A CBC analysis of more than 190,000 Winnipeg addresses shows exactly where properties are in most danger of developing frozen pipes.

Alexander Avenue residents live on the street with the most homes at risk of frozen pipes, and the following areas have the highest concentration of streets where property owners received letters advising residents to let their taps run:

  • St. John’s (North End): Redwood Avenue to Lansdowne Avenue and McGregor Street to Main Street
  • Weston: Keewatin Street to McPhillips Street and Notre Dame Avenue to Weston Shops 
  • Earl Grey (East River Heights/Fort Rouge): Stafford Street to Pembina Highway and Lorette Avenue to Jessie Avenue

CBC News analyzed 190,000 addresses from the City of Winnipeg website and identified 5,171 properties that could develop frozen pipes, representing about 70 per cent of properties at risk. Click here to see the map.

While the city has allowed individual homeowners the ability to check the status of their properties on its website, this is the first time a map of most of the affected properties has been generated.

The city's emergency preparedness coordinator confirmed there is a correlation between the at risk properties and ones with frozen pipes.

Frost has penetrated the ground across the city to unprecedented levels, causing pipes to freeze and cutting off water to more than 2,304 properties since November. On Tuesday, 1,360 properties were on a waiting list for the city’s thawing service.

As of last week, 138 streets have only one at risk property on them and clusters of the city are clear of any risk of frozen pipes, like Rockwood, chunks of St. Vital and Tuxedo south of Cuthbertson Avenue. There are also homes on streets in newer parts of the city that are in danger of pipes freezing, like Bridgetown Drive and Gateside Way.

City staff still do not know definitively what is causing frozen pipes on all properties, streets or blocks.

“Some of them are still a mystery,” said Randy Hull, the City of Winnipeg emergency preparedness coordinator.

But city staff do believe the following factors play a role: a house’s age, its distance to the water main, the width of streets and changes to property landscape or foundation over time

Winnipeg’s water works bylaw states pipes must be installed to a minimum seven feet, six inches. This winter, frost has reached depths of eight feet or deeper in some areas.

An 'imperfect' list

A lack of available information is one of the challenges facing city staff in identifying reasons for the widespread pipe freezing.

Historical information on earlier land development does not exist in computer systems. Some of the pipes in question were installed before 1910, making tracking down details difficult.

“That would be further research that we could do to create commonality and identify other properties at risk,” said Hull, adding the city’s focus, at this point, is on thawing people out.

Hull said it’s important for property owners to do their part to help bridge the information gap.

Residents can notify the city if they get frozen pipes, even if they thaw them out themselves.

“That helps us to start looking at the clusters where properties are,” said Hull. “It's all about information we can capture. The more we can do analysis and the more we can identify the at risk properties.”

But the list is still “imperfect,” he said.

“Does it identify everyone at risk? No. There are still going to be some people that will not be on our list that will freeze,” Hull said. “There's not enough detail to feed into that.”

The lack of information is frustrating for Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, whose ward has one of the highest concentrations of at risk properties.

“It’s frustrating for the administration. It's frustrating for me, and ultimately its the most frustrating to the resident who ends up with a frozen water pipe,” he said.

Broken rules?

Hull would not point fingers or assign blame for the crisis, aside from mother nature.

However, he would not rule out the possibility land developers from the early part of the 1900s may have tried to cut corners as they built up Winnipeg.

“So is it possible that somebody tried to cut a corner to try and save a little on copper cost? I wouldn't say no, but I'd hope not," he said.

Moving forward 

Once this emergency is dealt with, Hull said the city will shift its focus.

“After this event we will dedicate ourselves to figuring out how could we better look at the [properties] at risk," said Hull. "So if we start getting a frost that drives deeper down we'll be better prepared to identify the at risk properties in the future.”

The city emphasizes residents with concerns about their homes being at risk for frozen water lines have to check with the city by going to its website and plugging in their address.  

Homeowners who run water to avoid freeze ups who are not on the city's radar will not be compensated for higher water bills.