frozen pipes

Tips for managing frozen pipes

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Many buildings across the Greater Toronto Area experienced frigid weather this month, which caused pipes in commercial buildings to freeze and burst. The cold may have subsided in the Toronto region, but other areas of Canada, Manitoba for instance, are currently under an extreme cold warning, facing wind chill values of -40 C or lower. Frozen pipes are also an issue for warmer locales in Canada where some might not be properly winterized to deflect harsher elements.

For LPI Mechanical Inc. it’s one of the busiest times of the year. Here, the team offers some tips to prevent and manage frozen pipes.

What causes pipes to freeze in winter?

Freezing pipes occur when temperatures drop to -0 C and below, but sometimes they freeze above -0 C in cold winds. Improper winterizing of plumbing systems, unheated areas and piping that is exposed to outside conditions all contribute to the issue. A lot of damage can result from a small split in a pipe or from a major break.

What are some techniques for preventing frozen pipes?

Ensure the area where the pipes are located is properly insulated and protected from wind and cold temperatures. Caulk holes, ensure exposed piping has adequate insulation, make sure the areas have proper heat and winterize pipes that aren’t utilized during winter months, such as hose bibs, by draining the line to ensure stagnant water does not freeze.

The exterior wall of the building, likely exposed to elements first, will transfer the cold to the piping. Cold will penetrate through the wall and cause freezing. Even a minimally cracked exterior should always be taken care of before the winter season.

Are older buildings at greater risk?

It’s important to know the thermal values and heat loss of the building and understand the areas that are exposed to winter elements, such as boiler rooms, loading docks, front vestibules and parking garages, to name a few. In the previous building code, it wasn’t mandatory that exterior walls were insulated, so older buildings are quite likely to have little insulation. The cold is able to infiltrate into older buildings a lot quicker, posing a huge problem for pipe freezing.

How can facilities manage pipes that are already frozen?

Staff need to first understand where valves are located to shut the water off so there won’t be any more pressure or water flowing within the piping if a suspected pipe has frozen. Torches and electric heaters are special tools that will slowly thaw the pipe, but as you’re undertaking this process, you have to be very aware of all areas that need to be addressed before turning the water back on. Be vigilant of leaks, split pipes or any spots where you can see future problems developing. So basically, shut it down, heat it up, get water flowing again and inspect the area to make sure it is safe in order to turn water back on. It always helps to employ the help of a reputable service company with experience in these types of emergencies.

LPI Mechanical Inc. is a full-service company specializing in design/build, HVAC and plumbing solutions for the commercial, industrial and institutional sectors. For more information, please visit

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