Extreme cold temperatures - How to prevent or thaw frozen water pipes and report watermain breaks

With extreme cold temperatures forecast to continue, the City of Toronto is reminding residents to protect the drinking water pipes in their home to prevent them from freezing.

There are also a number of steps that residents can take if they have no water and suspect their drinking water pipes are frozen.

Extreme cold temperatures can cause soil to expand and contract, applying force to Toronto’s watermain distribution system. Residents are reminded to contact 311 to report a break. Toronto Water staff are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to calls.

Tips to avoid frozen pipes in the home

  • While the temperature is well below freezing, consider leaving a tap open enough for a very thin stream of water so there is some movement of water in pipes that might be vulnerable to freezing.

  • If your water pipes are attached to an uninsulated outside wall, remove the clamp from the pipes and gently pull the pipes away from the wall and wrap them with insulation.

  • Insulate all exposed outside water pipes with foam pipe covers that are available from building supply or home improvement stores.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.

  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing.

  • If leaving for an extended period of time, turn the water off at the main service valve in the basement and open the taps to drain the water from your plumbing lines.

How to thaw frozen drinking water pipes in the home if you have no water
Important precautions

  • Do not use a torch with an open flame to thaw pipes, as it creates a fire hazard.

  • Ensure you know the location of your master water shut-off valve. The frozen pipe may be broken and when the water in it thaws, it will leak. If the pipe is broken, you will need to shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired.

Steps to thaw a frozen pipe

  • Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.

  • Use a blow dryer to warm the suspected frozen pipe for one or two hours. Check blow dryer regularly to ensure it does not overheat.

  • Place a warm towel or rag around the suspected frozen pipe.

  • Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours.

If the above steps do not resolve the issue, contact 311 and someone from the City will come to investigate. Learn more about frozen pipes by visiting www.toronto.ca/frozenpipes.

How to report a watermain break and Toronto Water’s response

  • Contact 311 if you see a watermain break.

  • Toronto Water staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to calls.

  • The first aspect of response is to secure the site, determine the location and severity of the break, and turn off the flow of water if required.

  • Before repairs can begin, Toronto Water must determine the location of underground infrastructure from local utilities, which can take time.

  • Affected property owners are notified of the water disruption and repair schedule.

  • Depending on the severity of the break, the watermain may be repaired using a repair clamp or by replacing the deteriorated section of pipe.

More information about watermains is available at www.toronto.ca/watermains.