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Frozen Water Pipes: Prevention is Key to Protect Your Home

Posted on February 1st 2014

When temperatures dip below zero outside, it's possible that water pipes can freeze inside your home. Homeowners should be aware that either plastic PVC or copper pipes can freeze and burst. One sobering fact is that water damage can be extensive depending on how quickly the leak is found. An online source estimates that a 1/8-inch crack in a pipe can lose up to ~945 L of water in a day, causing flooding, potential structural damage and set the scene for mold.

The most common reasons for frozen water pipes are:

  • furnace temperatures turned down too low during winter trips away
  • uninsulated water pipes running very closely along uninsulated basement, attic, crawl space, garage or exterior house walls
  • drafts of freezing air blowing across a section of the water pipe through unplugged holes in the exterior walls from electrical wiring, cable or telephone lines, dryer vents and pipes, for example
  • water pipes to outside faucets that were not drained and shut off before the cold weather

Signs of a frozen water pipe:

  • no water comes out when you turn on the faucet
  • unusual drop in water pressure
  • flooding

What to do if you suspect a frozen water pipe:

  • turn off the main water valve located at the water meter or where the water pipe enters the home
  • turn on the faucets to encourage water flow and reduce pressure in the pipes
  • try to locate where along the water pipe freezing has occurred by feeling the temperature of the pipes – the frozen section of pipe will feel coldest
  • if there is no standing water in the area, using warm air from a hair dryer (never use a torch or other open flame source), start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of the pipe
  • **if flooding has occurred, the pipe has burst, do not use an electrical appliance as a heating source due to risk of electrocution, turn off the main water shutoff valve and call a plumber**

Preventing frozen water pipes – tips for homeowners:

  • insulate pipes, especially those close to outside walls, garages, attics or crawl spaces where the chance of freezing is greatest
  • seal air leaks surrounding or near pipes
  • as part of fall chores, disconnect all outdoor hoses, and drain and use an indoor valve to turn off water to exterior faucets and sprinkler systems
  • install frost free exterior faucets (hose bibbs) for supplying water to the front and back yards
  • install water shut-off alarms that turn off the water supply if a leak is detected
  • drain all pipes if you are going to be away for an extended period of time (more than four consecutive days)
  • keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage
  • open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around uninsulated pipes under sinks and to appliances near exterior walls
  • keep heat at or above 13 degrees Celsius even when you are out of town
  • during a sudden or large drop in cold weather temperature turn on both hot and cold faucets near outside walls to allow a small trickle of water to run during the night and do not turn down the thermostat over night
  • when you will be away from home, leave the heat on and drain your water system before you go
  • identify the locations of shutoff valves so that you are prepared to stop the flow of water as soon as possible when a pipe bursts

In the City of London, thawing out frozen water service stubs are the City’s responsibility. Thawing out frozen service extensions and private mains are the owner’s responsibility. Professional plumbers can assist homeowners to provide quality workmanship that is guaranteed.

If your property has experienced frozen water pipes in the past and is a recurring problem, ensure your indoor air temperature is kept above 8 degrees Celsius in all areas that contain water pipes, and especially where your water meter is installed. Running a steady stream of water at least the diameter of a drinking straw (1/4” or 0.5 cm) would add a few extra dollars per day on your water bill for the extra water consumed, but may keep the water from freezing in the pipes.

The safest and most effective solution to recurring frozen water pipes is to consult a professional plumber to assess, repair and prevent what could be a very costly problem. Prevention is key.


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