Picture the scene: It’s February in Toronto, temperatures are hovering around -20c plus wind chill and a winter storm hits. You’re hunkered down watching a movie so you don’t care too much…until the power goes out.
An hour goes by, the power’s still off so you have no heat and the house is beginning to get a little colder. Fast forward a few hours and a water pipe in the house freezes and bursts. It’s going to cost thousands of dollars to repair all the water damage and get the burst pipe fixed. Not to mention the mess and stress…
This scenario plays out hundreds, or thousands of times every winter in Canada. But in a lot of cases, burst pipes inside your home can be avoided with one unbelievably simple trick:
Leave your faucets turned on just enough so there is a slow drip.
The water is then moving in the pipes rather than sitting, and is therefore much less likely to freeze – saving you from burst pipes, a ruined house and a repair bill into the thousands.
Note: You should only do this with the faucets inside your house – any outdoor taps should be drained and the water supply turned off in fall as part of your winter preparations, so there is no water in the pipe to cause a burst.
If your water pipes have frozen, but not burst – open at least one of the faucets that the pipe leads to and start trying to thaw the frozen section of pipe immediately. As you’re thawing the pipe, the open faucet will allow any melting water to escape from the pipe.
Try these tricks to find the blocked frozen area in the pipe (if they don’t work, start thawing the pipe at the faucet, and work your way back along the pipe until the water is running again):
- Run your hand along the pipe, feeling for a particularly cold spot.
- Look for any condensation or frost visible on the pipe.
- Run a thermometer along the pipe to find the coldest part.
- Run a damp cloth along the pipe until you see frost forming.
Using a handheld hair dryer on a “hot” setting or a heat gun, start warming the pipe at the side of the frozen area that’s closest to the faucet (again, so that melting water has an escape route). Keep the heat moving on an area of pipe – don’t just over-heat one tiny spot.
Do not use a gas torch or any sort of flame to heat the pipe – it will likely heat the ice/water too quickly which will cause steam. If the steam cannot escape due to further ice blockage in the pipe, it will burst the pipe – and could even injure you.
Other methods for thawing out a frozen pipe include wrapping a towel soaked with hot water around the pipe or using electrical heating tape around the pipe. If a pipe does burst, shut off the water supply immediately to avoid flood damage to your home as far as you can.
Bear in mind that froze pipes, like most other household things that go wrong, can be prevented with the proper household maintenance and preparation.
Before winter really gets going and temperatures plunge, inspect all of the plumbing pipes that lead into, out of or through the house. Any pipes that run through an unheated area – such as sump pump discharge pipes in the cold room, or water pipes that run against outside walls where they could be exposed to colder temperatures – should be properly insulated.
Dense foam pipe insulation is a good value solution, readily available from any DIY store and very easy to fit yourself. Your insulation needs will vary depending on your individual home and where you live in Canada, but the standard foam pipe insulation should be perfectly adequate in a relatively well-insulated home in southern Ontario.