COLUMBIA, Mo. – Temperatures hovering near zero could mean problems with frozen water lines. Homeowners should take precautions to prevent pipes from freezing and know to how to thaw frozen pipes safely, according to University of Missouri Extension experts.

“With temperatures staying well below freezing, even people who have never had a pipe freeze could have problems,” said David Hedrick, director of the MU Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute. “Any pipes that run along an outside wall may be at additional risk.”

Water lines in outbuildings without a heat source also could experience freezing, he said.

Hedrick suggests adding extra insulation to prevent the pipes from freezing. If that’s not feasible, there are several measures homeowners can take to prevent problems, he said.

Opening cabinet doors below sinks will allow heat to get in the pipes. A heat source such as a shielded light bulb placed near water pipes also can be effective. Hedrick cautioned that the light bulb should not come in contact with combustibles, which could ignite a fire.

One method Hedrick warns against is allowing water to run from the faucet.

“That could create problems with water pressure and storage water in public water systems, which could affect the available water for firefighting purposes,” he said.

If water pipes do freeze, Ronn Phillips, MU associate professor of architectural studies, cautions homeowners to proceed cautiously.

“The object is to thaw the pipe at the same rate that it froze, so it doesn’t damage the pipes,” Phillips said. “Nothing damages a pipe faster than dislodging the joints on a soldered connection. The joints are the weakest point.”

Phillips said the first step is to relieve the pressure in the line by turning on the faucet.

Next, apply heat to the frozen section of the pipe. “Something as simple as a light bulb will work,” he said. Hedrick said a blow-dryer works equally well.

The heat source should thaw the pipe slowly, Phillips said. “Blowtorches or kerosene and propane heaters heat up too quickly and could cause the pipe to break.

Hedrick noted that any kind of direct flame increases the risk of setting surrounding materials on fire.

Phillips urges homeowners to be especially careful with plastic pipes, which have a lower melting point than copper pipes. He added that plastic pipe will become brittle and rigid at low temperatures.

“Plastic is renowned for busting before copper,” he said.