Nova Scotia

Burst pipes around Nova Scotia have plumbers scrambling to keep up

The extreme cold that gripped Nova Scotia late Friday and into Saturday caused water pipes to freeze. With the warming temperatures, those pipes are now thawing and bursting, leaving people scrambling to find help.

'Pipes are breaking all over the city,' says Halifax fire official

A snowy road with limited visibility is shown in a rural area of Nova Scotia.
East Gore, N.S., in Hants County, is shown on Saturday morning. Like every other county in the province, the community was under an extreme cold warning for part of Saturday. (Melissa Friedman/CBC)

Gavin Hankin of Halifax Plumbing and Heating wasn't looking forward to Sunday.

"[Sunday] is going to be catastrophic because these [water] lines that have frozen, you know, they're likely to split and then leak and then flood," he said late Saturday afternoon.

Hankin was on call and said he received around 100 calls for service to deal with frozen pipes that happened because of the extreme cold that gripped the province.

Temperatures dipped as low as –28 C in some parts of Nova Scotia without the wind chill, said CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon.

The combination of Arctic air and strong winds were certainly a factor in so many pipes freezing, Snoddon said.

He said strong winds help to push the cold air into cracks or crevasses around the home and that can lead to pipes freezing faster than with no wind at all. 

Graphic showing low temperatures across Nova Scotia.
Temperatures on Saturday were frigid across Nova Scotia. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Bitter cold, coupled with power outages that peaked around 30,000 customers, is an awful combination for water pipes.

Hankin said it was the busiest day he's encountered in a decade.

"I know just from talking to people, just about every company they've called either didn't answer or told them they're too busy," he said.

Power outages persist

As of Sunday at 7:58 a.m. AT, Nova Scotia Power was reporting around 2,800 customers without power.

Graphic showing peak winds in Nova Scotia
The combination of Arctic air and strong winds were a factor in so many pipes freezing. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Hankin said frozen pipes are typically a sign of poor insulation in a home.

"A lot of these calls could have been resolved just by the homeowners cranking the heat to an uncomfortable temperature and waiting for them to thaw out," he said.

Besides having excellent insulation, Hankin said people can prevent pipes from freezing by running their water taps, which he noted is wasteful.

"It takes much colder air to freeze water that's in motion," said Hankin.

Busy fire crews

Halifax district fire Chief Pat Kline said crews are going from call to call to help shut off sprinkler systems, mostly in commercial and apartment settings.

"Pipes are breaking all over the city," he said Sunday morning.

Kline said he's been on the job for 35 years and every year there's a day or two that's this busy.

District 3 fire Chief Rob Hebb said that water flowing through a building from a broken pipe can create an electrical hazard.

"One incident can affect a lot of people," he said.

A map of Nova Scotia shows cold temperatures across the province on Saturday morning.
Temperatures on Saturday morning were frigid across Nova Scotia. (Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

Halifax district fire itself was not immune to the problem. 

A logistics building in Bedford and Fire Station 8 in Lower Sackville also experienced flooding as a result of burst pipes, according to Brad Connors, district chief of operations.

Truro fire Chief Blois Currie said his department has received a number of calls for broken pipes.

He said the department responded to a report of a sprinkler break on the top floor of a four-storey apartment building in Truro at about 8 a.m. Sunday.

Currie said power was shut off to the building and residents were evacuated. Some parts of the building were not directly affected by the broken sprinkler, he said.

"When we're finished with the emergency part of it, we'll turn it back over to the building owner," he said.

"They can decide from there when they bring in their electricians and sprinkler people and cleanup people ... who they can get back into the building and when."

Health facilities

Dartmouth General Hospital had two problems.

There was a burst sprinkler line on Saturday night that was repaired.

Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Brendan Elliott said in an email a hot water pipe burst on Sunday at 7 a.m., cutting off  heat and water from the fourth floor down. That was repaired by 10 a.m.

Health facilities at Simpsons Landing and Bayers Road Community Mental Health & Addictions centre were also affected by flooding as a result of burst pipes, Elliott said.

Halifax Public Libraries

Halifax Public Libraries closed a number of branches on Saturday because of building issues that included heating systems, power outages and leaks due to freezing pipes.

Some of the issues were related to cold temperatures, according to director of facilities Megan Gainer in an email.

Woodlawn public library and Keshen Goodman library had broken pipes in the past 48 hours, Gainer said. 

According to Gainer, there was damage to some parts of the buildings but it was contained and collections were not affected.

Keshen Goodman library reopened on Sunday but Woodlawn branch remained closed to deal with water damage.

The Woodlawn branch is expected to return to regular hours on Monday, Gainer said.


With files from Blair Sanderson and Anam Khan

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now