We’re at that time of year again when frozen pipes can wreak plumber havoc in your Calgary home. Burst water pipes and the resulting water damage are no fun in the depths of midwinter. So, what can you do to prevent your plumbing pipes from freezing? How do you even know if the pipes are freezing in your home? If the temperatures plunge so low that the pipes freeze, what can you do to prevent expensive damage? Read on for answers to all of these important questions…

Why do pipes freeze?

Water expands plumbing services as it freezes. This can place significant pressure on pipes and if they are unable to hold the extra volume, they will crack. Even a hairline crack in a pipe can develop into a major issue. When the ice thaws, burst pipes can result in significant water damage in a home, especially if you are away at the time and the problem is not dealt with immediately. In fact, these types of problems are among the most serious for homeowners as water damage can make a home uninhabitable very quickly. Some types of plumbing pipes are more susceptible to problems than others. At most risk are the outdoor pipes, such as hose bibs, water sprinkler lines, and swimming pool lines. However, inside your home is also at risk of freezing pipes, especially in poorly-heated areas, such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, exterior walls and cabinets.

What are the symptoms of frozen pipes?

Recognizing the symptoms of frozen pipes is the first step in preventing water damage. For instance, if you turn on a faucet and get little or no water, the pipes may already be frozen. You should start taking preventative measures to avoid major damage. Firstly, go to the basement and check that the water is still turned on and that you don’t have a leak. If the water is on and there is no leak, your pipes are likely frozen and it’s time to call a professional plumber to thaw them out. It’s inadvisable to attempt this without plumbing experience as it can be difficult to identify where the frozen pipes are and even if you do know where they are, accessing them may be a challenge.

How do you fix frozen pipes?

Your plumber will assess the frozen pipes and, if they have cracked, they will need to be replaced before thawing and causing major water damage. If you are an experienced DIY-er, you may attempt to fix the pipes yourself. While this is against the advice in this post, if the frozen pipes are accessible, it is difficult to stop some homeowners from going it alone. If you do attempt a DIY fix, follow these basic guidelines for a temporary fix:
  • Keep a faucet open. This allows for moving water to run through the pipe and assist the thawing process, while also providing a vent for the water and steam that’s generated.
  • Apply heat to the frozen section of pipe. First, wrap an electronic heating pad around the pipe, then heat it with a hair dryer. Towels soaked in hot water may also work (note: do not leave heating pads unattended as they can cause fires).
  • Apply heat until normal water flow returns. After you’ve thawed the section of pipe, open the other faucets in your home to check for further frozen pipes.
If you cannot easily access the pipes, e.g., they are inside an exterior wall, do not attempt to fix them yourself. Call a professional plumber with the correct equipment for the job as it may require cutting a hole in the wall to expose the pipes to warmer air. A final safety tip: never use a blowtorch, gas heater, space heater, stove or any other open flame device to thaw frozen pipes as they can easily cause fires.

How do you prevent frozen pipes? 

Prevention is better than the cure for most plumbing issues and there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of serious pipe freeze problems and water damage this winter:
  • Understand your plumbing system: know where your pipes run and where the water shutoff valves are and ensure you can access the main shutoff valve.
  • Schedule annual plumbing maintenance: so that small problems don’t develop into bigger ones.
  • Drain and open the pipes during the fall: the outdoor lines to swimming pools, sprinkler systems, etc. should be completely drained of moisture in the fall to avoid cracked pipes in winter (do NOT use antifreeze outside).
  • Insulate your home: a well-insulated home helps prevent pipes from freezing. Pay special attention to the exterior walls, basement, crawl spaces, and garage, using sleeve-style pipe insulation to maintain temperatures above 32F and prevent freezing.
  • Keep some faucets slightly open during winter: in the coldest areas of your home, if you open the faucets a tiny bit, the flowing water can help prevent freezing pipes.
  • Keep your home heated: if your most at-risk piping sections are exposed to enough heat in the coldest winter months, they won’t freeze: keep kitchen cabinet sinks slightly ajar and avoid shutting off the heat in areas where pipes run along exterior walls. Don’t shut off the heat anywhere in your home during the coldest periods, even if you’re on vacation.
  • Invest in a freeze alarm: using the available tech can also help you avoid water pipe problems. A freeze alarm will send an alert to your phone when temperatures fall below 45F and a hot water circulating pump will circulate warm water through both the hot- and cold-water lines if the temperature dips below a pre-set value.

Fix frozen pipes in Calgary 

If your pipes are frozen this winter, an experienced plumber from Alpha Plumbing can sort it out. All plumbing work is covered by our one-year guarantee for parts and labour.