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Prevent frozen pipes by insulating

By Ryan Cornell

While many people bundle up for the coldest weather in 20 years, it's important to remember to do the same for the pipes in your home.

Pipes exposed to low temperatures and chafing winds can easily freeze, and the expanding ice can cause enough pressure to force pipes to burst. The result could be a time-consuming and expensive mess.

Gene Wagner, owner of Gene's Plumbing Services Inc. in Woodstock, recommends homeowners remove hoses from outdoor hose bibs and insulate their exposed water lines with heat lamps or heat tape. He said people who live in trailers can cover the gaps and holes in skirting with straw bales.

"The main thing is to find your draft spaces and find your light," he said. "Where light can come in, the air can come in. So take care of those draft spaces and close vents in crawl spaces."

He also suggested that people keep their kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open to let heat circulate around the plumbing.

"A lot of people like to keep their faucet dripping," he said. "The problem with that is if the sewer line is exposed, it'll freeze."

When the big chill does freeze a pipe, he said people can use an electrical hairdryer to thaw it.

"But you don't want to use a flame," he said. "Some [pipes] are flammable and some melt and the insulation and cobwebs around it are all flammable."

Sometimes though, the pipes freeze in a place that's nearly impossible to reach.

Uwe Weindel, engineer-director of the Frederick County Sanitation Authority, said many pipes leading from a public water supply are located below the frost line about 2 feet underground.

He said people with a private well should call a professional plumber while those with a public water supply should call their utility company. He added that homeowners could end up paying hundreds of dollars for damage caused by burst pipes.

"It's all weather related," he said. "It's a concern and whenever we have the zero-degree temperatures, that concern increases."

Wagner said the worst-case scenario occurs when temperatures dip well below freezing and winds pick up, both of which are in the forecast this week.

"I've had six to eight feet of water in cellars or basements, and water heaters floating around," he said. "It can get bad."

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com

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