizes so you may need to buy a handful of these if you want to insulate a longer pipe.
If you happen to find yourself in a situation where spending a few bucks for pipe insulations is not to your likings, then you can wrap some clothes that you don’t use anymore around the pipes.
Try to make thick layers of wrapping like bandages. It will not be as effective as the pipe insulations but it’s surely worth a try, and it may prove to be useful.
Electrical Heating Tapes
Use electrical heating tapes for the main pipes only. We like to use these as a last resort for preventing the water main water pipes from freezing and ultimately, keep the toilet pipes from freezing.
Because they are the most expensive and getting a positive result from them is almost guaranteed. If all those other methods fail, this is your go-to.
Attach the thermostat on the body of the pipe that you wish to heat. Use electric tapes to keep it stuck on the pipe. Then, wrap the tape across the pipe making spirals.
Try not to keep a lot of distance between the spirals. Stick the end of the tape to the pipe with electric tape too. Then, connect the power cable with the electric outlet.
Most thermostats are set at 16degrees on these heating tapes. It may not seem hot enough but they are for the heating purpose of the water pipes. Make sure that you don’t overlap the tapes over one another.
Almost all of the heating tapes have a self-regulating heating feature. So, they can automatically adjust to the temperature.
The main causes and dangers
Now that we know the top preventive measures for frozen toilet pipes, let us summarize the main causes and dangers of this problem. In general, plumbing pipes will be exposed to freezing temperatures during winters. The possibility of freezing easily depends on where these pipes are installed, how well insulated they are, and whether they are sealed properly or not. It all comes down to good insulation. A house that is well insulated will retain maximum heat within its walls, thereby keeping the in-wall pipes safe from ice. If the overall insulation is weak, then your pipes will be more prone to freezing and you will have to use localized or targeted heating alternatives – such as those discussed in this article. You can insulate the pipes themselves, install heated tapes, seal cracks and holes, add antifreeze, etc.
You can also heat up the bathroom or basement space using a heater or activate floor heating to keep those specific pipes warm and ice-free. Without insulation and ambient heating, the risk of freezing increases, and this can become disastrous if ignored for too long. Frozen toilet pipes can burst, create leaks elsewhere, and lead to an eventual buildup of mold and mildew. The extent of this damage could be anything from a broken pipe to a full-scale bathroom renovation, including major cleanup for mold that has spread to other places. Since frozen water causes the pipes and bowls to expand, this can crack toilet bowls and even flood the bathroom with overflowing water. Your plumbing system can be damaged permanently if the frozen pipes are not addressed soon. To restore things back in order, you might need a huge budget and repair options which can be very time-consuming as a homeowner. Therefore, prevention is better than cure!
It is usually easy to diagnose the problem by looking for some obvious signs. Your toilet tank might not refill properly or at all after flushing, indicating that the pipe has become frozen and cannot supply water to the tank. In some cases, the affected pipes will appear swollen with frozen water. Depending on the magnitude of the problem, you might have to demolish the target walls before tampering with the pipes. So, it is important to get some professional advice to find the best solution and prevent expensive repairs. For example, it could be that your basement pipes simply needed some heated tapes and there was no need to tear down the wall. This is the benefit of localized heating through electric tapes and space heaters, as they eliminate the dangers of frozen pipes without much effort on your part.
Although the problem you are facing is from the toilet pipe, it is caused by the main water pipes most of the time. We recommend checking those pipes regularly for freeze related problems. Only if you don’t find any problem there, you should worry about the pipes inside the toilet tank.
However, if somehow only the toilet pipes are freezing, then following the trick we mentioned should be enough. If not, then it is high time you consulted a plumber. You may even need to spend some big bucks behind the toilet repair kit. But we hope that it doesn’t come down to that and you can keep your toilet from freezing with our guidelines. Please visit the Guide to Winterizing a House article for a comprehensive list of what to do when entering the winter season.