On a regular, warm day, water will flow through your pipes easily the second you turn on the tap. It's a process you may not give a second thought. Come winter, that same water has the potential to turn into a hazard for your pipes and your home, causing the risk of pipe bursts and hundreds of gallons of water loss–not to mention the water damage that comes with it. Preventing frozen pipes on your property is paramount to reducing this possibility and keeping your home safe.
Even if your current home insurance plan covers frozen pipe damage, the event can be more than inconvenient, causing basement flooding and irreversible water damage to your floors, walls, insulation, and belongings. It's also the last thing you want to deal with in the dead of winter. This guide is here to help you prevent frozen pipes from happening in the first place so you can survive the winter without worry.
First, let's cover the basics. What causes frozen pipes and leads them to burst? Understanding why it can be so dangerous for your home is the first step in the process of preventing frozen pipes.
As water freezes, it expands. When frozen, the water flow that usually fills your pipes becomes too large of a mass for the diameter of your pipes, causing them to crack or burst. With a sudden drop in temperature, cold water freezes quickly, and this added pressure spells disaster for your pipes. Even just the slightest crack can lead to a leak, and this is true regardless of whether you have PVC or metal pipes.
Frozen pipes most commonly occur in unheated areas of your home, such as basements, garages, crawl spaces, attics, and kitchen cabinets. Of course, they're even more common in the pipes that run through your yard or areas exposed to the elements, such as those that run against exterior walls.
Do frozen pipes lead to pipe bursts every time? Only sometimes. Sometimes, a small ice blockage is why you aren't receiving any water. In any case, if you suspect your pipes are frozen, you should shut off your main water supply and call a licensed plumber. Trying to thaw a pipe with a hair dryer, heat gun, electric heating pad, or open flame may lead to flooding and pipe damage.
As an Ontario homeowner, you're familiar with winterizing your home. You know the importance of inspecting your roof, upgrading your insulation, cleaning your dryer vents, and replacing your furnace filters. But when it comes to what prevents frozen pipes, it's all too common for locals to draw blank past initial efforts of turning off the water supply lines to outdoor faucets and disconnecting the garden hose. To ensure you are at the top of your game and thoroughly prepared for the chilly season ahead, we recommend ensuring you have implemented all tips on this list.
Pipes underneath your kitchen and bathroom cabinets, in your basement, attic, or garage do not receive the same warmth that the pipes that run behind your walls do. Even though these pipes are inside your home, it's still very possible for them to freeze without proper insulation.
Insulating exposed pipes is reasonably straightforward, and you have several options. Visit any home improvement store, and you'll have a range of insulation options, including PE foam, fiberglass pipe tape, and mineral wool. Some of these options are self-sealing, while others you will need to fasten with pipe wrap or tape. For hard-to-reach areas, consider using pipe insulation spray. Follow all safety instructions and wear proper PPE if using spray insulation.
Typically, in the winter, your heating system keeps your home toasty warm. But that may not be true for every room, nor for every moment in time. Do you frequently leave your garage door open? When was the last time you checked your basement windows for air leaks? Chances are that if you go into a room and it feels cold, your pipes feel even colder.
Before winter hits, go around your home and inspect it for air leaks. Air most commonly seeps in through cracks around your window sills, so be sure to review the interior and exterior of every window in your home. The important part is to ensure that there is no cold getting into any room in your house, especially your basement and garage, which are typically the two coldest areas.
If you are tackling the sealing process alone, re-sealing your windows may mean applying sealant to the gaps. However, it may also mean removing old, peeling, or damaged sealant before using a new layer. If you prefer to have someone else do this, hire a professional.
There is a certain amount of pressure inside your pipes as it pushes water through and out of your plumbing fixtures. When your tap is turned off, water pressure remains in your pipe, as the water is ready to flow at any moment. In the case of frozen pipes, the water inside of the chamber is frozen and has expanded, putting even more pressure on the interior walls of the pipe. Turning on your faucets will alleviate some pressure, allowing a small trickle of water to escape.
While the thought of your water bill rising throughout the winter may be enough to deter this action, this one preventative measure may save you thousands of dollars in the long run, along with the irreversible damage a water rupture can have on your home and belongings. To implement this tip, you won't need a strong flow of hot water, just a tiny drip. If you're worried about wasting water, you can always collect it and use it to water plants.
While you may have complained about your partner leaving cabinet doors open in the past, this pet peeve can be a home-saver in the winter months. Pipes underneath your kitchen cabinets are shut off to the warm internal temperature of your home. While they're not as exposed as outdoor water lines, the space under your cabinets can still reach freezing-cold temperatures. Keeping the doors ajar will allow warm air to fill the area and prevent frozen pipes. For homes with small children or pets, remove chemical cleaners or hazardous products from your cabinets to avoid the risk of harm.
Similar to your cabinets, any doors to rooms in your home that are usually shut can also pose a threat. Only some rooms in your home may have an air vent to distribute heat, and those that don't may be shut off from the rest of the house. Be sure to leave all of the doors in your home open a crack if possible to allow for complete warm airflow throughout your house.
It can be tempting to turn off your home's heating when going on vacation or overnight, and you may have an automatic setting for this on your thermostat. However, because cold spells or temperature drops are responsible for the freezing shock that causes pipes to burst, maintaining a consistent indoor temperature can help prevent frozen pipes.
If you do plan on travelling for some time longer than a few days over the winter season, just be sure to set your thermostat at no lower than 12 degrees Celsius. In contrast, it may seem like a waste of money and energy to keep your home at a moderate temperature while you aren't there; doing so may save you from discovering that your basement has turned into a skating rink on your return.
Have rooms without air vents? Use a portable space heater as a supplemental heating method, but unplug it when going on vacation.
If it's too late to prevent frozen pipes and you believe your home is at risk, don't panic. Turn off your main water line (generally located at your water meter) and call a professional plumber. It's always a good idea to brush up on what kind of frozen pipe damage is covered under your home insurance policy before cold weather sets in. If you want to update or upgrade your policy, Morison Insurance is always here to help.
While we provide these tips to prevent frozen pipes in your home, we can only negate their occurrence partially. Your unique home insurance policy from Morison will ensure that you are financially protected if your pipes do freeze this winter. We'll work with you to help you find the best insurance policy for your home and family.
This content is written by our Morison Insurance team. All information posted is merely for educational and informational purposes. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. Should you decide to act upon any information in this article, you do so at your own risk. While the information on this website has been verified to the best of our abilities, we cannot guarantee that there are no mistakes or errors.