How to Deal With and Prevent Frozen Pipes in Your Ottawa Home

Frozen pipe with text boxes reading "blog" and "dealing with & preventing frozen pipes"
If you live in Ottawa, then you know how cold winters can get — the average temperature stays around -2 degrees for months.

Ottawa, or anyplace with weather that stays consistently below freezing, requires its residents to pay close attention to their pipes during the cold months. Frozen pipes are a major source of flooding in the cold.

Flooding in cold weather is especially damaging because it can freeze and leave lasting mildew or mold when the weather warms back up. The best solution for frozen pipes is preventative measures.

However, even the most prepared can’t protect their homes from old pipes, or frozen service pipes. In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about frozen pipes.

Do All Frozen Pipes Burst?

Just because the water in a pipe is frozen doesn’t mean it will burst. However, it’s important to know that the expanded physical nature of the ice puts lots of pressure on the pipes.

Some frozen water can place over 3,000 PSI of weight on pipes. If the plumbing is old, or put under this pressure all the time, then a tiny crack or joint can form.

While this small hole might not seem like a big problem it can unleash torrents of water into your home.

So how do you identify a frozen pipe?

There may be some telltale signs of a frozen pipe, but it’s important to remember that they can show no evidence of freezing and still contain pure ice.

If you see a coat of frost surround the exterior of the pipe, or signs of bulging, then they are likely frozen. You can also observe other signs like little or no water coming out of the pipe.

A strange or unpleasant smell coming from your sink or toilet may also be a warning. If you observe any of these signs, then either call a professional or thaw the pipes yourself.

Why Are Frozen Pipes a Problem?

Frozen pipes are a problem because they can burst pipes open. Pipe bursts are costly to fix and even more costly to clean up. And don’t think that it won’t happen to you — especially if you live in a cold climate. The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes predicts that roughly 250,000 homes and offices experience room damage from frozen pipes each year.

Homeguide estimates that a burst pipe can cost between $400 and $1500. However, this price doesn’t cover the cost of water damage that often occurs with burst pipes.

The cost of water damage depends on a variety of factors — like the location of the burst and how long it went before an emergency shut off. Severe cases can cost upwards of $5000 if the damage is severe.

However, even if they don’t burst open, frozen pipes can still be annoying. For one thing, the cut off your access to water, so no more washing, drinking or flushing.

They can also make hot water instantly cold which makes showers and baths unpleasant.

When the pipes over a kitchen sink or toilet freeze, then it can also produce a foul smell due to the buildup of waste. In some cases, this waste can back up and cause a mess in your kitchen or bathroom.

How Do I Thaw Frozen Pipes?

Keep in mind that you can potentially damage your home or hurt yourself when attempting to thaw frozen pipes.

Some people think they can deal with frozen pipes by using fire-heat systems like a blowtorch, propane heater, or a charcoal stove. These tools will damage your pipes and likely start a fire on your property.

As such, if you aren’t 100% sure what you’re doing, then you should call your landlord or hire a professional plumber. Assuming you still want to try it then you must first turn off the water using the shut-off valve.

This will prevent water from flowing out in case of a burst. Every homeowner should know where their shut-off valve is located in your home.

Even if you aren’t thawing pipes, you never know when you will need to shut off water to your home in an emergency. After you deal with the shut-off valve, you must locate the frozen pipe.

Ideally, the pipe will be exposed so you can heat it. However, this step may be hard if the pipe in question is hidden behind a section of the wall or floor. As such, you should use different methods when dealing with them.

How to Thaw Exposed Frozen Pipes

Exposed frozen pipes are easier to deal with than hidden ones. You can begin thawing it by applying non-flame heat sources close to it. One great device is a hairdryer turned on high.

You can also try holding a heat lamp or portable space heater next to the frozen pipe. You can also purchase heated electrical tape. This type of tape plugs into an outlet and transfer heat around whatever it sticks to.

Continue applying these heat sources until the ice thaws and the water breaks through. However, be careful when you use these heat sources.

Remember that that pipe can burst and electric devices present a hazard when they come in contact with water.

If these methods don’t work, then get some towels and boil some hot water. Carefully pour the hot water on the towels and wrap them around the frozen pipes.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes Hidden Behind a Wall or Floor

Unexposed frozen pipes are much harder to deal with than exposed ones. If you suspect that your frozen pipe is behind a wall or under a floor, then you will need more indirect heat sources.

First, turn on all of your faucets and showers. This will help the flow of water once it starts thawing. One method you can try is turning up the heat in your home. The warmth produced by the heater can thaw the pipes.

Briefly turn up your thermostat as high as it will go. This step will likely produce some thawing unless your home isn’t well insulated.

If you own an infrared heat source, then you can also try placing next to the wall where you suspect the pipes froze. An infrared lamp can pierce through the wall and heat the pipe.

If reaching the pipe is an emergency, then you can also cut open the wall or floor.

You will likely need a heavy hammer and buzz saw if you want to try this method. But once you reach the pipe you can try any of the exposed pipe methods listed above.

What Do I Do If a Pipe Bursts?

If a pipe bursts in your home, don’t panic. Quickly locate the shut-off valve and cut off water to the burst area. You should also cut off electricity to the area if you can.

Water damage and exposed circuits are a dangerous combination. If the problem occurs in an apartment complex or office building and you don’t know where the shutoff valve is, then immediately call your building manager or landlord.

Either you or the person in charge of the property should call an emergency plumbing service that is available on short notice. The plumber will then observe the damage give you an estimate on the price of replacement.

While you wait for the plumber, try to start removing water from the burst room using buckets, mops or towels.

You might not get all the liquid, but removing some of it will reduce the overall water damage. Plus it gives you something to do while you wait for the plumber.

What Do I Do If a Service Pipe Freezes in Ottawa?

Most of the time if a pipe freezes, then it’s the responsibility of the homeowner to take care of it — unless a lease says otherwise.

However, what happens if the city service pipes become frozen? Who is responsible?

In Ottawa, it depends on where it happens. If a temporary service line is used, neither you nor your neighbours will be charged extra for running the water. The city will then wait until Spring or Summer to make final adjustments to the billing process.

If the frozen pipe occurs on private property on a public street, the city will thaw it for the price of labour plus a 15% charge. In some cases, it may be expensive to reach the frozen pipe.

If this situation occurs, then the city worker may run a temporary service line from your neighbour’s property and wait for the pipe to defrost itself.

If a temporary service line is used, then neither you nor your neighbours will be charged extra for the running water. The city will wait until Spring or Summer to make final adjustments on the billing process.

Keep in mind that if a temporary line is used you both may experience a drop in water pressure. If you want to contact city services or learn more about Ottawa solutions to frozen pipes, then visit this link here.

How To Prevent Frozen Pipes

There are a variety of helpful ways you can prevent pipes from freezing during winters. First, you should make sure all of the water is drained from any pipe system that is likely to freeze — especially outdoor areas.

Sprinkler systems and pool lines are especially susceptible. While you outside disconnect any hoses, drain the water out and store them in your garage. Once you’re inside you should insulate your home.

Focus on areas that don’t hold heat well — basements, attics and crawl spaces. Check out this guide for helpful tips on how to insulate these areas. You can also insulate specific pipe systems that are further from the central heating system.

Use equipment like pipe sleeves that wrap around the pipes and keep the heat inside. If you don’t have any pipe sleeves and can’t buy them, then get creative.

Even a quarter-inch of newspaper tapped around the pipe can provide some warmth. You can also generate heat by placing high bulb lights around the old pipes.

There are also simple things you can do that increase the flow of heat through your house. Keep your home reasonably warm during the winter months. Never let the temperature drop below 1255 degrees — even if you leave town.

You should open all your kitchen cabinets. This helps the heated air circulate the pipes. Also, make sure you keep your garage door closed at all times.

On the coldest days of the year — when your pipes are most susceptible to freezing — let your faucets and tubs drip throughout the day.

This process may seem wasteful, but it will regularly reduce pressure which can prevent a pipe burst.

If you’re still worried about your old pipes, then you may want to get specific homeowner insurance for the issues. This can relieve some of the financial burdens if your pipe system ever gives out.

Need Help With Plumbing In Your Ottawa Home? Call Mr. Rooter Plumbing

If you have any problems related to frozen pipes, then Mr. Rooter Plumbing is here to take care of all your needs. Why choose Mr. Rooter Plumbing?

We’re a local Ottawa business with over 2020 years of practical plumbing experience in the city. Whether you want someone to come out to see if a pip is susceptible to freezing, or need emergency services for a burst pipe, we can help.

Most people who hire plumbers spend all day waiting on loose appointment times — not with Mr. Rooter. Scheduled appointment times mean you won’t be kept waiting. Our excellent customer service is flexible with reschedules and will never make a mess in your home.

Your professional plumber will provide onsite estimations and guarantees on all replacement parts. We also provide emergency services available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Our company provides a full range of residential and commercial plumbing services. So, for any problems in your Ottawa home or office, contact Mr. Rooter Plumbing through this link here.