Renting Well Blog

How Landlords Can Prevent Bursting Water Pipes in Cold Weather

Today in Ottawa it’s -38°C. It’s ridiculous. As a matter of fact, large portions of the United States and Canada are getting reamed with a cold weather snap. -20 celsius weather is being reported in places like Minnesota, Illinois, New York City, Toronto, and Montreal. It’s prime weather for water pipes to freeze and burst which can create a damage nightmare for small landlords and a more-than-minor inconvenience for tenants. This generally sucks. It’s a sneaking problem for many of us to deal with (especially those of us who aren’t renting all inclusive units and whose tenants are covering their own utilities) and it’s made even more painful when self-managing landlords have to deal with it during weather that makes Antarctica look like a beach vacation.

First… why do pipes freeze?

  • Poorly protected pipes which haven’t been sufficiently insulated
  • Exposure to icy draughts, usually as a result of cracks or gaps at the point where the pipe enters your home
  • Pipes located inside cupboards — warm air from inside your home may not reach these pipes if your cupboard doors are closed most of the time
  • Generally insufficient heat in units.

Secondly, what makes pipes burst?

  • Water freezes and expands inside household pipes
  • Continual freezing and expansion of water inside the pipe causes pressure to build up between the ice blockage and the closed faucet
  • As a result of repeated pressure on this section of pipe, the pipe eventually bursts

How can I prevent frozen and bursting water pipes?

  1. Let a thin stream of cold water run from a faucet. The stream should be a continuous flow, about the thickness of a pencil. This water can be caught in a bucket or pail to be recycled for another purpose later, if desired.
  2. Be sure pipes in unheated areas of a unit or crawlspace are insulated. Many hardware and home improvement stores carry foam insulation for this purpose.
  3. Leave interior cupboard doors under sinks open, especially if the water pipes are adjacent to an exterior wall. This will allow heat from the room access to the pipes.
  4. Plug drafty cracks and repair broken windows that could allow cold air to get inside where pipes are located.
  5. Shut off and drain pipes leading to outside faucets.
  6. Educate your tenants on the necessity to be mindful of cold weather snaps.

Have you ever dealt with freezing or bursting pipes? Share your stories with us.

 

Author: Chris Saracino

Chris is a co-founder of Renting Well and heads up our marketing and communication efforts. He's also the landlord of two buildings and 8 units in Ottawa, Ontario.

Comments

  1. My pipes did burst during the ludicrously cold weather. Now my tenant is demanding that I pay for the damages. The pipes are located in the wall facing the outside and were not well insulated yet the landlord maintains that I am responsible for not maintaining a high enough temperature inside my apartment. There is neither a thermostat in the apartment nor proper window caulking. To what extent can I be held responsible?

  2. Thanks for your comment. Couple of questions… is your unit an all inclusive or do you pay your own utilities? Was there an arrangement or an understanding with the landlord concerning the possibility that the pipes could freeze?

    If there was an understanding between you and the landlord that the pipes *can* freeze during a cold spell, and the landlord is covering the cost of heating for this reason – and wants a certain heat maintained in the unit, then there might be merit behind their claim. With that said, it sounds like you have a few other issues with your unit that you need to sort out with your landlord. Based on what you’re saying, you’re claiming that it’s difficult for heat to stay in the apartment even when it is on (caulking on window) and that gauging the heat is a challenge with a lack of a thermostat.

  3. The unit is not all inclusive as I pay water and electricity, the heating being electric. We had no previous arrangement over pipes freezing although he did request that I keep the heat on at a minimum even when I am away, which I did, and yet he claims I did not. How do I prove that I did and is this even important considering that it did not even help prevent the damage?

  4. Thanks for the clarification.

    Ultimately, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide a habitable functional environment for you to reside in. If the pipes aren’t properly insulated and freeze when it gets really cold outside, there are a variety of solutions for that, which the landlord should look into. This is particularly essential since you are covering the cost of the heat. It’s reasonable to assume you’d like to maybe turn down the power a bit when you’re away (you are footing the bill after all). If you have issues with how well the unit is environmentally controllable when you’re inside (re: the comment about the window caulking and lack of a thermostat), then I’ve a lack of words for how this is your problem. In short – this is an issue the landlord needs to address in my view, and with the information that you’ve giving me here (I’m not hearing the landlord’s side of the story), I don’t see how you can be held responsible for damages.

    Small suggestion – I’d recommend articulating this to the landlord in a reasonable way to see if you can get this sorted out. There’s always a solution – but ultimately – you’re paying for a unit that should be in good order. I’d like to think your landlord is a reasonable person and has an interest in addressing the problem as opposed to attempting to get you to foot the bill on issues that are their responsibility.

  5. Thank you very much for the clarification and attention to my issue. You were very helpful and I appreciate your thread and follow up. I am also hopeful that the issue will be settled in a reasonable fashion.
    -Cheers!

  6. Ok I own a home in upstate new York. I had a tenant sign a lease on DEC 28. I prorated the SEC deposit 300 dollars because I knew the fuel tanks were low, Told him to use the 300 to fill the tanks. JAN 14 I get a call that they just got back from GA and a pipe had busted. Contractor said looks water ran for about a week. About 10,000 in damages. I asked the renter did you leave the heat on? he told me the gas finally ran out and no one would fill the tanks. I also have a stove on the 1st floor that burns wood pellets. as another heating source. I never said hey, you are responsible for heating the house but the lease does say he must protect the home in cold weather. Repairs start today, I did an insurance claim. My question is if and or how much is he or I liable? Thanks

  7. The outdoor pipe burst in my apartment and my outdoor water wasn’t shut off by the main supply am I responsible for damage? I am the tenant

  8. Hi Alyssa,

    Thanks for your comment. Could you give some more details? It burst because of the cold? Outside? Is your landlord saying you’re responsible?

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