Will my insurance cover frozen pipes?
In our cold Canadian winters, your pipes can freeze.
Left unprotected, they can freeze in as little as six to eight hours when the temperature reaches 0 C (32 F), which can happen overnight. Older, less well-insulated homes are particularly vulnerable as are pipes near outside walls.
Once they freeze expanding ice puts pressure on both plastic and metal pipes until they cannot hold any longer, at which point they fail. If they burst, it can leave you with no water and expensive property damage. It can create mould, damage electrical systems, walls, floors, create flooding risks and potentially damage HVAC systems.
The best approach as a homeowner is to take steps to prevent this from happening in the first place. Your municipality is likely to have tips but in general here’s what to do:
How to prevent it
- Know where to find your main water shut-off valve in case your pipes burst.
- Insulate indoor pipes most prone to freezing near outside walls, in crawl spaces and the attic. This can be done with foam pipe covers available from home improvement stores.
- Seal air leaks in your home and garage to stop cold air from getting in. Check around windows and doors, electrical wiring, dryer vents and pipes.
- Outdoor lines - such as water spigots, swimming pool supply lines and sprinkler lines - freeze first. In the fall, unscrew any hoses, turn off the outdoor water supply and let the taps drain.
- If your pipes are prone to freezing, there may be a problem you can’t see. Contact a plumber for advice.
When temperatures fall below zero
- Keep your house warm, especially near the water meter, even when you’re away.
- If there are water supply lines in the garage, keep the doors closed.
- Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around plumbing.
If you’re away from home
Whether you’re a snowbird, on vacation or are visiting relatives you have responsibilities for your home while you are gone. The most destructive pipe-freezing events happen while homeowners are away for extended periods.
- Close the main valve that supplies water to your internal plumbing. It is typically located in the basement on the foundation wall where the drinking water pipe enters your home. Once the valve is closed, open a cold water tap in the basement to drain any remaining water from the pipes.
- Ensure the heat is on and have someone check your home regularly. Note: Many home insurance policies actually require this.
- You can run a pencil-thin stream of water to ensure some movement of water in the pipes. Run cold water from the lowest point in the house, usually a laundry room sink or tub. Ensure the drain is kept clear of debris to prevent overflowing. Note: You’ll pay for water used if you choose for this method.
- Other options: Home improvement specialist Bob Vila suggests installing a hot water circulating pump that monitors the pluming system’s water temperature. Connecting to the house’s hot water heater, this device automatically circulates warm water through the hot and cold water lines whenever temperatures drop below a predetermined benchmark; installing a freeze alarm, and set it so that it sends an alert to your phone when indoor temperatures drop below 7 C (45 F). This will provide you with more time to warm pipes at high risk of freezing.
When the pipes freeze
If you turn on the taps and have no water, the pipes in your home may be frozen. Likely places for this include:
- Against exterior walls.
- Where the water service pipe enters the home through the foundation wall.
Here are tips and precautions for thawing them:
- Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
- Apply heat to the suspected frozen pipe by warming the air around it or applying heat directly to the pipe. You can use an electric heating pad, hair dryer, space heater or warm towel. Important: Do not leave electrical devices unattended, or use kerosene or propane heaters, charcoal stoves or any open flame to thaw a frozen pipe. This is a fire hazard.
- Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours.
- Once thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks.
Note: Never put antifreeze in outdoor water supply lines. It does not prevent frozen pipes, and is potentially harmful to your landscape, children, pets, and wildlife.
Does my insurance cover frozen pipes?
Insurance companies require homeowners to keep their homes in good condition, and this includes taking reasonable steps to keep pipes from freezing. Speak with your broker to know what is covered when it comes to burst pipes. Your insurer may even have more tips on how to prevent damage and other measures that will be accepted if a claim has to be made.
Most policies don’t cover frozen pipe damage if the plumbing is in poor condition or if the homeowner’s negligence caused the problem. However, if the pipes burst despite proper maintenance and care, your insurer will likely cover the damage.