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Cold weather could bring plumbing problems

Thursday, January 20, 2011 | 6:17 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Upcoming sub-zero temperatures could put a kink in your home or apartment’s plumbing.

Roto-Rooter General Manager Robert Lucke said freezing pipes are a common winter occurrence, especially in homes with poor insulation. He said pipes can freeze at any temperature below freezing, but real caution should be taken when extreme cold comes through.

Thursday night and Friday morning may test some pipes around town, as the forecast calls for temperatures just above zero and wind chills that are considerably colder. Homeowners should be aware of conditions that could cause pipes to freeze and know how to handle plumbing problems that may arise.

“Typically we don’t see (frozen pipes) until it gets down in the 20s,” Lucke said. “When it gets down in the zeros, it is pretty easy for the pipe to freeze if it’s on an outside wall or air can get to it.”

Lucke explained that sometimes pipes freeze solid, causing ruptures that become apparent when pipes thaw. Other times, pipes burst because of the pressure created when only some of the water inside freezes and compresses the rest as it moves through the pipe.

Pipe placement is a big factor in how fast or severely a pipe freezes. Lucke said any pipe outside a house is vulnerable and most pipes can be fixed quickly.

Repairing a frozen pipe depends on where the burst is Lucke said. “Easy access is around $100. In some places they have to cut walls to get to it, and it could be really expensive.”

To prevent a pipe from freezing and bursting, Lucke recommends opening cabinet doors to expose pipes to warm air. He also said keeping a small trickle of water running out of the faucet can help keep the water moving and prevent freezing.

Typically, homeowners will need to call a plumber if something goes wrong. Those who live in apartments or other rental properties usually can depend on landlords or managers to do that.

For students living in University Place Apartments, manager Doug Miller assures that in the winter, “if it’s broke, we fix it; pretty much anything.” So far this winter, Miller said frozen pipes have not been much of an issue.

Miller said University Place, which was built in 1966, has a population that is around 90 percent to 95 percent students, and maintenance is done in-house. Property Manager Teresia Harding of Jenne Hill Townhomes, which serves primarily single families and non-students, employs its own maintenance man, too.

"We’ve only had a couple of instances that (pipes freezing has) happened, and in one case a pipe had frozen up over the water heater," Harding said. "We put a space heater beside it and thawed it out."

Both Harding and Miller said that if issues do arise, residents can put in a work order with the manager.

“We usually have work orders cleared within hours,” Miller said. “If you tell us in the morning, in general, we have all our maintenance work orders done that same day.”


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