The cold winter months can be brutal for a home's plumbing system. The water in your home's pipes can freeze if the temperature drops too low, and the water expands as it turns to ice. This can rip holes in your plumbing, and those holes become a serious issue when the water thaws out and begins flowing into your home. Leaks can cause a litany of issues outside initial damage to your belongings, and the mold and structural damage brought on by flooding will be a cause for concern during your next home inspection. To avoid dealing with these issues, take the following steps to prevent frozen pipes and thaw those you suspect are frozen:

Insulate exposed pipes

The pipes that are most likely to freeze are exposed and run along the walls of your home. Before they have a chance to freeze, wrap them with pipe insulation. This provides a preliminary line of defense against the cold air that can freeze the water inside. 

Keep the thermostat up

Many homeowners like to turn down their thermostats when they leave their homes for an extended period of time. While this can save money on your monthly energy bill, it can also lead to leaks that will be incredibly costly to repair. Never turn your thermostat below 55 degrees in winter. 

This should keep your home above freezing, and for some extra security, you can turn off your home's water main. That will stop water flowing through the pipes and will limit the damage any burst pipe could cause. 

Let a faucet run

If you become worried about freezing in the midst of a cold snap, turn on a faucet in your home so a small stream of water comes out. This will keep water running through the pipes and make a freeze less likely. 

Defrost slowly

If you try to turn on a faucet and no water comes out, you may have a frozen pipe. Leave the faucet valve open and deal with the issues immediately. Trace the plumbing to an exposed length of pipe and slowly heat the area you can access. A hair dryer works well for this purpose and makes it easy to gradually thaw the contents of the pipe. Never use an open flame for this purpose - it will heat the pipe too quickly and can cause the pipe to rupture.

Keep the faucets in your home open throughout the process. Do not shut them off until you are sure the freeze has completely thawed.