Frozen pipe surprise can bring costly fix

Tony Casey • Jan 3, 2014 at 9:31 PM

Which would you rather spend, a few dollars or a few hundred dollars?

That decision should go without answer, but during this time of the year, when temperatures are lowest, people are often forced to spend more after getting caught by surprise when water pipes freeze and ultimately burst.

Chris Maughan, a plumbing sales specialist at Lowe’s, said some of the preventative measures, like a $4-$5 outdoor water spigot cover or affordably priced heat wire wrap for pipes under a house, could save homeowners several hundred dollars. He said a lot of plumbers will charge a set rate for coming out and checking on issues before starting their often-$30 hourly rate.

“Preventative measures are a lot cheaper than paying a plumber to come out,” Maughan said.

Leaving a hose on the spigot through the coldest months can cause the spigot to freeze, even if it is frost-free. So it’s best to remove the length of hose until the temperature goes up again.

He said in the case of a burst pipe, the best way to go about repairing the pipe is to put in a coupling over a new section of pipe made from Pex, a very flexible material that will allow an expanding pipe to grow to three times its size without cracking. Since products like these have only come about in recent years. Many houses have been constructed with pipes of other, less-flexible materials, like galvanized steel.

Greg White, store manager at Home Depot, had a similar situation as his competitor did. The drop in temperatures had people coming through Home Depot’s doors to get faucet covers and heat wraps for pipes.

“The colder it gets, the more people that come in for those things,” White said.

He said Home Depot sells lots of Pex, too, and it’s affordable for those thinking about construction on new houses. Another similar issue, he said, is people forgetting to let all of the water out of their landscaping lines, which could cause them to crack as well.

White said that mobile homes, because they sit above the ground with an often-exposed underside, especially have trouble with freezing pipes. One way to combat this, he said, is to employ the drip technique — just letting a touch of water move through the lines so they don’t freeze.

The Johnson City Water and Sewer Services Department sent out a news release to help protect against freezing water pipes. Here are some of the tips they offered:

Dodge the draft: Keeping doors, windows, crawl spaces and vents secured, as well as sealing foundational cracks, will help fight the freeze.

Insulate: Insulating, especially in unheated portions of the residence, such as the exterior walls, cabinets, crawl spaces or anywhere with stagnant, non-circulated air, should be given attention. Make sure insulation isn’t damp or wet, because wet insulation could cause a freeze-up.

Give the meter attention: Take extra caution to make sure the meter box is shut securely. Any missing or broken meter covers should be reported to Johnson City’s Water and Sewer Services Department at 461-1645.

Leaving? Drain pipes: If leaving your house for any extended amount of time, it’s important to turn the water off at the cutoff and drain the lines.

Let the water run: A temperature in the low teens should be the indicator that it’s time to let a very fine stream of water continuously work through the lines from at least one tap.

Open cabinet doors: If your sink is on an outside wall, open up cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes.

Thaw with caution: It’s recommended that you never use an open flame to thaw pipe. Hot air from a hair dryer, heat tape or light bulb is the safe alternative.

Know where your shut-off valve is: Don’t wait until an emergency to locate the shut-off valve. Find it and familiarize yourself with its location and you’ll minimize any damage before a plumber comes.

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