Combating Toronto’s cold weather with SWAT

Feb 26, 2015 | News

Toronto residents taking advantage of cold weather (NATIONAL POST)

Toronto residents taking advantage of cold weather (NATIONAL POST)

By Ainsley Smith

The extreme cold weather temperatures that have plagued Ontario and the GTA this February have left many residents and businesses with no water due to frozen pipes.

This has prompted city officials to deploy a special version of the SWAT team to deal with the influx of customer complaints.

The special SWAT unit will provide customized care to residents and businesses with frozen pipes located outside to establish a temporary water service connection to a neighbor’s  property, which is called a highline.

If a highline cannot be established, either for mechanical reasons or if the neighbor would prefer not to install a temporary connection, the property will be put on the priority list to have the outside water service thawed.

Geoff Coulson, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, says that since the start of this year, the city of Toronto has been under extreme cold weather alert for 31 days.

“This past Monday, the city of Toronto broke a single day record of the coldest February 23rd to date, with temperatures dropping as low as -21, which broke the old record of -19.4, which was set in 1972,” Coulson said.

“An even bigger weather record the city will most likely break is for the coldest month of February to date. The city’s average temperature for the month is currently sitting at -12.2, which will shatter the current record of 10.8, which was set  in 1979.” -Geoff Coulson.

In a statement released to the public by the City of Toronto, it is stated that since the cold weather first hit the city on February 14, the City of Toronto has received close to 2,000 “no water” calls due to frozen pipes.  More than 1,200 of these calls were received within the first three days.

They also said there are approximately 300 reports of local properties that currently have frozen pipes, due to the extreme cold temperatures. This has caused the frost line to penetrate deeper into the ground. The number of affected homes continues to grow as the cold weather persists.

In a media release, John Tory, mayor of Toronto, said, “Water is a basic need, and we need to be able to respond faster to get water back into people’s homes.”

“Toronto Water crews are working as hard as they can to respond to the large volume of calls; however, we need more resources to help customers understand what we are dealing with, and when staff will be onsite to investigate each situation.” -Mayor John Tory.

Image is courtesy of Kelsey Olson.

The lengths some people will go to get water (KELSEY OLSON)


Kelsey Olson, a Toronto resident, said she’s has been without running water for four days.

“The city has to come and dig up the pipes outside our house to warm them up,” said Olson. “But that won’t be for a few days, and we don’t know when this is going to happen either.”

Olson has even gone as far as melting snow on her stove to get usable water.

“Until then, the city is going to tap into our neighbors main water line,” she said. “It looks like tonight I will be showering at the gym again, borrowing buckets of water from next door to fill up the toilet so it works and using disposable plates and cutlery for meals. You don’t realize how much you actually need water until you are without it.”

In the majority of these cases, investigations have found that the pipes within the dwelling are frozen.  More information on what to do if your pipes are frozen and how to thaw your pipes can be found below.

How to prepare your pipes for cold weather:

  • Unscrew hoses, turn off the outdoor water supply and allow the taps to drain before the first freeze. Burst water pipes waste water and can cause expensive damage.
  • Insulate pipes that are most susceptible to freezing with foam pipe covers available at building supply or home improvement stores.  This includes pipes attached to uninsulated walls and in crawl spaces and the attic, and outdoor pipes that may be exposed.
  • For commercial customers, protect fire lines by wrapping all lines exposed to the cold.

What to do when the temperature drops far below zero:

  • Leave a tap open enough for a small trickle of water to drip out, so there is some movement of water in the pipes that may be vulnerable to freezing.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • If you are leaving for an extended period of time, turn the water off at the main service valve in the basement and open the taps to drain the water from your plumbing lines.

If you already have no water: how to thaw frozen  water pipes in your home:

  • Do not use a torch with an open flame to thaw your pipes. This is a fire hazard and puts your home at risk.
  • Ensure you know the location of your water’s master shut-off valve.  A frozen pipe may be broken and when the water in it thaws, it can leak.  If the pipe is broken, you will need to shut off the water in your house until the pipe is repaired.
  • Turn on a tap in the basement, preferably the cold water faucet in the laundry room.
  • Use a blow dryer to warm the suspected frozen pipe for one or two hours.  Check blow dryer regularly to ensure it does not overheat.

Coulson said that the warmer spring days are still a few weeks away, so dress accordingly when outdoors. Exposed skin can freeze in ten minutes.