Sunday, January 21, 2018 Elyria 42°
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Tips to protect pipes during subzero temps

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    Lower temperatures have caused the shoreline of Lake Erie to freeze at Spitzer Marina in Lorain.

    KRISTIN BAUER / CHRONICLE

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With temperatures dropping down to the single digits, it’s safe to say not many are going outside unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately for plumbers, going out is necessary, because this is one of the busiest times of the year for the profession as they tackle pipes freezing and bursting in people’s homes.

Art Popa, a plumber with Geisel Heating Air Conditioning and Plumbing in Elyria, said the calls are endless this time of year.

“It all depends, but especially when we get cold-weather snaps like this, you can definitely be out at 2 or 3 in the morning,” Popa said. “It can happen anytime of the day. It would be nice if there was a set time that this stuff would happen, but it always seems to happen at the worst and most inconvenient time possible.”

A frozen pipe might seem like an inconvenience that would remedy itself once things warm up and the pipe thaws, but that’s not usually the case. Instead, they often burst, which then causes a whole slew of other problems.

“A pipe doesn’t generally burst right when it freezes,” Popa said. “What happens is it freezes and then it expands. A pipe could actually be frozen in a cold crawl space for a day and you don’t know it’s frozen and split until it starts to thaw out. Once it starts to thaw out, that’s when you realize you have a problem.”

By that time it’s too late.

Popa said he’s had to go into homes that have had a pipe freeze and burst on an exterior wall or in a space between two stories where a cold draft was coming through. The only way to fix those problems is to cut open the walls or ceilings.

Also having a pipe burst usually means not having water throughout the rest of the home, especially in older homes.

“Once a pipe freezes and busts, you have to shut the water off to the whole house, so you’re immediately going to be without water if you don’t have an isolation valve for that area,” Popa said. “Usually with older homes, there’s not an ample amount of ball valves into the system, so you would have to shut down the entire house of water.”

Forecasts are calling for temperatures to continue dropping for most of the week, which could mean more and more pipes freezing across the area. Popa said there are things homeowners can do.

One good measure is to check and see if the sill plates on the home are insulated, and if not insulate the base to the outside of the house by installing batts of insulation up against the exterior of the house, where “the wood meets the block.”

Also, for any cold areas in a house, such as the basement or crawl space that has pipes, Popa recommends purchasing heat trace from a hardware store.

“Put the heat trace on the pipes, following the instructions,” he said. “The one thing that everybody doesn’t understand with this is you want to insulate the pipe after you put the heat tape on. Just putting the heat trace on isn’t necessarily going to keep the pipe from freezing. It’ll keep the pipe warm, but it may not prevent the top of the pipe from freezing.”

Another place pipes often freeze is outdoor faucets where garden hoses are connected. Popa recommends checking to make sure hoses aren’t connected to the faucets.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.



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