Frozen pipes can drain your wallet

December 14, 1997

Frozen pipes can drain your wallet


Staff Writer

It was third in a series of cold and windy days, with single-digit lows and highs never reaching above freezing - ripe conditions for freezing pipes that aren't properly protected, experts say.

The highest it got that weekend was 25 degrees on the afternoon of Jan. 19, 1997, after two days of 15-degree highs and a morning low of 2 degrees, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's records.

Area fire departments were busy that Sunday with calls related to frozen pipes, including water line breaks that flooded a commercial building in downtown Hagerstown and a group home in Clear Spring.


Though people seemed to be more prepared than the previous winter, Hagerstown plumber Bob Jones remembers getting between 20 and 30 service calls from people whose pipes froze during that weekend cold spell.

Some of those calls came from people who had problems the previous winter, when there were more extremely cold days, prompting more than 100 calls related to frozen pipes, Jones said.

Many of those repeats could have been avoided if people had learned from their mistakes and taken the proper precautions against frozen pipes, he said.

Frozen pipes were at the root of about $28 million in structure and contents damage claims to State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. in Maryland last year, said company spokeswoman Colleen Bergin.

You can protect yourself from frozen pipes - and the damage they can cause - by making sure you pipes are properly insulated, keeping inside temperatures at least 55 degrees and running warm water when outside temperatures dip to 20 degrees or lower, experts say.

Nine teen-aged boys living at Oak Hill House, a group home in Clear Spring, were displaced last January when a water main serving the building's second-floor sprinkler system froze and burst, causing about two inches of water to drip down from the second floor into part of the first floor.

It turned out that the pipes weren't properly insulated and it wasn't warm enough in that part of the house to prevent them from freezing, said Deputy Chief Robert Myerly of Washington County Civil Defense Field Operations, which helped the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Department on the call.

A lack of heat in the building led to that day's other major flooding situation, caused by a ruptured water line in the wall between the second and third floors in the old Hamilton Hotel building on West Washington Street in Hagerstown, Myerly said.

He said insufficient heating often turns out to be the cause when he goes out on burst pipes calls, especially in businesses.

It's important that you keep your home or business heated to at least 55 degrees, even in rooms you don't use and when you're not there, Myerly said.

You should know where all you copper lines are and make sure they're properly insulated, said Jones, owner of Bob Jones Plumbing and Heating.

In his experience, he said, pipes that freeze are often in crawl spaces and either weren't insulated to begin with or have lost their insulation.

Jones said he recommends using both heat tape and insulation to doubly protect any exposed pipes.

When outside temperatures dip to 20 degrees or lower, he said, you should let your faucets trickle at about a drip every five seconds to keep water flowing through the pipes so they don't freeze.

"It's cheaper than having a plumber go out," Jones said.

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