Closeup of frozen faucet with icicles forming around it

The Ultimate Guide to Navigating Frozen Pipes

Though there are numerous things to look forward to in the winter season, one thing that every homeowner dreads is frozen pipes – and for a good reason. Frozen pipes can cause sudden inconveniences as well as serious plumbing damage that can be costly to repair. Truly, the best solution to frozen pipes is to avoid them in the first place. To do this, there are a few things that every homeowner should know. Unfortunately, once your pipes freeze, detecting the problem and dealing with it effectively is yet another matter.

If you’d like to be more proactive about preparing your pipes for colder weather, like to learn how to predict where and when pipes freeze, or learn how you can avoid this issue entirely then you’re in the right place! This frozen pipes guide will tell you all you need to know. 

Let’s get started! 

Close up of frozen pipe with icicles

Predicting Where and When Pipes Freeze

First and foremost, our frozen pipes guide covers the conditions that make pipes more likely to freeze and how to monitor them.

The Time and Temperature it Takes for Pipes to Freeze

Depending on the region you live in Canada, it’s best to take precautions against frozen pipes as early as the last weeks of October. Watch out for severe weather forecasts because once temperatures dip to -7 C or lower, the home’s pipes become prone to freezing. Once hitting this temperature, it will only take 6 consecutive hours for pipes to freeze. 

The Most Vulnerable Pipes to Freeze

The longer that pipes are exposed to below freezing temperatures, the more likely they are to freeze. Therefore, vulnerable pipes include the ones that are outside, in the basement, in crawl spaces, in the garage, and those running along exterior walls. 

Ways to Avoid Frozen Pipes

When it comes to frozen pipes (and other plumbing problems), prevention is always better than cure. Here are some guidelines on how to prevent outdoor pipes from freezing and protect your home from any frozen pipe damage:

Insulate Your Vulnerable Pipes

Pipe insulation helps to maintain the temperature of the water so that it doesn’t get as affected by outside temperatures. Insulation, however, does not add heat to the pipe, rendering it quite limited as a standalone solution. This is why pipe insulation may work well for pipes in uninsulated home areas (e.g. crawl spaces, basements, and garages), but might not work completely for outdoor pipes that are far more exposed to the outside. 

Run the Water Even at a Trickle

By running faucets, even at a trickle, you can save vulnerable pipes from freezing over. This works because running water is less likely to freeze. This may not be a popular solution for everyone due to some homeowners being conscious of water bills and wastage. 

Turn Off and Drain Outside Water

As we mentioned earlier, pipe insulation is not a guarantee that outside pipes will not freeze. In addition, many homeowners deem the idea of running outside faucets at a trickle wasteful. In reality, outside faucets aren’t used during the winter season, so it’s recommended to simply turn off and drain outside water during the winter. 

Turn Off and Drain All the Water When Going on Vacation

If you will be leaving your home or cottage for a long period of time over the winter, the lack of heating and water movement will surely make the pipes in the home or cottage far more vulnerable to freezing. The best option, therefore, is to turn off the main water valve and drain the water from all the faucets. No water, no freezing. 

Keep the Thermostat Constant

If you’re planning on going away for the winter and are leaving your home unattended for more than a week, it’s important to set the thermostat to at least 12 C at all times when outside temperatures start to dip low. If your house is not well insulated, higher thermostat temperatures may be better. 

A small cottage in the middle of the woods that’s covered in snow

How to Tell If Your Pipes Are Frozen

If you suspect that your pipes have frozen even with the above precautions in place, here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for:

Lack of or Reduced Water from the Faucet(s)

If water has frozen in your pipes, it may partially or completely obstruct the pipes. This leads to no water or reduced water coming from the faucets. Before confirming this as a sign of frozen pipes, make sure that your water is turned on properly. You should also check that you don’t actually have a pipe leakage in your home. If you’re not sure, an expert plumber will be able to quickly make a diagnosis and fix the problem. In any case, time is of the essence because a pipe leakage will lead to water damage and frozen water in the pipes will eventually cause them to crack.

Unusual Sounds Coming From the Pipes

As your pipes start to freeze, you may hear whistling, banging, or clanking noises coming from them. This is usually caused by the expansion of water as it freezes combined with the buildup of water pressure. In some cases, you may also hear unusual strained sounds coming from your hot water heater. 

Visible Cracks on The Pipes

After the water in the pipe freezes, it will obstruct the pipe and cause a buildup of water pressure inside. It’s this pressure, combined with the added brittleness of some pipe materials under cold temperatures, that ultimately causes the pipe to crack or burst.

Icy Residue on Exposed Pipes

For any frozen pipes that are visible and exposed, you may be able to observe a layer of frost or an icy residue around it. If you see this, it’s likely that the water inside is no longer flowing and the pipe needs to be safely thawed by a plumbing expert to avoid eventual cracking or bursting.  

Strange Smells in Your Home

In frigid temperatures, sewer lines may freeze and this will result in a strong sewer odour suddenly taking over the home. Just like water pipes, sewer lines can also crack. It’s very important to act swiftly and call in an expert plumber in cases such as this. 

Who Can I Call For Help?

1st Rooter Plumbing is a leading provider of various plumbing services in Hamilton, Burlington, and Oakville. We make sure to give our customers only the most durable and reliable solutions. If you have any questions regarding our frozen pipes guide, need help with a frozen pipe or a burst pipe due to freezing, our 24/7 emergency plumbing has your back. Contact us today!