Frozen Water Services 

In February 2015 the City of Brantford experienced inclement conditions that caused over 60 water service lines – both public and private portions, to freeze. Water pipes and service lines can freeze when frost penetrates the ground during long periods of extremely low temperatures. Water pipes located in unheated areas of homes can also freeze without proper insulation.

Questions

Why Pipes Freeze

Most water services in the City of Brantford are deeply buried for protection against frost. However, in the past, some water service lines were installed at a shallow depth compared to today’s standards. Extremely cold temperatures or fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures can sometimes push frost to a depth that will freeze water services.

Extreme cold temperatures can also cause household pipes to freeze. A portion of the plumbing within a basement or unheated areas of a building can be vulnerable to freezing if not properly insulated from the extreme cold. This can happen due to drafts, cracked, broken or open windows. Where plumbing goes through uninsulated areas such as crawl spaces or within uninsulated areas of drywall, water pipes can also freeze if temperatures drop low enough, combined with water sitting in the pipes for hours before turning on a tap.


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Prevention

  • Maintain a minimum room temperature of 12°C (55°F) where the water service comes into your home, including when you are away on vacation.
  • Install insulating pipe wrap on plumbing that is located on exterior walls or cold rooms of your home such as crawl spaces, cold cellars, basements, attics, storage rooms and garages.
  • Seal air leaks in your home and garage, including repair of cracked or broken windows.
  • Areas near vulnerable sections of plumbing in uninsulated areas may need to be further warmed with a heat lamp or space heater as well as applying a sleeve of foam insulation to the exposed pipe.
  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. If piping is located next to exterior walls, leave the cupboard doors under your kitchen and bathroom sinks open. Please take care to remove household cleaners and other items that could harm children or pets while the cupboard doors are open.
  • Disconnect and drain all outdoor taps and hoses.
  • It may be helpful to turn on a tap (usually a pencil width thickness) to keep water moving in the line when not in use. Be sure to remove anything in, around or near the drain that could cause a flood. *Please note that it may be less expensive to heat the area compared to continuously running water.
  • Before leaving on vacation, locate and identify your main water service shut-off valve (typically located before/below the water meter). When leaving on vacation, close the main shut-off valve and drain your plumbing system.

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What To Watch For In Extreme Cold

Frigid temperatures can drive the frost line deeper into the ground causing an increase in cases of frozen water service lines. Occasional weather warm-ups can make the situation worse by allowing the pipes to thaw and freeze again, and driving the frost even deeper.

The City is here to help. Please call Customer Services at 519-756-1360 if:

  • You have a history of frozen water service
  • You have water that has become rusty or cloudy
  • You are experiencing unusually low water pressure

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If Your Pipes Are Already Frozen

If the pipes in your home have frozen, you can attempt to thaw following the steps outlined below:

  1. Locate the water shut-off valve in your home. If the pipe you are attempting to thaw bursts or you are successful in thawing the pipe, it may leak and potentially cause a flood. In this case, you will need to shut off the water to your house using the water shut-off valve until the leaky pipe is fixed.
  2. Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
  3. Leave the water just barely turned on before attempting to defrost the pipe. Use a blow dryer, space heater, electric blanket or heating pad to warm the suspected frozen pipe. Check your blow dryer regularly to ensure it does not overheat.
  4. Do not use these electric heating devices in areas with standing water or near flammable substances. Do not use an open flame as you risk bursting pipes, causing the pipe joints to come apart or even setting your house on fire. Furthermore, do not use electrical welding or pipe thawing equipment or anything that could induce an electrical current through the pipe.
  5. If water begins to flow slowly after a few minutes, continue applying heat until the ice blockage is completely melted.
  6. Depending on multiple factors including but not limited to the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours or more. Prior to contacting the City for assistance in thawing your water service, all attempts must be made to thaw your private water service within the 24 hour period following discovery that you have no water. If it is found that the service is frozen on the private side, you will receive a bill from the City for thawing your frozen water service. If it is identified that the City side of the service is frozen, there will be no charge.

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What The City Will Do To Help

If you still have no running water after 24 hours of following the thawing process noted above, contact the City at (519) 756-1360. City staff will ascertain where your water service is frozen and if it is feasible to thaw.

In order to thaw your water service, a “full-port ball valve” is required at your stop and waste valve just before your water meter for the City to perform this work. In this case, staff will work to thaw your water service and will also require access to your water meter normally located in your basement. If the portion of frozen water service is determined to be on the private side only, the owner will be responsible to cover the cost of the City’s service call per the City’s Fees and Charges Bylaw No. 188 - 2017, Schedule 2 for Water as follows [insert link here to webpage on water rates: Click for 2018 Water Fees and Service Charges PDF

If the City determines that freezing is occurring on the City side of a shallow water service, the water service on City property will be scheduled for partial or full replacement in future based on information gathered during the cold winter event.


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Temporary Water Service

If your water pipes freeze, you could be without running water for days. In some cases, a house-to-house connection is the only temporary solution until the service line or water pipes can be thawed or repaired. The City of Brantford can assist with this connection at no charge.

If you have a neighbour with running water who is willing to help you out, you can have a temporary water line set up using food-grade PVC hoses. These are normally run from your neighbour’s outdoor tap to your own outdoor tap. These lines provide a temporary, running water supply until the frozen pipe can be thawed or repaired.

This connection will be made from the hose bibs (exterior faucets) of the two properties and will allow the property with the non-functioning water service to have a “non-potable” water source. The water source is characterized as “non-potable” because the water quality of a temporary water connection cannot be guaranteed; therefore please follow the Public Health guidance as follows:

Connecting to a neighbour’s water supply in order to obtain running water in your own home should be safe for the following water uses:

  • Flushing toilets
  • Laundry
  • Washing hands
  • Bathing and showering, as long as water is not swallowed
  • Gargling and brushing teeth, as long as water is not swallowed

As a precaution, use bottled water OR boil water provided from your temporary water supply at a rolling boil for at least one-minute before using it for:

  • Drinking
  • Making baby food or formula
  • Washing fruits or vegetables
  • An ingredient in food that is eaten raw
  • Making ice, juice, coffee, etc.

If you have any questions about the above, please call the Brant County Health Unit at 519-753-4937 Monday to Friday, 8:30- 4:30.

Both homes must keep the outside tap open. When outside temperatures are below freezing (0˚c or 32˚f), the receiving property will be required to continuously run an inside tap with cold water at a steady stream (just more than a pencil width) in order to prevent freezing of the temporary connection. The water bill for both properties during this period of temporary water service will be estimated based on historical water consumption's and not actual metered consumption.


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How Do I Get Temporary Water Service Set Up?

  1. If all attempts to thaw your pipes have failed after following the above-noted instructions provided, you may report your frozen pipe to the City of Brantford at 519-756-1360
  2. Find a donor neighbour with running water and ask them for permission to connect to their water supply. Your donor should be an adjacent neighbour (directly behind or beside) that is not across a road
  3. Call Customer Services at 519-756-1360 to advise us of your donor’s address and to book an appointment time that works for both you and your donor as you will both need to be home. Both you and your donor will be required to provide written consent for the installation of a temporary line.

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After Thawing

  1. Keep the pipes warm: if the pipe has frozen already, it’s susceptible to freezing again. Keep the area warm by opening the basement, cellar or cupboard doors, and/or by insulating the pipe. Vulnerable sections of plumbing in uninsulated areas may need to be further warmed with a heat lamp or space heater as well as applying a sleeve of foam insulation to the exposed pipe.
  2. Watch for leaks where the pipe froze. While the pipe was frozen, expanding ice may have cracked or broken your pipe. Watch for leaks after the pipe has thawed. You can use your water meter to watch for household leaks as well. [insert link here to webpage on using meter to check for leaks: Click for Leaks in the Home information page
  3. Prevent re-freezing by allowing a laundry tap to flow a thin stream of water (usually a pencil width thickness). Customers should be aware that employing this highly preventative technique may result in a high water bill.

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How Can I Correct Frozen Pipe Problems Permanently?

If your pipes have frozen in the past, the best solution is to lower your service line to a depth that cannot be penetrated by frost. While the City owns the water meter, you own all the pipes from the beginning of your property line into and throughout your home, as well as the master shutoff valve. If any household pipes are leaking, including the pipe between where the water enters the home and the water meter, you are responsible for repairs and should call a professional plumber. The City of Brantford requires new water lines to be buried at a depth of 1.83 – 1.98 meters. Property owners with existing water services are asked to contact Customer Services for more information.