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Winter's arrival brings frozen pipe danger
frozen pipe drip
A slow, steady drip from a faucet along an exterior wall may help avert a frozen-pipe emergency later on.

It might be a trivial thing, but a dripping faucet may save an emergency plumbing call during this weekend’s sub-zero cold snap.

Preparing for the winter cold is obviously better done beforehand, but evidence of the dangers brought by winter’s arrival have already occurred since Wednesday’s cold weather arrival is already appearing in the Great Bend community.

Jesse Trevino, a plumbing and HVAC technician with Stueder Contractors Inc. in Great Bend, has already been called out on a number of frozen pipe emergencies early on in the cold winter weather.

“Things didn’t happen right away, because it takes time for the water to freeze, but it has happened in the last couple days,” Trevino said. “Luckily, in the calls that I have had so far, the pipes hadn’t burst. When a pipe splits, the water around it freezes and you won’t know that it has burst until you defrost it.”

Trevino emphasized that the best route is prevention, but in the busy time before Christmas, plumbing isn’t the first thing on people’s minds. “By the time people call us, it’s already happened and there is trouble,” he said.

That being said, “there are things that people can do themselves even when it’s already cold.”

The standard prevention of a dripping faucet for pipes along an exterior house wall can make a big difference. “The drip keeps the water moving and relieves some of the pressure on the pipe. When the water freezes, it’s when it’s sitting still,” Trevino noted. Problem areas include inadequate skirting for trailer houses, or improperly insulated basement accesses and crawl spaces in houses, he said. 

Galvanized pipes are especially susceptible to the cold, he said. “And copper lines. Copper lines are the worst,” he said.

After a frozen pipe is discovered, a call to the office will result in the dispatch of technicians armed with turbo-heaters that can be utilized to apply direct heat to cold spaces. “I just returned from a call like that this (Friday) morning,” he said. “When it does thaw out, we can check the pipe for leaks.”

Often, travelers returning from an out-of-town Christmas trip are unpleasantly surprised. “I’ve always told people that if you know that you are going to be gone, to turn the water off to the house,” he said. “With it being this cold, it might not be the perfect answer, but it’s better to shut the water off so that you don’t come back to a flood.”

Trevino advised that in times of non-emergency, it’s best to have easy access to valves where water can be shut off to different parts of the house. As a last resort, it can be shut off at the water meter. A meter shut-off is accomplished by contacting the city office. As the water is shut off, keep the faucets on to drain lines.

Other preventative measures include:

• Insulating exposed pipes in crawl spaces and the attic. The thicker the insulation, the better the protection.

• Using heat tapes or heat tables. Wrap pipes with products approved by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. and following all manufacturer’s instructions for installation and operation.

• Adjust the thermostat and keeping temperatures the same both day and night reduces risk of frozen pipes. This also helps reduce strain on the furnace in extreme cold.

• Opening cabinet doors to vanities and other plumbing spaces allows warm air from the room to circulate, especially under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.