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What to Do if the Pipes Freeze in Your Edmonton Home

What to Do if the Pipes Freeze in Your Edmonton Home

Have you ever been under so much pressure, you finally reached a breaking point? Pipes do that too.

When temperatures dip, water inside a portion of your piping might freeze. When it does, it creates a water pressure buildup that can compromise your entire water system.

According to industry research, freezing pipes account for roughly 18% of all water damage insurance claims. Before we get too far into another Edmonton winter season, it's important to know how to prevent and treat this common homeowner issue.

Today, we're taking a look at a few steps to take and resources to reach out to if you suddenly find yourself needing to thaw more than your chilled hands this winter. Ready to learn more? Let's get started!

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

You might know that freezing pipes can create a home maintenance disaster. Yet, the reality is that once your pipes freeze and burst, you're not only looking at a troublesome leak and damaged furniture. Rather, you could also be dealing with structural damage, foundational issues, and even harmful mold depending on the severity of the situation.

Even a 1/8-inch crack in one of your pipes is large enough to flood a basement if it goes unnoticed for a while. You may think you're immune to this threat because your home is well insulated, or you have new, hardy piping or maybe you have a newer model home. However,frozen water pipes can happen in any environment and with both plastic and copper piping -- and they usually catch homeowners off-guard.

The good news? This issue is largely preventable. Here are a few steps you can take before and after the winter begins to mitigate your chances of dealing with a major cleanup and repair project down the road.

Before Winter: Insulate and Seal

In early fall, when the trees in Edmonton are still vibrant with their green leaves and haven't yet started falling into picturesque piles, you can take steps to keep your pipes warm in the months ahead.

A good way to start is to identify places along your outside walls where your water lines are. Look for spots where outside air is coming through, or where there might be insufficient insulation. The best way to check this is with an infrared camera as you can see colder spots along your walls, but this may not be available to everyone.

A common problem is insulation settling within a wall over many years. The insulation compresses towards the bottom of the wall leaving an uninsulated gap along the top of the wall. When there is a pipe going through this space, it will be vulnerable to freezing because there is no protection from the cold. When these spots are found, you’ll want to add insulation to protect the pipes. If there are gaps through to outside, you’ll want to seal them as well. You can either use spray foam insulation or caulking depending on the size of the gap you are filling.

It is also a good idea to take a walk around the exterior of your home too. Do you notice any areas where you're leaking air? Especially in older model homes that have not been properly sealed, these spots can allow cold air to travel inside your home once winter begins.

Especially if you find any leaks around interior water lines or drains, take action as soon as possible. Caulk or insulate around those areas to make sure they stay as warm as possible to keep your water lines and drains from freezing. These gaps should be sealed not only to protect your plumbing, but to lower your heating costs too!

Finally, follow the advice you've always been told regarding your exterior water sources. Drain and disconnect your garden hoses. If you have frost free hose bibs (also known as outdoor faucets), shutting them off is all you need to do after disconnecting the hose. These faucets are designed to avoid freezing by moving the actual shut off valve back inside the home where it’s warm. If a shut off valve has been installed before the hose bib, you can close it as well and then drain out any extra water by opening it and then closing it again.

Every spring we get hundreds of calls to replace damaged frost free hose bibs. The cause is normally due to leaving a garden hose attached over the winter. When the water in the hose freezes, it expands and splits the hose bib open, usually inside the house. When you go to use it again in the spring, you won’t notice that it's leaking inside until you go back in. So if you ever find that you did leave a hose on for the winter, the best thing to do is to have a plumber inspect the hose bib before you use it again.

If you are still worried about freezing your hose bibs, you can cover them with an insulating foam dome to reduce the likelihood that they will freeze. These can be taken off when temperatures rise but can be lifesavers during the late fall and throughout the winter. These small steps could save you from a major headache down the road, so it's critical to do them even before you start needing a jacket outside.

Once Winter Arrives: Keeping Pipes Warm

As you move farther into winter, there are still plenty of ways you can help keep your pipes from freezing. This is important, as the Edmonton area can see temperatures much lower than what many newcomers might expect. In fact, it's not uncommon to see temperatures dipping down to less than 30 degrees Celcius from December through to February. These frigid conditions are often exacerbated by deep snowfall, gusting winds and cold and icy road conditions that can benefit from winter tires and heated seats. That's why many Edmontonians take precautions to keep themselves and their pipes as warm as possible, even if they've already taken measures to prevent freezing in the first place.

Last year we had a nasty cold snap that was quite windy as well. We found that it was the wind that really started freezing pipes, especially on the face of the home that the wind was blowing against. We found that both water lines and drain lines were freezing during this windy, cold weather so make sure to take precautions beforehand.

For instance, you might find it helpful to keep a small trickle of water flowing overnight from a faucet on an outside wall, especially if you have had problems with this particular line before. Also, if you ever notice that you have had a loss in water pressure during cold weather at a particular fixture, open both the hot and cold lines wide open. You might have caught a freezing line before it froze completely. The water coming through should quickly thaw the lines and keep you flowing, but keep in mind you’ll want to keep a little bit of water moving until the weather changes or until you solve the problem. Another thing to do with a problem line is to keep the cabinet doors open around it so it can get more warm air flow.

What to Do If You Find Freezing Pipes

Sometimes, for all your preliminary precautions, you might still wake up or come home to frozen pipes. If this is the case, resist the urge to panic. Even if the situation looks dire, there are resources and people available to help. Here's what to do throughout the process.

Confirm the Pipes are Frozen

Just because a cold snap came through and it's the chilliest it's been all season does not mean your pipes are as frozen as you are. Before jumping to conclusions, it's important to make sure you know what you're dealing with.

There are a few different ways to confirm that your pipes are indeed frozen. First, check your water lines. If you find one covered in frost or significantly bulging, you can almost guarantee that you have some ice in there. Often the frozen lines will be behind a finished wall. If that is the case, turn on your faucets. If they refuse to flow, that's a sign that a pipe might be frozen. The same goes for your toilet. If it won't refill after a flush, frozen pipes could be the culprit.

Warming Frozen Pipes

After you've confirmed your pipes are frozen, the next step is to make sure you know where your main water shut off is. This valve is how you shut off water to your home and is very important! If you do end up finding a cracked line your only way to stop the leak is usually this valve so make sure you know where it is and that it works. The valve is almost always located in the same room as your water heater. You can usually find it right after the water line comes out of the floor to supply your home.

Now that you’ve found your main water shut off valve, look around for any noticeable leaks. Just because they're compromised does not necessarily mean they've burst anywhere. There's a chance you caught them before a bad situation turned worse.

Turn on your faucets. Do you see water leaking from anywhere? If not, leave those faucets open (both the hot and cold handles) to let them drip and call your local plumber.

While you're waiting, there are a few ways you can try to warm the pipe. Before you begin any of these techniques, turn off the water supply to that portion of the plumbing. In many cases, that might mean turning it off to the entire house, and that's OK.

Why is this step important? Think of what will happen once the plug of frozen water is removed. If the cold has created any cracks in your pipes, once that plug is thawed and allowed to pass through, water could come spilling out of them. To that end, grab a bucket, mop and a few towels so you can be prepared.

Then, heat up the rooms in question as much as possible to jumpstart the thawing process. Does your bathroom have a built-in heater? Crank it up. The same goes for radiant heat in your flooring.

Keep in mind that while your well-meaning friend or relative might suggest using an open flame, kerosene heater or torch to do the trick, this is strongly advised against. Water damage is inconvenient, but in most cases, it's repairable. Fire damage, on the other hand, can be catastrophic. Never use an open flame to thaw a pipe!

Finding The Frozen Section

Sometimes finding the part of the pipe that is frozen can be the hardest part. Especially when you are working in finished areas. Your best bet is to work from the fixture that isn’t working back towards your water supply. You may be able to trace the pipes back to your mechanical room and find the section that is frozen with a little luck. If the pipes are exposed this shouldn’t be too difficult, however, if the ceiling has been drywalled you might be in for a challenge. If you have a drop ceiling you should be able to follow the pipes with ease.

Heating Appliances to Use

First, find a hair dryer, heat lamp or small space heater and use that as the first line of defence. While you avoid standing in any areas that have standing water, begin with the pipes nearest the faucet. This section is usually the warmest. From there, you can move the appliance down to the colder areas.

If no such appliances are available, you can also wrap a portion of the pipe with a hot towel to encourage the thawing process. Electrical heating tape is also an option. Some models will need to be plugged in to operate while others will automatically adjust. Make sure you follow safety precautions when installing and using the tape to prevent the threat of fire or damage.

Take care to heat the whole pipe, not just a portion of it. If you notice a frozen section in an upper story of your home, there's a chance that a leak could travel into the rooms below. So, turn up the heat along the entire length of the pipe, going all the way to the basement if you have one.

Take plenty of precaution during this process and never leave appliances such as space heaters or heat lamps unattended. They should also be used with plenty of distance between them and the affected pipes. In the event that a frozen section bursts and water spills out, it should not be able to reach the device in question.

If Your Pipes Have Burst

While a hair dryer can help prevent frozen pipes from bursting, there's a chance they've already done so. If this is the case, find your home's main water shutoff valve immediately. You need to turn off the water to prevent further damage from occurring.

Leaving the faucets themselves turned to the "on" position, contact your plumber to take it from there. While they're on the way, now is the time to take action against water damage and mold buildup.

Use a wet/dry vacuum to suck up as much water as possible. You can also use towels, sponges, and mops. Remember that mold loves a moist environment and even if it looks as though you've gotten most of the liquid up, the spores can still breed in the damp residue.

Hook up a dehumidifier to create as dry and arid an environment as possible to prevent the growth and spread of mold and mildew. If the mess is substantial enough, you may also need to contact your insurance agent to see about filing a claim to help take care of some of the damage. If this is the case, take photos of any damage to serve as evidence.

The Importance of Your Shutoff Valve

In the event of an emergency such as frozen pipes, everyone in your home should know where the main water shutoff valve is located. Moreover, diligent homeowners will have a plumber inspect the valve to make sure it's in top working condition.

Older homes may have an outdated, gate-style shutoff valve. These can stick if not properly maintained and become difficult to adjust. In this case, it's often worth the investment to purchase an updated model that's more easily controlled. If you decide to stay with your gate-style valve, rotate it a few times a year to make sure it's able to turn off when you need it to the most.

Even the newer style ball valves have a limit to their lifespan. Our hard water will leave deposits in the valve which can prevent it from turning when you need it, or prevent it from sealing if it does close. It is best to “exercise” or turn the valve from time to time to keep that buildup from affecting the valve. Also, if it does affect the valve, you will know about it and can schedule a replacement before you find yourself needing it!

Plumbing Repair All Season Long

From freezing pipes in the winter to clogged toilets in the summer, there are many plumbing-related challenges that can directly affect the quality of life for you and everyone who lives in your home. When disaster strikes, even the most level-headed homeowner may immediately fly into a state of panic and confusion. That's when it pays to have a trusted and reliable plumber on speed dial.

Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Edmonton is just a phone call away. We're locally owned and operated with a commitment to providing superior plumbing and drain cleaning services to both our commercial and residential clients.

Whether your pipes have burst or you need a new installation, feel free to request a job estimate today!

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