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10 tips to prevent frozen and burst pipes

Landlords and property managers can take effective steps to prevent property damage
Monday, January 20, 2014
By Erin Ruddy

Weather watching is a pastime many Canadians engage in, particularly in the cold, unpredictable winter months when a sudden deep freeze could cause drastic damage to a property. A dreaded, and common, occurrence is frozen and burst pipes.

While it’s the responsibility of the landlord to provide tenants with working plumbing on premises that are properly insulated, it is the tenant’s obligation to use and maintain that dwelling in a reasonable and responsible manner, and this means taking all necessary precautions to avoid clogging the pipes, or when possible, allowing them to freeze.

Obviously, weather can be very tricky to predict, and tenants — especially those who pay their own utilities — might be skeptical about keeping the heat turned up or the letting the faucet drip when they are heading out of town. But, as the landlord, it pays greatly to circulate a few winter rules so that, with the help of residents, a preventable frozen or burst pipe won’t happen.

No matter what size the building, keeping tenants informed of severe weather and reminding them to be prepared in case of an extreme cold alert is a good place for landlords to start.

Kevin Wong, technical director of the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating (CIPH) shares a few more tips, especially for the smaller landlord, to help prevent the kinds of winter catastrophes that can result from the cold:

  • Landlords should inform residents that keeping the heat set to a minimum of 10 degrees Celsius will help provide enough heat to keep the water inside the pipes from freezing. This will minimize the chances of flooding, and help keep their possessions from being damaged.
  • All downspouts should be drained 10 feet away from the building.
  • All outside faucets should be shut off and have their water hoses removed. Once the inside valve is off, it is a good idea to open the valve outside to let any water run out.
  • Sump pumps should be tested to ensure they are working properly in case of a pipe burst.
  • Gutters should be cleaned to prevent icicles and dams.
  • A licensed contractor should service heating, hot water, and hydronic in-floor heating systems. The contractor will clean the system and make sure it is running efficiently.
  • Lawn irrigation systems should be drained.
  • If a landlord has emptied the water heater prior to the freezing, they should refill it before turning the power back on.
  • If a landlord suspects that pipes will be freezing, they should let the water run for one minute to remove potential freezing water, and replenish pipes with new water.
  • Landlords should note that pipes are often located in cabinets. When the temperatures drop, it is a good idea to keep these cabinet doors open so that the heat from the rest of the apartment can keep the pipes warm.

Lastly, landlords should ensure that they have the corresponding insurance coverage for the building, and also advise tenants to have the proper insurance coverage for their contents.

Erin Ruddy is the editor of Canadian Apartment Magazine.

1 thought on “10 tips to prevent frozen and burst pipes

  1. We have heat tapes inside the downspouts of our three-storey, flat-roof apartment building. Unfortunately, the water freezes as it comes out of the bottoms of the downspouts and plugs them. The water then backs up until it overflows from the joint where the downspout connects to the pipe from the roof. The result has been 8" thick icicles at either end of the building.

    We're thinking of building insulated boxes at the bottoms of the downspouts to keep them from freezing. For the longer term we're thinking of installing dry wells and extending the downspouts into them below the frost level. Any comments?

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