In this guide we will explain how to fix frozen / cracked copper pipes (or PEX tubing) in less than 1 hour and save at least $200. Total budget for this repair is as little as $40-50 (including tools).
The winter is coming, and for many states it has already arrived (Buffalo NY, and other parts of Midwest got over 6 feet of snow in November). This means frozen pipes, running out of heating oil and having to restart (flush) your boiler, fixing cracked pipes, and leaks.
While it’s not fun dealing with no heat, and having to fix the plumbing and heating equipment, it is also VERY expensive. One plumber visit can cost you $200-300 alone, without parts and much of repair getting done. And this is considering that you can actually get a plumber to come to your home. Right now it’s their prime season, which means plumbers are super busy and hike their rates. And on top of all of this, it is very likely that even if you do get aplub=mber to come to you, the quality of work may be sub-par, and you will not even know they did a bad job, and there is no warranty.
This sounds very grim, but fear not! We’ve dealt with these problems, and will share with you the secrets of how you can do most of the work yourself, and for very little money! So let’s get started.
Fixing Frozen Pipes (Copper or PEX tubing)
There is a simple, inexpensive and SAFE way to fix cracked / frozen pipes yourself, for under $50 in most cases, and it requires no soldering (unless you want to solder). The solution is using Brass Push Fittings, which can connect to both COPPER and PEX and require no soldering and take just a few minutes to install everything.
But first, let me explain how I got to the point of fixing my own plumbing.
In 2010, we ran out of heating oil, while abroad, and when we came back, we found frozen / cracked pipes, and water in the first floor and basement. Luckily, it has only been 1 day of leaking (it was very cold weather for a few days, and then it got warmer a day before we came back).
We called a plumber, who repaired frozen pipes, flushed air out of the water loop, and restarted the heating system. The cost was $650, for which insurance company paid the most (including damaged hardwood flooring).
However, after the “repair” heating system became very inefficient. Back then, I did not know what the problem was, but later, I found out that not all air was flushed out of the pipes – so the plumber did crappy job, and charged full amount for work. This cost us (in my estimate) additional $500+ in extra heating costs.
How I found out about the problem? Well – we had another pipe freeze 🙁 and this time I decided to do it myself.
So step one was to shut off the water, and fix frozen heating pipes. But because our system is a hybrid of COPPER (radiators) and PEX tubing, and I found some cracked PEX, I needed to find a solution to fix both. I remotely know that PEX requires special crimping tools, which cost $89+ for a set, and I did not want to by them for one time repair. So after spending 2 hours at local Lowe’s store and looking around and asking questions, I found the perfect solution – Brass Push Fittings, that are also made in UK, which for me is a sign of quality.
Here is how to Repair Frozen Copper and PEX tubing:
NOTE – in the video I call Push Fittings “self clamping elbow” and “coupling”.
So the issues I had were the following:
1) My PEX tubing was sticking out of the floor by only 4-5 inches, so I did not have much to work with. I could not bend it as there wasn’t enough length.
2) In original setup, the PEX was bent, and that created stress on the tube, which made it easy for PEX to crack when frozen.
3) I had to connect PEX to Copper pipes, and make sure it doesn’t leak.
4) I could not solder, as that would melt PEX tubing.
How to repair frozen pipes using Push Fittings
A) Connect COPPER to COPPER:
Find appropriate size push fitting. If your pipe is 3/4″ and radiator is (usually) also 3/4″ then you get a 3/4″ straight or elbow fitting. If you are connecting 1/2″ to 3/4″ pipes then get that size fitting.
Cut the pipe, removing crack bubble (if you need, remove some radiator fins to expose more pipe). Clean the ends with wire bush / pipe brush and remove dust. You will need about 3/4″ of pipe exposed on each end, to insert into push fitting.
Once the pipes are prepared, push one end of the pipe into the fitting, as far as you can. Then push the other end in, as far as you can. That is it! Your pipes are now repaired and are leaks free (assuming you did it right).
B) Connect PEX to PEX, or PEX to Copper pipe:
When inserting PEX tubing into Push Fitting, you need to use the little plastic adapter (insert) provided with the package. This will reinforce the end of your push fitting, ensuring that it won’t crack inside the fitting. This is very important step.
To insert PEX into push fitting, cut the end of the PEX flush, using sharp utility knife (this is very easy to do. Make sure it is a straight cut, and that PEX is not damaged. Insert the provided plastic piece into the PEX, and insert PEX into Push Fitting as far as you can. It should typically go in 3/4″.
On the opposite end of push fitting, insert either Copper or PEX, following the above instructions. This is it – your repair is complete, and your pipes should not leak.
I bought all my parts at Lowe’s, so I will provide their links. Also, I went to Home Depot, but their push fittings DO NOT indicate where they were made, so I assume China, while the Blue Hawk I used, are made in UK.
You will probably need 2 or 3 fittings in different sizes, but even with sales tax, the above tools and parts cost UNDER $50 total.
Most of the time, if your heating pipes freeze, the damage is usually to the radiator pipe, so that should be the first place you should look. The reason for this is because baseboard radiator manufacturers use thin wall copper pipes (much thinner than regular 1/2″ or 3/4″ copper tubing sold at Lowe’s, Home Depot or Plumbing supply), so even little stress causes cracks.
This is actually good for you, because it makes finding the leak and doing the repair easy, and inexpensive. You can usually salvage the baseboard radiator, and replace just a small section of the pipe.
If you need to expose a few inches of piping, just cut off the aluminum fins with metal snips.
NEXT: You are still not done, as now you have to fill the pipes with water and flush out the air.
We will soon publish a guide on how to fill up the water and flush the air out on most forced hot water boilers. Stay tuned.
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