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SWAT team to help with frozen pipes outside Toronto homes, businesses

Several homes in The Beach neighbourhood have been without water due to frozen pipes in February 2015. CITYNEWS

The city is setting up a SWAT team to respond to an “unprecedented” number of calls from residents and businesses without water due to frozen pipes.

Mayor John Tory, City Manager Joe Pennachetti and Toronto Water General Manager Lou Di Gironimo met Wednesday morning to talk about the problem and decided to send a team out into the community to create temporary fixes and identify properties that need thawing.

“Water is a basic need, and we need to be able to respond faster to get water back into people’s homes,” Tory said in a statement.

“Toronto Water crews are working as hard as they can to respond to the large volume of calls; however, we need more resources to help customers understand what we are dealing with, and when staff will be onsite to investigate each situation.”

Since the extreme cold weather first hit on Feb. 14, the city has got more than 2,200 “no water” calls due to frozen pipes — more than 1,200 of those within the first three days. Over the past decade, Toronto Water has got an average of only 200 to 300 calls a year.

The vast majority — more than 80 per cent — are problems with private plumbing from within the home. The city said right now, there are about 400 properties where its underground water lines are frozen, and the number continues to grow as the cold weather persists and causes the frost to go deeper into the ground.

“It just completely overwhelms our ability to respond,” Di Gironimo said at a news conference.

“We do not have the staff resources nor the equipment or supplies in stock to respond to that. We have to ramp up our service levels in order to meet the increased demand.”

The city has hired contractors to help thaw underground pipes, but Di Gironimo said they can only handle about 15 to 20 homes a day.

How to prevent frozen water pipes (courtesy of the City of Toronto)

  • Consider leaving a tap open enough for a trickle of water so there is some movement of water in pipes that might be vulnerable to freezing.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • If leaving for an extended period of time, turn the water off at the main service valve in the basement and open the taps to drain the water from your plumbing lines.

If you have no water – How to thaw frozen water pipes in your home
Important precautions

  • Do not use a torch with an open flame to thaw pipes, as this is a fire hazard.
  • Ensure you know the location of your master water shut-off valve. The frozen pipe may be broken and when the water in it thaws, it will leak. If the pipe is broken, you will need to shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired.

Steps to thaw a frozen pipe

  • Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
  • Use a blow dryer to warm the suspected frozen pipe for one to two hours and place space heaters in the room. Check regularly to ensure the dryer and space heaters do not overheat.
  • Place a warm towel or rag around the suspected frozen pipe.

Depending on the outside temperature and the extent of freezing within the pipe, the thawing process could take between one and six hours.

If the above steps do not resolve the issue, call 311:

  • Phone within Toronto city limits: 311
  • Phone outside city limits: 416-392-CITY (2489) (Can be used within Toronto if you can’t reach 311.)
  • TTY customers: 416-338-0TTY (0889)
  • Fax: 416-338-0685
  • Email: 311@toronto.ca
  • Self-service: toronto.ca/311
  • Twitter: @311toronto

If the pipes are frozen within the home, customers will be asked to call a plumber. If the pipes are frozen outside of the home, customers will be referred to the SWAT team.