We may not be in the deep freeze for long but we’re not out of the woods yet.
Temperatures plummeted in much of Canada recently and many insurance brokerages are already reporting an increase in the number of cold weather claims.
One insurance brokerage saw a 191% increase in claims in the early days of 2024 compared to 2023. The majority are because of frozen pipes.
Even when temperatures rise, the threat isn’t over. Pipes in many residences can freeze and burst as they thaw.
Why they freeze
Water expands as it freezes which puts tremendous pressure on metal or plastic pipes. Those that do most frequently are ones exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, pipes in unheated interior areas like basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets, and against exterior walls with little or no insulation.
They are at risk of freezing any time temperatures drop below 0C. However, it’s more common when temperatures dip below -6.7C. The longer the weather remains sub-zero, the more likely it is your pipes can freeze if not properly protected and winterized.
The best strategy to prevent this is before the cold weather arrives. This includes measures like pipe insulation or heating tape, preventing drafts, sealing cracks and openings around windows and doors.
But when the frigid temps have already arrived experts say there are still things you can do. The Windsor Utilities Commission recommends:
Damage typically covered
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says standard home policies will cover freezing and burst pipe damage provided the pipes are in the heated portion of the home and reasonable steps are taken to maintain heat.
However, if your furnace or heat pump breaks down and results in frozen pipes, a home policy covers resulting damage, but not the cost to repair the furnace or heat pump, said Rob de Pruis, IBC’s national director of consumer and industry relations.
“A broken furnace or heat pump is commonly a maintenance issue,” de Pruis said in a recent article. “Some commercial insurance policies do cover equipment breakdown; however this is not generally available in a home insurance policy.”
In addition, if the homeowner is away from the home for more than a certain number of days during the ‘usual heating season’ they must arrange for someone to check on the home daily to ensure heating is maintained. Alternatively, they must shut off their main water supply and drain the pipes entirely.
IBC adds most insurance policies exclude frozen pipes/water damage if your home is vacant, even if you have permission for vacancy. If your power goes out or the furnace breaks down, you must act immediately and do what you can to maintain warm temperatures in your home to prevent pipes from freezing.
How to spot a frozen pipe
The first sign is to pay attention to the rate of water flowing from the taps. Some key signs to watch for include:
More severe or obvious signs could be:
What to do if they’re frozen
If you notice any symptoms of frozen pipes, act quickly to minimize damage. Experts suggest:
The Canadian Home Inspection Services suggests you begin the thawing process close to the affected faucet and work your way down to the blockage. If melted water and ice get caught behind the blockage, the chance that the pipe will burst increases.
One of the easiest ways to thaw a frozen pipe is with a hair dryer. You can also use hot towels. Never use an open flame. It is a fire hazard. Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of the freezing, the thawing process could take between one and six hours. Once it is thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks.
Finally, if a pipe bursts, ensure the water is off to minimize damage and call a plumber immediately.
Most insurers have 24/7 claims reporting, so be sure to call right away to start the claims process.
-With files from Canadian Underwriter