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Polar Air Has Pipes Bursting At The Seams

By Dan Kelly, Reading Eagle, Pa.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 23--Polar air blowing through Berks County and pushing wind-chill temperatures into negative digits is putting homeowners at risk for broken pipes.

"The wind is what causes pipes to freeze," said Steve Essig, president of Essig Plumbing and Heating in Reading. "Wind cuts in under every crevice and crawl space. That's why it's important not only to insulate, but to get warm temperatures and hot air into those areas."

With Berks County in the midst of the second deep freeze this month, Essig said his company is getting calls for preventive measures like installing insulation and heat tape on exposed water pipes.

Homeowners can help their cause by opening cabinet doors under sinks to let warm air in, especially if their plumbing runs along exterior walls. If you can't get heat on the pipes, let water drip, because moving water won't freeze.

Just a little bit of care can help prevent a disaster such as a pipe bursting while you're away, soaking floors, carpets, cabinets and wallboard.

The average repair cost resulting from a burst pipe is about $5,000, according to Dave Phillips, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.

Phillips said State Farm received 2,700 claims from homeowners on the East Coast from Maine to Florida after the most recent hard freeze.

In severe cases, damage could climb as high as $50,000, said Michele McEntee, general manager of SERVPRO, a fire and water damage restoration firm.

In one case, she said, a pipe burst on the loading dock of a local furniture store and sprayed water into the company's storage and display areas.

"We had another case where an 85-year-old woman who couldn't remember the last time she was in her basement went down to find it completely flooded," McEntee said. "It took out her whole basement."

That's why it's so important to prevent frozen pipes before they happen, Essig said.

"The first sign of a frozen pipe is when the water stops running," he said. "If that happens, you should do your best to locate the frozen area and get heat on the pipe before it does break."

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It also helps to run water from other faucets in the house. The moving water can dislodge ice in the pipe.

"People should also know where the main water shut-off valve is to their house," Essig advised.

Essig said most frozen-pipe calls occur in mobile homes or trailers, because their water lines are more likely to be exposed to the elements. Other problem areas are water lines in garages and outbuildings and in older homes that have a bathroom on a poorly insulated back porch.

Brad Kendall, a plumber with of Lincoln Plumbing and Heating on Morgantown Road in Millmont, also sees the results of frozen pipes firsthand.

"We're getting tons of calls," he said, noting that most calls involve exterior faucets that were never drained down before winter. Exterior pipes typically won't begin to leak until they thaw out.

"Sometimes people don't realize the pipes have frozen and cracked until it warms up," he said.

Most newer homes have what is called an anti-freeze outdoor faucet.

"If the pipe goes into the wall it's probably an anti-freeze faucet, meaning you turn it off outside but the shut off washer is actually a foot or more inside the wall where there usually is some heat," he said.

If your exterior faucets have pipes that run up along the wall, then you might have a problem, he said.

Both Kendall and Essig said they treat burst pipes as emergencies and will respond to them before routine service and other calls.

Contact Dan Kelly: 610-371-5040 or dkelly@readingeagle.com.

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(c)2014 the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.)

Visit the Reading Eagle (Reading, Pa.) at readingeagle.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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