Winter Freeze Alert

By Risk Strategies Claims & Safety Services

Winter Freeze Alert

Water expands when it freezes and when it is located within piping, metal and/or plastic, the expansion increases the pressure on the piping resulting in broken pipes. Once temperatures rise and the ice begins to thaw, the piping that was compromised could create a high pressure water stream causing damage to walls, furniture and anything within its path.

When the temperatures outside drop below freezing, the temperatures in unheated areas of buildings can also drop significantly. The most susceptible areas are; unheated spaces like attics, crawlspaces and concealed spaces (above suspended ceilings), uninsulated and/or unheated stairwells, and loading dock areas where large exterior doors are commonly left open. Stationary water in sprinkler piping is exceptionally vulnerable to freezing; impairing fire protection and presenting water damage risk from cracked pipes and fittings.

Preparation for Freezing Temperatures:

  1. Locate main sprinkler system and domestic water supply shut off valves. Make sure they are accessible, labelled and personnel know how to shut them off.

  2. Place thermometers in areas where it is difficult for heat to reach and ensure all building temperatures are constantly monitored when the outside ambient temperatures drop below freezing.

  3. Check that all building and piping insulation is intact and adequate, especially where construction or renovation has occurred. Seal cracks and penetrations where cold air can leak in. Make sure all windows are closed properly.

  4. Ensure adequate warmth is reaching all building areas, particularly where wet sprinkler piping or domestic water is located. For cold concealed spaces with critical piping, consider creating a temporary opening to let building heat enter the space.

  5. Vacant/unoccupied buildings should have heat maintained at minimum of 40°F at all times to prevent freezing.

  6. Remotely monitor building temperatures when the facility is idle or unoccupied. Connect a low temperature alarm into the existing security or fire alarm system.

Discovery of a frozen domestic water pipe:

  • Have buckets and towels ready to respond to leaks.

  • Leave faucets running as this will help melt the ice within the piping.

    • If no water is coming out of the faucet, you can relieve the pressure in the piping by turning all faucets on the system on and leaving them on.

    • Check heat trace if installed to ensure it is working.

    • Open up cabinets to expose piping to the heat of the building.

    • Use a hair dryer or heating pad to thaw the piping where the ice blockage is located. Start at the faucet and work your way back along the piping towards the main supply. DO NOT use open flames, torches, space heaters or heat gun to thaw piping.

Discovery of a burst pipe:

  • Locate the shut off valve for the water supply. If you are unsure where the ice/broken pipe is located, or there are multiple, then shut off the main valve entering the building.

  • If you cannot locate the shut-off valve, but can find the water meter, then shut off the water at the meter.

  • If you cannot locate the meter then contact the property manager, a plumber or the local water department to assist in shutting off the water. Be sure to convey that you have a burst pipe so they understand the urgency but be patient because there could be many in the same situation.

    • For homeowners, check with your neighbors, they may know where the shut-offs are located.

  • Relocate any high value or irreplaceable assets to areas where they will not be susceptible to water damage. Elevate off of the floor/ground at a minimum.

Reporting a Claim:

  • Take pictures of damage

  • Contact a remediation company to mitigate damages, if needed

  • Make any ‘temporary’ repairs

    • Do not make permanent repairs until the loss is reported and inspected by an insurance adjuster.

  • Please retain the broken pipe if replaced.

  • Please make a list of any damaged contents.


If you have any questions or would like additional information please email us at

You can call our Risk Strategies "Claims Hotline" at: 1-800-363-0067


The contents of this article are for general informational purposes only and Risk Strategies Company makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information contained herein. Any recommendations contained herein are intended to provide insight based on currently available information for consideration and should be vetted against applicable legal and business needs before application to a specific client.