During the cold of winter, water pipes can freeze. Drafts and poor heating or insulation can lead to frozen pipes in your home. Meanwhile, the colder it gets outside, the deeper frost travels, putting water pipes at risk of freezing. When pipes freeze you can be left without water for long periods of time. Taking proactive action to protect your indoor plumbing and being prepared for emergencies is the best protection you have.
Explore the tabs below to understand more about how frozen pipes happen, how to protect yourself, what to do when pipes freeze and the steps that follow.2 MBCity of Guelph Frozen Water Pipe Policy: November 2015
Do not run water unless the City has requested that you do so
Only those directed to run a tap by the City will be compensated for increased use. Customers running taps without direction from the City will be responsible for all water volume charges.
Why pipes freeze
Most water services in the City of Guelph are deeply buried for protection against frost. Some water service lines, however, are historically installed at a shallow depth by today’s standards. Extremely cold temperatures, or fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures, can sometimes push frost to a depth that will freeze water services. In February 2015 we saw the kind of conditions that cause water service lines to freeze. Extreme cold temperatures can also cause household pipes to freeze.
Water is cold as it enters our water distribution system, especially in winter, so it takes very little exposure to colder temperatures for it to freeze. That is why it is important to make sure your household pipes are not exposed to colder air during winter months.
This is the depth to which the ground is frozen. In Guelph, frost depth usually does not reach the level of our buried water infrastructure. However, with extremely cold conditions, frost may reach these levels towards the end of winter, usually in late February or early March.
In early spring, it may seem warmer, but frost is still deep in the ground and remains as long as the temperature continues to drop below freezing at night. Additionally, if we have colder weather in fall months, the frost depth can also put service lines at risk.
If the ground surrounding the service lines becomes frozen, it will cool the already cold water in the pipes. When the water stops moving, as when water is turned off overnight, the temperature can lower quite quickly and freeze the water. This is why it is important to keep a minimal amount of water running during these events; it keeps warmer water moving through the frost zone.
Preventing frozen pipes
How can I reduce the risk of frozen water pipes?
Many cases of frozen pipes can be prevented through proper heating and insulation. Follow these simple tips to protect your water pipes:
- Wrap foam pipe insulation around the water pipes most susceptible to freezing such as pipes along outside walls and in crawl spaces or cold cellars. Insulate all exposed outside water pipes with specially designed foam pipe covers available at building supply or home improvement stores. Be sure to follow installation safety instructions.
- Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. If piping is located next to exterior walls, leave the cupboard doors under your kitchen and bathroom sinks open. Please take care to remove household cleaners and other items that could harm children or pets while the cupboard doors are open.
- Shut off and drain pipes leading to outside faucets.
- Seal air leaks in your home and garage, especially in areas where pipes run.
- If you’re going away, talk to your insurance company about what you can do to protect your home from frozen pipes and leaks while you’re away.
- If there are water supply lines in the garage keep outside garage doors closed.
- Commercial water customers need to prepare for cold nights as well. Protect fire lines by wrapping any pipes that are exposed to cold temperatures.
Watch the Winterizing Your Pipes video from Peel Region at the bottom of this page to see these steps in action.
What to watch for
The City is here to help. Not every household is at risk. Please call us at 519-837-5627 if:
- you have a history of frozen water service,
- you are experiencing unusually low water pressure, or
- you have unusually cold water (less than 5° C) running from your tap
How can I correct frozen pipe problems permanently?
If your pipes have frozen in the past, the best solution is to lower your service line to a depth that cannot be penetrated by frost. The City of Guelph requires new water lines to be buried at a depth of 1.8 metres.
The City now offers grants for shallow water pipe replacements on private property with a history of frozen water pipes and will be contacting eligible homeowners about the program. Terms and conditions apply. If you would like more information please call 519-822-1260 x 2263.
Prepare your 72-hour emergency kit
Emergencies and disasters can happen at any time. Utilities can be out, roads closed, and crucial supplies unavailable. While local, provincial and federal officials prepare for emergencies, you should also be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for up to three days in the event of an emergency or disaster. Learn more about emergency preparedness and what to pack in your 72-hour kit at guelph.ca/beprepared.
If your pipes freeze
Property owners are responsible for maintaining and replacing water pipes inside their home or business, and from the home or business to the property line. The City of Guelph is responsible for pipes beyond the property line.
Your first step is to try to determine if it is your indoor (household) plumbing that has frozen, or if the problem is coming from outside. Try running different cold water taps throughout your home. If even one tap has running water, your issue is likely internal. You should call a plumber or see the tips on indoor plumbing care below.
If you find that all water service to your home has stopped, or you aren’t sure where the problem is, contact the City of Guelph:
- Regular business hours (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.) call 519-837-5627
- After hours and holidays call 1-866-630-9242
The City will work with you to determine where your pipes have frozen. This may include a visit to your home or business. During times of high call volumes, the City will arrange access to alternate water supplies while it determines the locations and cause of the freezing.
Indoor plumbing care
If you want to try and thaw household pipes yourself, here are safety precautions and tips to follow.
- Do not use a torch with an open flame to thaw pipes, as this is a fire hazard.
- Ensure you know the location of your master water shut-off valve. The frozen pipe may be broken and when the water in it thaws, it will leak. If the pipe is broken, you will need to shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired.
Steps to thaw a frozen pipe
- If you have a history of frozen pipes, or your water is currently frozen, turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
- Use a blow dryer, electric blanket or heating pad to warm the suspected frozen pipe for one or two hours. Check blow dryer regularly to ensure it does not overheat.
- Place a warm towel or rag around the suspected frozen pipe.
- You may also use a portable heater with caution, especially around flammable materials.
- Always use caution when applying any heat source near insulation or other flammable materials.
- Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours.
- If these steps do not resolve the problem, contact a licensed plumber.
- Keep the pipes warm: if the pipe has frozen already, it’s susceptible to freezing again. Keep this area warm by opening basement, cellar or cupboard doors, and/or by insulating the pipe, and take action to prevent freezing in future years.
- Watch for leaks where the pipe froze: while the pipe was frozen, expanding ice may have cracked or broken your pipe. Watch for leaks after the pipe has thawed. You can use you water meter to watch for household leaks as well. Visit guelph.ca/fix-a-leak for more information.
- See our THAW tab for more information on after care.
Temporary water lines
What is a temporary water line?
Temporary water lines are set up using food-grade PVC hoses. These are run from a neighbour’s house to yours, usually between outdoor taps. These lines provide a temporary, running water supply until a frozen pipe thaws.
How do I get this set up?
- Report your frozen pipe to the City of Guelph at 519-837-5627
- Find a donor neighbour with running water and ask them for permission to connect to their water supply; your donor should be an adjacent neighbour (behind or beside) that is not across a road
- Call us at 519-837-5627 to advise us of your donor’s address and to book an appointment time that works for both you and your donor as you will both need to be home.
Both you and your donor will be required to provide written consent for the installation of a temporary line.
Can I drink the water from my temporary line?
The City is working with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to ensure water from temporary lines can be used for cooking and drinking as well as other household uses. The City will conduct water testing when a temporary line is connected and will advise homeowners whether their temporary water supply can be used for cooking and drinking. If the water supply is not suitable for these potable uses, other access to potable water will be made available
Who pays for a temporary line?
If pipes freeze on private property, the City may charge the homeowner for the costs to restore water service. The City of Guelph maintains a record of service calls to residences and commercial properties with frozen water lines for future reference and works with these customers to proactively manage this issue.
Can I install my own temporary line?
For health and safety reasons, the City does not encourage you to install your own temporary line. Private temporary lines will not be eligible for credits and those installing them will be responsible for all costs for running and using water.
Spring thaw and after care
How to check for thawing
Check if your indoor master water shutoff valve is open or closed. Your master shutoff is located inside your home, typically in the basement between where the water service pipe enters your home and the water meter.
You may have a bar-handled shut off, or a turn-style one. If you have a turn–style master valve we recommend caution when operating it. These valves can be easily damaged and may leak when turned. The master shutoff valve is owned by you, the customer. Only operate it if you have the resources to repair or replace this in case of leaks, including plumbing support (keep plumber business hours in mind).
If water starts flowing after opening your shutoff valve, call the City at 519-837-5627 for further instruction. Watch the low-flow indicator, usually a small red or black triangle or dial on the face of the water meter. If water is flowing it will move.
If after opening the valve you also notice leaks or drips, you should close your shutoff valve and call a plumber for assistance.
Watch for leaks
Frozen pipes may burst or crack leading to leaks once the pipes thaw and water starts flowing again. For information about potential damages or claims related frozen and/or thawing pipes please contact your insurance provider. Every insurance plan is different so your agent is the best person to provide you with advice on what to do to ensure you’ll be covered should any damage occur as a result of frozen pipes.
Once your pipes have thawed, check for leaks in your pipes and from the water meter. If the water meter is leaking, notify the City by calling 519-837-5627. Water Services staff may need to repair or replace the water meter which may result in charges for service or replacement.
You can check for hidden leaks by pausing all water use in your home and watching the low flow indicator on your water meter. Visit guelph.ca/fix-a-leak for information about using your water meter to identify leaks.
While the City owns the water meter, you own all the pipes from the beginning of your property line into and throughout your home, as well as the master shutoff valve. If any household pipes are leaking, including the pipe between where the water enters the home and the water meter, you are responsible for repairs and should call a professional plumber.
Some page content was modified from content by The City of Greater Sudbury, the City of Calgary and the City of Ottawa.