Winter Water & Sewer Issues
The weather this year has been quite cold and we’re seeing the frost go deeper into the ground than usual. Many people are experiencing freezing in their water or sewer lines. It is expected to get worse as the frost level keeps going down. This guide is meant to help home and business owners understand the issues and how to prevent this from happening. If your water or sewer line freezes please act fast to prevent further damage. Usually lines can be thawed without permanent damage but if it’s frozen too long pipes can break underground and then must be dug up and repaired. This guide offers a few tips to help prevent freeze-ups from happening and how to effectively get them clear.
For more information beyond this guide contact the town office or check the website to see the Sewer Bylaw 429-03 and the Water Services Bylaw 603-19 (replaced 454-05).
Sewer line freeze-up is less common than for water lines, but it does happen. Most people’s sewer lines are deep enough and graded properly so that they remain clear and thawed at all times of the year.
What do I do if my sewer blocks or freezes?
- The first priority it is to get the blockage clear. We recommend phoning a plumber to thaw or unblock it
- If there is a question of responsibility the cause can be determined once the line is clear. Feel free to let us know if your line is frozen but the priority is to get the line cleared.
Why would my sewer freeze and how can it be prevented?
- Furnace Condensation: Modern natural gas high efficiency furnaces produce a small stream of water that goes to the sewer. If you are away from home this small amount of water can freeze and slowly build up, fully blocking the line. In order to prevent this, it can help to have someone run hot water for 510 minutes every day to thaw any build-up in the line.
- Grease Buildup. Many sewer lines have grease build up from having cooking grease and oils and oily foods and other products go down the drain. This builds up creating a partial blockage. The reduced flow through these areas can hold water back and freeze up over time. This can be prevented by watching what goes down the drain
- Dips in the line. If the sewer line is not graded to properly drain back to the sewer main it can hold water in sections. If the sewer is not used for a few days, it can freeze in a short section causing a blockage. When the line is clear a camera can be used to determine if this is the cause.
Because of the bedrock in our area many water lines are buried near the frost line. Some years the frost line can go below the depth of the water lines and can cause them to freeze. All the water service lines in La Ronge have a heat trace wire that is buried along the pipe to the water main and it heats up to keep the water line thawed. There is (should be) a transformer that provides power to the wire. The water in the main line is about 4°C so if the frost line is low and the heat trace is not working it doesn’t take long for your water line to freeze.
What do I do if my water line freezes?
- Heat trace: If the heat trace is not working, getting it working can sometimes be enough to thaw your water line. Sometimes they’re just not plugged in or connected correctly. Sometimes the transformer needs to be replaced. If your water line is frozen or you aren’t sure of your heat trace condition, get an electrician to check that the heat trace is functioning. An electrician can confirm that:
- Your heat trace wire has continuity (it’s not broken)
- The transformer is working and has the appropriate voltage/amperage for your house.
- Plumber: If your heat trace system is functioning properly and/or just been repaired and after a few hours your water has not thawed, it’s time to phone a plumber. Many plumbers in town have equipment to pump warm water through a tube and thaw your water line.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common cause of water lines freezing?
- The transformer is not working, plugged in, hooked up properly, or not even there! Get yours checked!
Whose responsibility is it to thaw my water line?
- It is the home owner’s responsibility to both ensure that the heat trace is functioning properly and to thaw frozen lines. If you think the line was frozen or damaged from actions of the town you may be eligible for compensation at the discretion of the Manager of Public Works.
Whose responsibility is it to thaw my sewer line?
- It is the home owner’s responsibility to get the sewer line thawed. If after the line is clear it is determined that the freeze/blockage was due to a dip in the pipe on the town’s side of the line or from tree roots from trees on town property, the town may cover the costs at the discretion of the Manager of Public Works.
How do I get a new transformer? What size do I get?
- You can buy them directly from the town office or some electricians have them in stock. Note that there are a couple different sizes and an electrician will have to confirm which one you need.
The plumber cannot get through the valve at the curb, what do I do?
- Keep trying! Every house has a valve near the curb called a curb stop. This is usually near the property line. This valve has a smaller diameter than the rest of the pipe and can be tricky to get the thawing unit hose through. It can take a lot of tries but it always seems to go through eventually.
What if I just leave my water line frozen?
- It will likely break underground. If the line is left frozen for more than a day or two there is a significant risk that the ice will expand and rupture the water pipe underground. This will show up as water or ice on the ground after the line has been thawed. The only way to fix this is dig up the road and/or your yard with an excavator and replace it. This can be fairly expensive to the home owner so please do what you can from keeping the line from freezing and getting it thawed in a timely manner.