The city is looking at setting up compassionate grants for some of the hundreds of residents who have been without water this month.

Frozen pipes are backing up across the city, resulting in about 550 calls in the last three weeks alone, said Dan McKinnon, director of Hamilton Water.

Residents are melting snow in their bathtubs. Many are bringing in water in large jugs.

Now the city is looking at grants for people who have been without water because the line is frozen at the road allowance, which is city property.

'“This may be more than a blip.' - Coun. Tom Jackson

That accounts for about 15 per cent of cases, said McKinnon at a public works committee meeting Monday, where councillors voted to look at a grant program.

The city has received about 740 calls about frozen pipes since December, McKinnon said. Of those, 97 of them have been frozen pipes on city property.

The problem is getting worse. From 2009 to 2013, McKinnon said, the city got about 38 calls per year for frozen pipes, four of which were on road allowances.

But last year, there were about 560 calls, and this year’s frigid temperatures boosted them even more.

“This may be more than a blip,” said Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6.

It’s happening across the city, although the Mountain councillors were especially vocal on Monday. Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 moved the compassionate grant motion. City council will vote to ratify it on March 11.

'They have young families. They can’t even flush the toilet.' - Coun. Scott Duvall

Coun. Scott Duvall knows of a Ward 7 resident who’s been without water since Feb. 26, and won’t have it back for two more days. The waits are long because plumbers and the city can’t keep up with the demand.

“That’s not even practical,” he said. “They have young families. They can’t even flush the toilet. People are putting snow in the bathtub and trying to have that melted down to flush the toilet.”

The city is scrambling to keep up. It’s using at least two plumbing companies — each with multiple crews — and at least two contractors to thaw pipes, McKinnon said.

City staff — including McKinnon — delivered potable water to several residents in Flamborough and Stoney Creek on the weekend.

McKinnon won't have an estimate for what the problem has cost the city until April, but last year, it cost about $700,000.

The weather has also caused a high amount of broken watermains, although not as many as last year.

The city has seen 155 broken watermains since Dec. 1. Last year, it saw 217 in the same period. 

The city already gives out compassionate grants for homes damaged by flooding. From 2005 to 2012, it gave 7,492 grants totalling $5,156,060.


How to avoid frozen pipes 

  • Disconnect and drain all outdoor hoses.
  • Shut off and drain all outdoor faucets.
  • Insulate all exposed outside water pipes with specially designed foam pipe covers available at building supply or home improvement stores.
  • Seal air leaks throughout your home and garage.
  • Let a cold water faucet run a minimal amount of water on nights when the temperature is below freezing to prevent service line freeze-up.
  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.

What to do if your line is frozen

  • Do not use a torch with an open flame. You risk setting your house on fire. In addition, overheating one area can cause the pipe to burst or the joints to pull apart.
  • Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
  • Use a blow dryer aimed at an angle on exposed pipe near the water meter for one or two hours.
  • Place a warm towel or rag around the pipe.
  • Make sure you know the location of your master shut-off valve. The frozen pipe may already be broken and, when the water is thawed, it will leak. In this case, you will need to shut off the water in your house until the leaky pipe is fixed.

If that doesn't work, call a plumber. If the plumber can't unthaw the pipe, call Hamilton Water customer service at 905-546-4426. Charges are applicable.

Source: City of Hamilton

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC