Burst Frozen pipeLast week, hundreds of Toronto residents were left without water because the water lines had frozen. So how’d this happen? You may not think about it, but pipes in your home need protection from the cold winter weather too. As water freezes it expands, putting tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it (including plastic or metal pipes). By taking preventative measures before the cold weather hits, you can prevent water lines from freezing and the costly damage that comes with them.

Frozen Water Lines

Frozen external water lines are caused by frost getting deep into the ground. Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything we can do to prevent that from happening (except maybe move to a warmer climate… Bahamas anyone?) The good news when it comes to external pipes freezing, if there is good news, is that there is no damage to your home… You just have no water. Frozen water lines can also cause damage inside your home, when the water lines inside the house freeze and then burst open.

Chances are, if your basement is unfinished you will see water lines running against an outside wall. Although the wall may be cold to the touch, the water lines are exposed to the warmth of the home. When the heat is on in the house, there is enough heat to keep the water lines from freezing.

Insulation & Water Lines 101

When water lines are exposed to an outside wall they have to be treated differently than those exposed to an inside wall – the trick is where you place water lines inside an exterior wall with the insulation

The proper way to insulate exterior walls with water lines is to remove the water lines, frame the wall, insulate, and then put up a vapour barrier. After, add the water lines, and on every stud put a 2” x 2” strapping, then drywall. If you insulate the water lines this way, then the water lines are on the warm side of the vapour barrier.

Don’t trap the water lines behind the vapour barrier on the insulation side. If the water lines are sealed on the cold side of the vapour barrier they will freeze.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If your water lines weren’t installed with the best practices in mind, and you have frozen pipes in your home, here are some tips to thaw them out safely:

  • Open Faucet: If you turn on a faucet and only a dribble of water comes out, you most likely have a frozen pipe. To fix it,open the faucet that the pipe runs to before thawing a frozen pipe, and keep the faucet open. This lets water flow through the pipe and relieve any built up pressure in the pipe.
  • Heat Frozen Pipe: Apply heat to the frozen section of the pipe. Use a hair dryer, heat lamp, electric heat tape or a portable space heater (keeping it away from flammable materials). Begin from the interior faucet end of the pipe, and work your way toward the colder end of the pipe. You can also wrap pipes with towels that have been soaked in hot water.
  • Check for Other Frozen Pipes: Double-check all other faucets in your house to see if you have more frozen pipes. Chances are if one pipe has frozen, others probably have too.