While most Utahns had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads on Christmas morning, a relaxing holiday was just a pipe dream for the plumber.

Bitterly cold temperatures kept plumbing companies scrambling repairing broken pipes, frozen lines and sewers."We've been working 24 hours a day for four days. Our servicemen and dispatchers and managers are hammered," said Tonja Hansen, a dispatcher for Rescue Rooter. "If we can't get to the pipes soon enough, they end up breaking. Then people really have a mess. They call me up crying and screaming." The calls have come in from Ogden to Provo.

"It's cold everywhere," Hansen said. And more consistently cold than last year.

While Richfield recorded 12 degrees below zero and Cedar City minus 10 early Tuesday, most other areas of Utah reported temperatures several degrees higher than the numerous sub-zero readings early Monday.

Salt Lake City's temperature, which dropped to a low of minus 7 Monday, rose 13 degrees - to 6 above zero - Tuesday. It was 1 degree below zero in Price; minus 8 at Wendover and Kanab; and 3 degrees at Alta.

The slightly moderating temperatures Christmas Eve and morning eased the problem of frozen water lines somewhat, according to Salt Lake Valley emergency agencies. "We've had only a couple of calls," a Salt Lake fire dispatcher said Tuesday. However, with frigid weather ensconced in the forecast, no one is predicting an end to plugged and burst pipes just yet.

"It's an unusual year," said plumbing contractor Forrest Craig. "The problem is that it doesn't warm up in the daytime. We have had cold temperatures at night before, but in other years, they've warmed up in the day. They haven't done that this year."

Like Craig, independent plumber Vernon Poynor says his phone has been ringing off the hook since record-setting low temperatures have inconvenienced homeowners left without running water during the holidays.

Others, including employees of some local business, have been mopping up water from burst lines.

"Anyone who does repair work has been swamped under," Poynor said. "Every year we get a cold snap and people aren't prepared for it. They let things go right to the end. They seem to forget that if you have a little breeze blowing in on your pipe, it's going to freeze it."

According to Craig, many frozen pipes have been seen in split-level homes where the plumbing is exposed in the overhang. Also where the pipes are in attic spaces and not insulated.

"Once they are frozen, the only thing you really can is call a professional to thaw the pipes with a thawing machine," Craig said.

The problem is that some professional plumbers are having difficulty finding thawing machines. There's been a rush on the machines this holiday season.


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Fighting the freeze

The "pros" offer the following suggestions to help cope with frozen pipes this winter season:

- Let a little water run in home taps both to prevent the pipes from freezing and to keep frozen pipes from bursting.

- Wrap pipes in pipe insulation.

- In homes and trailers, fill any openings to stop the cold breeze from hitting inside pipes.

- On mobile homes, put electrical wrap on pipes.

- If pipes are on an outside wall, open cupboard doors.

- Keep all outside doors, especially the garage door, closed to keep drafts out of the house.

- Use hairdryers, blowing up and down, to unfreeze the pipes.

- Do not use blow torches. Flames can ignite house insulation.

- Don't turn thermostat down at night.

- If all else fails, call a pro.