Frozen pipes have potential to cause thousands of dollars in damage



By Tammy Schneider


Falling temperatures and consistently cold weather can have an adverse effect on your home, especially your pipes. If you turn on your faucet during the winter and little or no water comes out of the tap, don’t delay in checking your pipes for signs of frost. You may notice a strange smell coming from the faucet, meaning odors have no way of escaping through the blocked pipe and are heading back up to the faucet.


Frozen pipes have the potential to burst, possibly causing thousands of dollars in damage, so should be attended to immediately. Pipes should be thawed as soon as possible and depending on the skill level of the homeowner and the location of the pipe, a homeowner can try to thaw them on their own, or if necessary, contact a plumber to handle the job.


Steve Chamney, from Cliff's Plumbing and Heating, sees approximately 20 cases of frozen pipes per season, depending on the year. He says it can happen in new builds or older homes.


"Leave a tap running," he said. "There is constant flow and it doesn't give pipes time to freeze up."


If you believe your pipes are frozen, first open the tap that the pipe leads to. This will allow any water to escape and relieve pressure on the pipe itself. If the frozen pipe is easily accessible, use a heat source such as a hair dryer or portable space heater to warm the pipe, starting as close to the faucet as possible so that melted ice or water can escape easily. Pipes that aren’t easily accessible may mean removing a section of drywall to access the frozen area. In either case, never use a tool with an open flame to assist in thawing pipes. A propane torch or similar tool can damage pipes and put the homeowner at risk of fire.


Adam Weishar, Director of Public Works for the Municipality of Kincardine, agrees with Chamney's suggestion. He says the town has taken steps to reduce the incidence of frozen pipes after significant issues as recently as 2014-15 required the replacement of water mains near the downtown area. Notices were sent out in January 2019 to homeowners in neighbourhoods identified as problem areas, instructing them to ensure that taps be left slightly open to reduce the chance of freezing.


Being prepared is a homeowner’s best defense against freezing pipes. Insulate pipes, especially those in basements, attics or other areas prone to freezing, with heating wrap that will help the pipe maintain its temperature. Caulk or spray foam can be used to fill gaps and holes around the pipes that let in cold air.


Homeowners should make sure that there is adequate heat supplied near the pipes, and if the pipes in question are below a sink, keep cupboard doors and interior doors open so that heat circulates around the pipes.


If a frozen pipe does burst, immediately shut off the main water line to your property. Property damage from floods can result in huge repair and remediation bills. Call a plumber for professional evaluation and service. The pipes will need to be repaired or replaced.


Todd Farrell from Miller Insurance knows well that the damages caused by burst pipes can be devastating. Insurance will usually cover damage inside the home, but it is best to check with your broker to ensure that your home has coverage before damage occurs.


Burst pipes can occur during a cold snap, but the thaw after the cold weather can be a concern too.


"When I expect to get more (calls) is when the thaw happens," said Farrell.


Snowbirds and winter travellers are wise to make sure the home they are leaving behind will still be heated, and draining the pipes before leaving is prudent as well. Policies written in the past required that homes be checked on a regular basis if left unoccupied for more than 72 hours. Make sure you know all the conditions of coverage for your home before heading south.