Thawed: Keeping Ottawa’s water flowing
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Thawed: Keeping Ottawa’s water flowing

Winter is here, and while we all love to enjoy the many pleasures the season has to offer, frozen pipes isn’t one of them.

With rising and falling temperatures and the potential for severe and uninterrupted cold, frozen water pipes can be a reality for some homes. As the frost levels deepen, the ground becomes a frozen block of ice, and some water lines – the underground pipe that connects a home or building’s plumbing to a City watermain – may run right through it.

But fear not the freeze! The City’s warm and helpful team at Water Linear Customer Service is here for you.

Meet Tom and Robert. They are part of the First Response Team that works hard all winter to keep your pipes thawed. They want you to have the information and tools you need to ensure Ottawa’s great tap water can continue to flow.

Ways to prevent frozen water pipes

Here are a few tips on how you can protect the water service pipes on your property from freezing:

  • Keep your heat on. Make sure the indoor air temperature in your home never falls below eight degrees Celsius, even if you only plan to be away from your home for a couple of days.
  • Keep your water lines warm. Particularly in basements that tend to be cooler, leave the door open to areas that have water lines or your water meter so heat can reach them.
  • Insulate pipes near exterior walls. Wrap foam pipe insulation around pipes on exterior walls, in crawl spaces, or in the attic that are more likely to freeze.
  • Keep your garage closed. Garages often have water pipes hidden in the ceiling to service upstairs bathrooms. If left open, they could also allow cold air to get into your home.
  • Disconnect all hoses from exterior taps. Without the hose removed, the outside taps can’t drain and will freeze. Older taps often have a shutoff valve located in the basement ceiling, locate these, and shut them off for the winter.
  • Leave your water line buried. The snow acts as insulation and clearing snow from above allows the frost to dive down to your water line.
  • Know the location of your interior shut off valve. Locate your homes’ water shut off valve in advance and verify that it works so it can be shut off quickly in the event of a burst pipe due to freezing.

What you should do if your water pipe freezes

If you suspect you have a frozen water line due to lack of water to your taps, call 3-1-1 to place a service request. The First Response Team will triage the issue with you and determine whether on-site support is required.

The City provides clean and safe drinking water to more than 950,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers delivered through more than 3,200 kilometers of underground pipelines. That’s a lot of water and pipes! If a water service pipe freezes, the First Response Team will work to restore water service to the affected property as soon as possible.

Residents at risk

Approximately 2,000 Ottawa homes and businesses are estimated to have water pipes that are not buried as deeply or insulated as well as others. Depending on the location and installation year of a water service pipe, it could be at risk of freezing.

The City will issue a seasonal run water advisory to vulnerable properties when frost reaches the appropriate depth. The City relies on a model that uses the average daily mean temperature, as observed by Environment Canada at the Ottawa International Airport to predict frost depths and mitigate the potential risk of frozen water services. Frost monitoring begins once daily temperatures are consistently below zero degrees Celsius.

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