Ralph Suppa, president and general manager of The Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating, shares tips on how to help prevent the problem from arising.
— Have exposed pipes? Ensure that they're insulated. "In some cases, people in the basement have one of those laundry tubs, and you usually have pipes running up the wall that are connected to another pipe upstairs," said Suppa. "That pipe usually touches an outside wall, and what I mean by an outside wall is (that) it's not insulated. So they can put insulation around that."
In the case of pipes in the basement touching an outside wall or one located outside and not properly covered, insulation can be purchased inexpensively, he noted.
"It's the shape of the pipe — which is usually half-inch copper — and there's a slit down the (middle of the) insulation. So all it does is it wraps it around automatically for you," said Suppa.
— Have a hose hooked up in the backyard? Remove it. Suppa said there is usually a shut-off valve located inside underneath the sink where the hose is connected.
"They should shut off that valve and open the valve outside so all of the water drips out. This way, you're not going to be concerned about the pipes bursting."
— Turn on your taps. "There's pressure built up in the pipes, and if the water's not moving and that pipe is exposed to cold, then it could freeze," said Suppa. "So what you'd need to do — or what you could do — is you open up the faucet a little bit.
"The water's moving, and because the water's moving, it's not going to freeze as rapidly as it could have if it was just sitting in the pipe." He suggested opening faucets about one-quarter of the way to help relieve pressure in the pipes.
— Turn off the main shutoff valve. In the event of a prolonged power outage — say two or three days — Suppa recommended turning off the main shutoff valve which controls water coming into the house. "They shut that off and they open all of the faucets and let all the water run through. Then there's no water in the pipes for freezing."
If a pipe has burst, Suppa said the first thing to do is to automatically go to the shut off valve. "That will stop the water from making any more damage."
— Drain water heater during outage to avoid damage. "Usually above the water heater there are two valves: one for the hot water, one for the cold water, and you shut it off there," said Suppa. "On the bottom of the water heater, there's a spout, and that's where the water drains. And usually there's a drain in the basement, not too far from the water heater, so the water can drain in there."
Suppa said in some cases, those with cottages will also opt to drain the water from those homes when not in use. "What I mean by that is the shutoff valve is closed, all the water is drained, including — believe it or not — the hot water in the hot water tank, because that will freeze up, too."
He said homeowners who head south for the winter should take the step of draining their water as well if they're concerned about the potential of pipes freezing.
— Pipes already frozen? Seek help. Suppa said if homeowners have power but suspect their pipes are frozen, he strongly recommends not tampering with them and calling a plumber. He said there have been instances of consumers trying to heat pipes on their own, which can, in turn, cause more damage.
How do you know your pipes are frozen? "The water's not going to come on," Suppa said.
Lower water pressure could also be a sign, as could an exposed pipe that wasn't insulated and was the first to be frozen, he noted.
"That's when you should call in a plumber."