Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Frozen Water Lines - Educate the Public

As a Public Works employee you know the value of preplanning for any job you do in the city.  One of the most important things you can do is educate your city residents before the cold weather hits.  Get something posted on your web site and/or printed for your utility bills to help people prepare.

In the midst of the 2014 cold wave I woke up to a frozen water pipe in my own downstairs bathroom.  For weeks I’d been blogging about, and keeping my eyes open, for news about frozen water lines.  On the day of our freeze up I just happened across a list of some very good tips. 

Of course the below grade bathroom had a vanity but if you recall the frost was 7-8 feet down in some parts of the state.  And the closed doors of the vanity, along with the contents of the vanity, kept the water pipe insulated from the warm air in the lower level.  Taking the contents out of the vanity, leaving the vanity doors open, using a space heater and applying heat tape slowly thawed the line. 

I've listed some tips that you may want to post on your city website.  If you include the space heater or heat tape options in your list of things residents can do to thaw their lines, I recommend running a link to precautions from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratory – see below.  If the city suggests residents run a pencil-thin trickle of water make sure your city has discussed and determined what, if anything, will be done to adjust water bills or sanitary sewer flow – see previous blogs. 

By Cheryl Brennan

Your water lines may be at risk of freezing during prolonged periods of bitter cold if you had issues with frozen water lines last winter.  Here’s what you can do to prepare:
  • Monitor the weather reports for extended periods of severe cold; then take action.
  • Allow warm air to circulate in the area where the water comes in to the house.
  • Leave utility room doors open and clear space around the waterline.
  • Remove contents of vanity cupboards and leave the doors open.
  • If possible/practical leave snow cover over the area where your lateral water line runs from the curb stop to the house.
  • Put a fresh battery in the thermostat if the thermostat is not hard wired in to the home.
  • Run your cold water closest to the water line entry point for a couple minutes and then take the temperature of the water. 
    • If it is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit it is recommended that you let your cold water run from this faucet at a pencil thickness. 
    • You should run it non-stop when there is no one home, overnight when temperatures typically dip lower, or no water is being used for a period of time.
    • Notify the city/utility if this method is chosen.

If your water line freezes:
  • Use heat tape, a space heater (don’t leave it unattended) or a warm hair dryer on the pipe.  Follow all safety precautions recommended by Consumer Product Safety Commission   and  Underwriters Laboratory .
  • Watch for unintended consequences of sewer or septic backups if running water continuously.
  • If a contractor is needed to thaw the line be aware of unintended consequences of contractors thawing water lines, particularly if using an electrical welder. 
    • Namely fire, explosion, damage to appliances and electronics, and the possibility of damage to other property owners in the case of stray electrical current. 
    • Determine if the contractor is using a commercial device manufactured specifically to thaw frozen water lines.  
    • Determine if the contractor is insured. 

Sanitary sewer freeze up considerations:

Make sure the roof vent is not covered with snow or is otherwise blocked.  Snow build up over the vent will cause the sewer drain to slow down.  This prevents the warmer air in the sewer system from venting up the house line and keeping the line above freezing.

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