7 Ways to Prevent Frozen Pipes in Alberta
If your home’s internal temperature goes below 14 C, your plumbing can freeze. This can result in a burst pipe and extensive damage to your home. Common culprits of frozen pipes are cold spots in the home such as basements, attics and garages. Keep in mind these areas can be colder than the temperature your thermostat reads. Wind chill can also be a factor if there is a cold breeze getting through a crack or hole.
Luckily, burst pipes and frozen plumbing are preventable, even if your furnace fails during Alberta’s cold winter! Here are 7 ways to prevent frozen pipes in your home:
- Keep your home heated properly.
- Ensure pipes are insulated.
- Seal cracks and openings.
- Drain outdoor pipes properly.
- If temperatures drop, increase heat circulation to your plumbing.
- Keep water moving by turning on specific faucets to drip or trickle.
- If you’re going away, keep the heat on, turn off the water and have someone check on your home.
Here’s a breakdown for each of these preventative measures.
Keep Your Home Warm
Your plumbing can start to freeze at 14 C. It’s important to remember the temperature your thermostat reads may not reflect the actual temperature of every corner of your home. Often basements, garages, attics and inside cabinets may be colder.
We recommend keeping your home between 20 C and 25 C to ensure it is heated enough to prevent plumbing from freezing in all areas of the home.
If your furnace goes out or struggles to heat your home adequately, you may use alternative heating devices like space heaters. Make sure you never leave these units unattended and do not leave them running as you sleep. While they can warm up a room, they do pose a fire risk.
Alberta experiences cold enough winters that your pipes should be insulated to help prevent them from freezing. However, not all homes have properly insulated pipes.
Fiberglass, polyethylene and foam are common insulating materials, and electrical heating tape is also frequently used. In a pinch, duct tape and wadded up newspaper can work. Generally, it is easy to insulate exposed pipes yourself — like those found under the kitchen counter. These materials are found at any hardware store.
If your water pipes aren’t properly insulated and you can’t reach them, you may need to hire a professional to do the work.
Seal Cracks and Openings
Before winter hits Alberta, check for cracks and openings around:
- Door frames
- Cable holes
Caulk and seal any cracks or holes you find to keep warm air in and cold air and wind out. You can find supplies at many hardware stores and this is very easy to do yourself.
Drain Outdoor Pipes
It’s important to drain and properly store your outdoor water pipes in Alberta. Disconnect any hoses, turn off outdoor water valves and open outdoor taps to let any remaining water drain from the pipes (this relieves pressure if there is any water left in the system).
It’s also important to ensure any pool or irrigation systems are properly winterized. This process will vary depending on the system.
Keep Heat Circulating to Plumbing if Temperatures Drop
If Alberta gets hit with a cold snap, it’s important to keep heat circulating to your plumbing. You can do this by keeping interior doors open, keeping your garage and exterior doors closed, and opening cabinet doors where there is plumbing (such as under the kitchen sink and in the bathroom). This helps warmer air circulate around the pipes and keeps them warmer.
Keep Water Moving
If your furnace fails or struggles to keep your pipes warm enough, keeping water moving through the pipes can help prevent them from freezing. You can turn on a tap to a trickle or drip to keep water moving. You don’t need to do this to all faucets — choose one or a few pipes that run along an external wall or through a colder area of your house.
If You’re Away This Winter in Alberta
If you’re leaving your home for more than 24 – 48 hours in Alberta, here are some things you can do to prevent frozen pipes:
- Consider shutting off your water and draining the pipes.
- Keep your heat at 20°C.
- Have someone check on your home every few days.
Many insurance companies require someone to check on your home every 48 to 72 hours if you’re away. This ensures that someone will notice if your furnace goes out, there’s a burst pipe or other issue. The faster these problems are caught, the better the outcome of the situation.
Keeping your heat turned on may not save on your energy bill, but it can help prevent frozen plumbing. Turning off your water is an extra measure you can take. Drain the pipes by turning a faucet on and letting the excess water drip out.
Frequently Asked Questions About Burst Pipes
Frozen pipes are a risk of living in Alberta but with the proper measures they are preventable.
How do You Know if a Pipe Bursts?
Burst pipes can be obvious or hard to spot. You may notice:
- A large amount of water
- A puddle or drip
- Water stains on drywall or wall
- A hole on an exposed pipe
You can test for a leak by looking at your water meter. First, check your water meter. Then turn off all appliances that use water and don’t use any faucets, toilets or showers for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check your water meter again — if it’s increased, you may have a leak.
The next test is to turn off your water entirely and see if your water meter changes. If it stops, there is likely a leak inside your home. (If it doesn’t, there may be a water main leak and you should contact your municipality.)
If you’ve determined you have a leak, you should contact a plumber.
Why do Pipes Burst?
Many burst pipes are caused by frozen plumbing. If you experienced a cold snap recently, that could be the cause of a burst pipe. The ice itself can cause a rupture but normally it is the added pressure in a pipe that results in a crack.
Does Home Insurance Cover a Burst Pipe?
Generally, yes, home insurance covers a burst pipe. However, if you’ve left the home unattended for more than 48 – 72 hours, your insurance company may not offer coverage. It’s important to keep your home heated, consider turning off your water, and get a trusted individual to check on your home every couple of days if you’re away.
We always recommend reading your policy documents and talking to your broker to understand exactly what is and isn’t covered by your insurance.