Water pipes and service lines can freeze when frost penetrates the ground during long periods of extremely low temperatures. Water pipes located in unheated areas can also freeze without proper insulation.
In 2015 the City of Hamilton received over 1200 calls from residents whose water pipes had frozen, leaving some without running water for days. We generally take our water for granted until we can’t flush toilets, have a shower, do laundry or wash dishes. Routine activities like brushing teeth or having a glass of water are no longer as easy as turning on your tap. Being proactive before the temperature drops is an affordable way to help prevent your water pipes from freezing.
Prepare for winter
Follow these steps to reduce the risk of frozen pipes:
- Seal air leaks in your home and garage.
- Install insulated pipe sleeves, UL listed heat tape or heat cables (found at your local building supply and home improvement stores) on exposed pipes in unheated areas of your home such as crawl spaces, cold cellars, basements, attics, storage rooms and garages.
- Disconnect and drain all outdoor hoses.
- Shut off and drain all outdoor taps.
- Consider the Service Line Warranties of Canada warranty program.
What to do if your pipes are frozen
If the pipes in your home have frozen, you can attempt to thaw those pipes yourself following the steps below.
- Turn on a tap in the basement. If you are successful in thawing your pipes, water will begin flowing from the tap.
- Locate the water shut-off valve in your home. If the pipe you are attempting to thaw bursts or you are successful in thawing the pipe, it may leak and potentially cause a flood. In this case, you will need to shut off the water to your house using the water shut-off valve until the leaky pipe is fixed.
- Use a blow dryer or space heater on the exposed pipe near the water meter for one or two hours. Alternatively you can try placing a warm towel or rag around the pipe. Do not use an open flame as you risk bursting pipes, causing the pipe joints to come apart or even setting your house on fire.
Reporting frozen pipes
Before reporting a frozen pipe, the City recommends that you:
- Contact a plumber to thaw your frozen pipe or verify the location of the frozen pipe.
- Contact Service Line Warranty of Canada (SLWC) if you've purchased the additional Water Line Warranty.
If a more urgent response is required after regular business hours, please call 905-546-2489. Please note that the City will only send out an Operator if a homeowner has contacted a plumber to thaw the frozen pipe and to verify that the location of the frozen pipe is on the public side of the property
House to house connection
If you have running water you can temporarily help a neighbour with frozen pipes by sharing your water through a temporary house to house connection. This water can be used for showering, doing laundry and flushing toilets. Both homes must keep a tap running to ensure the temporary connection doesn’t freeze. This will not affect either neighbour’s water bill, as you will both be placed on historical billing based on last year’s water usage.
If your water pipes freeze you could be without running water for days. In some cases this house to house connection is the only temporary solution until the service line or water pipes can be thawed or repaired. The City of Hamilton can assist with this connection at no charge.