Low temperatures result in frozen pipes, flood damage, overworked plumbing businesses
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — While Frances Kelsey was out enjoying dinner Monday with relatives in Ogden, a pipe outside her West Valley City condo was slowly breaking apart.
By 8 p.m., Kelsey received a call from the fire department, which had responded to a call from her neighbors saying there had been flooding.
Half an hour later, she and her fiance arrived home to find their kitchen, living room and dining room drenched.
"Every time we stepped on the carpet, a good inch or two of water splashed up around our feet," Kelsey said. "The damage was a lot more than we originally imagined it would be. It's basically going to require not just new carpet, but flooring, baseboards, new pipes and a section of the wall that was cut out."
Such experiences recently have been all too familiar for families throughout Utah, as the latest wave of severe winter weather has caused water pipes to freeze and then burst. The resulting water damage often requires tens of thousands of dollars and two to three weeks to repair.
Plumbing and flood-control businesses report they are busier than they've ever been as they drive from one urgent service call to the next to diagnose the problem and clean up the damage.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Chad Westover, a spokesman for Valley Plumbing in Salt Lake City. "We have guys working 14-hour days, staying five hours longer than they typically do."
Jeff Park, who owns Pond's Plumbing in North Salt Lake, also reported a significant increase in service calls, saying the company is receiving at least 20 percent more than they would during typical winter weather.
"This typically happens to pipes that have a lack of protection," Park said. "It often freezes if you have a pipe that's on the outside of the residence or too close to an outside wall. But you can have insulation surrounding a pipe and it might still freeze in this weather."
Park and Westover both offered tips for decreasing the likelihood of waking up to no running water or a flooded basement.
• "Don't skimp on the heat," Park said. "Sometimes people will notice that their furnace is working extra hard, and they'll say, 'I'll just turn it off overnight and throw on an extra blanket.' But when it's idle for that long in this type of cold, it can create problems."
• "When you run water, leave it on for more than just a few seconds," Westover said. "Otherwise, the water you're using may stick in the pipe. If you run your kitchen sink for just a second, for example, it may not empty the pipe."
• Check all pipes that may be subject to cold temperatures, such as those along an outside wall or in a basement room, and make sure they are shielded with an insulation sleeve or other protective material.
• Don't allow pipes to sit idle for several hours at a time. Leave your taps and showerheads dripping when you go to bed or leave for the day.
• If you are going out of town and want to save heating costs, be sure to locate and shut off your residence's primary water valve, then run each faucet in the house until the water runs out. Devoid of moisture, your pipes will be much safer while you're out.
• Open the cabinet doors beneath your kitchen and/or bathroom sinks, especially if they are along an outside wall. The warmer air from the kitchen, bathroom or surrounding area will help to neutralize any cooling taking place in the pipes below.
• Run each faucet and check to see whether the water pressure looks normal. Decreased pressure may mean pipes are beginning to freeze.