Severe and uninterrupted cold can result in a frozen water service pipe that prevents water from reaching your internal plumbing. The City will issue a seasonal run water advisory to vulnerable properties when frost reaches the appropriate depth. If your water service pipe freezes, City crews work to restore water service to affected properties as soon as possible.
What is a water service pipe?
A water service pipe runs underground, connecting a building’s plumbing to a City water main. Every property that receives water from one of the City of Ottawa’s municipal drinking water systems has a water service pipe.
If you have received a letter from the City advising you to run your water, or if your service pipe has frozen in the past, your pipes are vulnerable to freezing this winter.
To report a frozen service pipe, call 3-1-1.
City response to a frozen water service pipe
To help City crews thaw your frozen water service pipe:
- Find the shut-off valve outside your house and clear away the snow.
- Clear a path to the water shut-off valve inside your house and remove any furniture or breakables from the immediate area.
The City will call you in advance, providing as much notice as possible. If you do not answer our call, we will leave a message and a direct contact number.
Wait times will vary based on the volume of requests at any given time. Please contact 3-1-1 for information on current wait times for temporary service installation or thawing.
Fees for thawing a frozen water service pipe
If the frozen water service is on municipal property, there is no charge to the property owner for thawing.
If the frozen water service is on private property, property owners will be charged the cost of work plus 15%. This fee applies each time the City must thaw a water service on private property.
Private street/water main: Residents living on a private street (including, but not limited to a Condominium Corporation) will not have access to inspection and/or thawing services.
Thawing your water service pipe manually
If you are able to determine that the frozen section of water pipe is located inside your home, you can try the following methods:
- Open a cold water tap nearest to the frozen section so you will know when the pipe is thawed.
- Apply heat using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, or from an electric hair dryer.
- Use a portable heater with caution, especially around flammable materials.
- Ensure rooms or crawl spaces where pipes are located are adequately heated.
IMPORTANT: Never use an open flame to thaw a frozen water pipe. Always use caution when applying any heat source near insulation or other flammable materials.
Options for water while pipes are frozen
- The City will provide bottled water to affected residents. Request bottled water through 3-1-1.
- Use the shower facilities will be permitted at any City recreation facility (no admission fee will be charged).
- Melt snow in your bathtub for non-potable use, such as flushing toilets.
All residents should have an emergency water kit or supply available year-round as part of normal emergency preparedness.
Preventing a frozen water service pipe
In order to help prevent the water service pipe on your property from freezing this winter, please consider the following alternatives:
- Ensure your indoor air temperature is kept above 8ºC in areas that contain water pipes and especially near the meter.
- Run a continuous steady stream of cold water, at least the width of a drinking straw or 1/4" or 5 cm, until the frost is out of the ground (end of April).
- If you received a letter from the City about letting your water run, it means your property is at risk and you should follow these instructions.
- Determine why your service is at risk of freezing. The service may not be installed to a proper depth.
- Wrap foam pipe insulation around pipes most likely to freeze (e.g. near outside walls, crawl spaces, attics).
- Seal air leaks in your home and garage, especially in areas where pipes are located.
Cost of running water during an advisory
If records show the service freezes on your property, you must cover the cost of running the water. You should have received a notice from the City informing you of this situation.
If records show the service freezes on the City's property, and you have received a written notification from the City to run your water this winter, the City will cover the cost of running the service by adjusting your water bill in future months.
Temporary water service lines
If your water service pipe freezes, the City may install a temporary water service line – an external hose extending to your property from a neighbour’s yard. In some cases, it is less disruptive and expensive to allow a water service pipe to thaw as the frost leaves the ground. During winters with deep frost, there is always a chance that services will re-freeze or thaw attempts will be unsuccessful.
While being provided with a temporary service line, both you and your neighbour will be charged based on your normal daily consumption until the temporary service is removed.
While on a temporary service line, you may experience some reduction in pressure if both you and your neighbour use water at the same time, but not to levels that would prevent normal use.
Note: Water provided from the temporary service line is safe to drink.
The City will keep you on a temporary service line until your water service pipe thaws on its own. If you need to be removed from the temporary service line earlier, please contact 3-1-1 to create a service request.
Determining if your water service pipe has thawed
As temperatures rise above zero for several consecutive days and the ground begins to thaw, leave a tap running in your home and turn off the tap where the temporary service line is connected to your home. If your water continues to run, your water service pipe has thawed. If the water does not continue running, open the tap where the temporary service line is connected and try again later. To avoid re-freezing, wait until there has been a long period of above-zero temperatures (day and night) before you attempt this.
Returning the hose and equipment when the service pipe has thawed
Once the majority of water service pipes have thawed (typically in late April or early May), the City will contact you and collect the temporary service equipment. You can disconnect your hose once your pipes have thawed and you have running water. If you need assistance disconnecting your hose, please contact 3-1-1.
Temporary water service providers
If you provide water through a temporary service line for a frozen service pipe, both you and your neighbour will be charged based on your normal daily consumption until the temporary service is removed.
If your meter readings are reported automatically to the City, you do not need to take any further action. The City will record your address and make any necessary adjustment to your water bill in late spring/early summer.
If you are on a meter that the City must read manually, please call in your meter reading to the City’s automated number at 613-580-2727 when the temporary service line is installed and again at the end of the temporary service connection to ensure your water consumption is adjusted on your bill.
Will the external hose running cause my pipes to freeze?
No. You pipes will not freeze if you leave your water running and ensure your indoor air temperature is above 8oC in areas that contain water pipes. When your neighbour’s water service has thawed, turn off your external tap and drain your external water line (as you would in the fall).
If your water pipes or temporary service line freeze, call 3-1-1.
How will I know when to stop my water from running?
When your neighbour or the City advises you that the service has been thawed, you can stop running your water. As the ground begins to thaw, return to ottawa.ca to determine if the run water advisory has ended.