Frigid temperatures taking toll on water pipes

February 10, 2014
Plumber Nate Petersen prepares a pump to shoot water into the incoming city water line, left pipe, that was frozen recently at a south Minneapolis home. - Associated Press

Old Man Winter is putting a historic chill on water mains and residential water pipes in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania American Water Co. officials said this winter’s unrelenting frigid temperatures are prompting an uptick in the reports of frozen water pipes in homes and even freezing main lines to levels they haven’t seen since the mid-1990s.

PAWC spokeswoman Josephine Posti said they’ve already experienced a 250 percent increase in frozen pipe calls from customers around the state compared to this time last year.

“This is unlike any winter that most of us have seen,” Posti said.

Frozen pipes inside a residence and even the line between the “curb box” and water meter are the responsibility of the homeowner. But Posti said the water company still must investigate to see if the problem lies inside the home or in the exterior pipelines.

“The interior plumbing is really the bigger issue,” Posti said. “Those are the vast majority of the frozen pipes we’re seeing.”

However, the problem is not just concentrated on residential pipes. The last time Pennsylvania American Water has responded to this many frozen main lines that it operates was in 1994, Posti said.

And there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight for the immediate future. Meteorologist Tom Green of the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said they’re forecasting freezing temperatures to remain in Western Pennsylvania for the next seven days. He was predicting lows to hover around zero early today and Wednesday morning, and expected high temperatures to “barely scrape” the freezing mark later in the week.

In response to another frigid forecast, Posti said the water company has a list of suggestions for homeowners to follow in order to prevent frozen water lines or the costly repairs associated with burst pipes.

Easy tips include opening the cupboard doors below sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, especially if the water line is nestled against an exterior wall. Posti also suggested insulating pipes with foam padding that is readily available at local hardware stories. She said it also is wise to run a slight trickle of water – about the diameter of a lead pencil – at a faucet in the home that is farthest away from the water meter.

“The saying we have in the office is, ‘Running water isn’t frozen water.’ If it’s running, it can’t freeze,” Posti said, adding that the additional water cost is minimal compared to pipe repairs.

Customers also can run a space heater in cold areas or use a hair dryer to thaw frozen pipes.

People who are planning to escape this colder weather for warmer climates are urged to shut off their main water valves if they expect to be away for lengthy period.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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