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7 Most Common Plumbing Problems In Winter

Dec 15 2020
Close up of a frozen faucet

The winter season is filled with many things to look forward to – such as cozy winter clothing, hearty meals, reunions with friends and family, and more. However, without the right precautions, plumbing problems can spoil the fun. Most of the common plumbing problems associated with winter are connected to the weather and its freezing temperatures, but don’t worry! After reading this article, you will never be blindsided by winter-related plumbing problems again.

Let’s get started.

Close up of frozen water pipes

1. Frozen Water Pipes

This is one of the most common plumbing problems encountered by homeowners during the winter. When temperatures drop below -7 C for a continuous 6 hours or more, certain pipes in the home are very likely to freeze. The pipes that are the most vulnerable to freezing include the ones in uninsulated areas (such as basements, garages and crawl spaces), the pipes that run along the exterior walls of the home, and, of course, the pipes that are outside the home.

When pipes freeze, the connected faucets would get a reduced water flow or a total lack of it. Another sign to watch out for is hearing banging noises from the pipes. If this winter plumbing problem is left unresolved for a prolonged period of time, it can result in cracked or burst pipes – which is why it’s best to call in an expert plumber who can quickly and safely locate and thaw out any frozen pipes.

2. Frozen Sewer Lines

Although frozen sewer lines are less likely to occur than frozen water pipes, this winter plumbing problem can lead to far more problematic outcomes if not detected and addressed. Typically sewer lines freeze under these conditions: (1) there is faulty insulation around the pipes, (2) when the thermostat or heating malfunctions, and/or (3) when the outside temperature suddenly plummets.

If left unresolved, sewer lines can burst, leading to a messy situation in your home. The main indicator that you have this plumbing problem is the presence of a strong sewage smell. The moment you observe this, whether you’re certain it’s because of a frozen sewer line or not, you need to call in an expert emergency plumber immediately.

3. Cracked Or Burst Pipes

Water pipes and sewage lines, under the right conditions, can be prone to freezing during the wintertime because they both contain stagnant water. When these pipes freeze for a prolonged period, they can crack or burst. Contrary to what most people assume, the crack or break in the pipe is not usually because of the ice itself. Oftentimes, cracks in pipes result from a buildup of water pressure due to the frozen water that blocks the pipe’s flow.

In addition to this, certain pipe materials become brittle in sub-zero temperatures. If you are faced with this winter plumbing problem, you would need to call in a plumber to replace the damaged pipes and assess if any other pipes are in danger of freezing.

4. Frozen Septic Tank

Septic tanks rarely freeze because of the heated water that flows through it on a regular basis. However, it’s possible for septic tanks to freeze if the house has been vacant for more than a week. This is why it’s advisable to pump out the tank before leaving your home for an extended period over the winter.

However, under regular circumstances, freezing can still occur if the home’s septic system line is too shallow and close to the frost line. Two signs to watch out for include (1) toilets that no longer flush and (2) sinks that no longer drain water.

5. Poor Heating Or Water Heater Breakdown

As the ground temperature drops during the winter, the water entering your home can be -4 C or colder. On top of this, the water heater itself can lose heat quicker than usual if it is uninsulated.

In addition, the greater demand for hot water in order to fill bathtubs and wash dishes has your water heater working harder than usual. Therefore, if there are any underlying problems with your water heater (e.g. faulty parts or sediment buildup), they will most likely manifest or get aggravated in the winter, eventually leading to poor heating or total water heater breakdown.

Cropped photo of a plumber standing beside a water heater

6. Clogged Kitchen Drains

During the holidays, you may find yourself cooking hearty food for more people. This can lead to more food matter ending up in the garbage disposal in the sink. Even with a garbage disposal in place, the food matter and grease will still accumulate somewhere along the pipes. The cold temperatures may also increase the chances of these particles freezing and clinging to the drain. This is why you may be more likely to experience clogged kitchen drains over the winter holidays.

If you’re faced with a clogged kitchen drain, don’t take the risk of using harsh drain cleaners that may ruin your pipes. Instead, have an expert plumber’s number on speed dial.

7. Damaged Outdoor Drains And Pipes

Yet another common plumbing problem is damaged outdoor drains. Aside from these drains being vulnerable due to their exposure to outdoor temperatures, another factor here is the buildup of dead leaves from the autumn season that may not have been properly cleared out. As a result, water can be blocked from draining correctly. When the blocked water freezes, it can damage the pipe.

How Can I Avoid Common Plumbing Problems During Winter?

To avoid the winter plumbing problems listed above, here are some things you can do:

  • Make sure that your pipes and water heater are well insulated
  • Get your water heater checked before the winter
  • Keep your thermostat at a constant temperature
  • Limit or avoid dumping food and grease down your kitchen sink
  • Clean out your outdoor drains before winter sets in
  • Drain water from the pipes and pump out the septic tank if you will be leaving your home for an extended period of time over the winter
  • Remember to call an expert plumber when faced with winter plumbing problems. Avoid DIY solutions as much as possible as these can inflict further damage

Need Help With A Winter Plumbing Problem?

1st Rooter Plumbing is one of the top providers of plumbing services for the cities of Hamilton, Burlington, and Oakville. With our customer-first mindset and innovative approach, we can provide plumbing solutions, including toilet rough-in measurements and fixes that stand the test of time. If you’re dealing with any winter plumbing problems that need urgent attention, our 24/7 emergency plumbing has your back. Contact us today!

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