Mike Holmes: Frozen pipes should never be fixed by anyone other than a licensed pro

Plumbing should be left to the experts, especially when pipes have frozen and caused damage.

Mike Holmes, Postmedia News | February 28, 2015 
The Holmes Group, Plumbing should be left to the experts, especially when pipes have frozen and caused damage.

One of the worst things that can happen to your home during winter is a burst pipe. Repairing or replacing the pipe itself is one thing, but the real — and more costly — threat is the damage the water can create.

What causes a pipe to burst? It’s pressure, usually caused by the expansion of water when it freezes. (A clog can also cause a pipe to burst, but freezing is the usual culprit.)

It’s important to prevent pipes from freezing. Wrap the inside pipes (including hot water ones), and drain exterior plumbing lines. Also, be aware that turning off the exterior hose bib is not the same as shutting off the line: It must be shut off from the inside.

But what if a pipe is already frozen? How would you know it is, and what would you do?

The first sign of frozen pipes is having no water flow from one faucet or fixture (such as a shower head), but others in the house work fine.

If one pipe has frozen, other pipes nearby can freeze too, since they are in the same area of the house. Let a little bit of water drip from adjacent fixtures to keep water flowing, and flush toilets every so often. You can do this whether it’s extremely cold and/or when there’s no power.

When people think of a pipe bursting they usually imagine water pouring down the walls, through the ceiling or onto the floor. But if a pipe bursts because water froze in it, you might not know it until the frozen section of pipe thaws. Then one day, you might come home to find your house is flooded.

If you suspect a burst pipe, shut off the main water valve as a precaution. It’s usually in the mechanical room in the basement, but every home is different. Next, call a licensed plumber.

By code, all plumbing should be on the warm side of the insulation and vapour barrier. If it isn’t, it should be rerun — which is a big, expensive job. A temporary solution is a heat tracer or heat-tracing system. But you will still eventually need to rerun the pipe, or the pipe will freeze again once there’s intense cold.

Sometimes plumbers use a heat tracer or heat-tracing system to get rid of ice blockages in pipes. It has two clamps that are attached to either end of the pipe and then an electrical current thaws the ice. There are also plug-in versions you can get at big-box stores to wrap around pipes vulnerable to freezing. They typically have a thermostat, so they kick in when temperatures drop.

Fixing frozen pipes is never a DIY job; you must call in a licensed, experienced plumber. They will know which pipes are affected and where they are without turning your walls into Swiss cheese.

If you don’t have a licensed plumber you can trust in your list of contacts and you have to call around, here’s how to know whether you’re dealing with a professional. Most reputable plumbing businesses have a dispatcher. They will tell you if there are any plumbers in your area and what the wait time might be.

If you call and you get someone’s voice mail, or the plumber picks up the phone him- or herself, chances are they’ve picked up 20 other calls that day and you will be waiting a very long time before anyone shows up. You’re better off finding someone else.

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.

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