STAFF WRITER Erin McCullough
With temperatures dipping into the single digits over the weekend, Coffee County residents should take proper care of their water pipes and plan ahead in case of any cold-weather emergencies. As the weather cools and winter hits its stride, freezing and bursting pipes increasingly become a concern for homes and apartments. Pipes in the home are not the only ones at risk of cracking and bursting. As temperatures drop, water mains in major cities also risk being disrupted by the weather. According to the Red Cross, frozen pipes and the problems therein occur because water expands as it freezes. “This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it (the water), including metal or plastic pipes,” the site reads. A leak will probably be detected as temperatures begin to warm and the water in the pipes melts. Some pipes that are particularly at risk of freezing are pipes that are exposed to severe cold, such as outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool, supply lines and water sprinkler lines; water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages and kitchen cabinets; and pipes that run against exterior walls and have little to no insulation. Once the cold arrives, there are some steps residents can take a few steps to keep pipes warm and insulated. Firstly, open any kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors in order to allow for the circulation of warmer air around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of reach of children, as well. Once the temperature drops, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by the exposed pipes. Running water through the pipes, even at a slow trickle, helps to prevent the pipes from freezing over. Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the night and day. This may result in a higher heating bill, but it can also prevent a much more expensive repair job if the pipes freeze and burst. Those who are away from home for an extended period of time during cold weather should leave the heat on in and set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees. Prevent frozen pipes According to the Red Cross, the best time to prepare for cold weather is before it happens; however, sudden cold snaps can surprise homeowners and renters alike. In order to protect pipes from freezing, the Red Cross recommends draining water from all swimming pools and water sprinkler supply lines, following the manufacturer’s or installer’s instructions. Do not put antifreeze in those lines unless directed to do so, as antifreeze is environmentally harmful and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife and landscaping. Any outdoor-use hoses should be drained and stored indoors. Inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs should be closed. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain out. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break. Adding insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces will maintain higher temperatures when necessary. Additionally, homeowners may consider installing specific products made for insulating water pipes, like as pipe sleeves or UL-listed “heat tape” or “heat cable.” Newspaper can also provide a marginal degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes. Even as little as a fourth of a newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually have no frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing. How to thaw frozen pipes If pipes should freeze, there are ways to slowly and safely thaw them. The Red Cross offers these tips on thawing frozen pipes: Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe. Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Apply the heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber. Power outages Another concern of the winter weather is power failures due to ice or snow storms. According to Travelers Insurance, winter weather increases the probability of power failures due to the increase in winter storms. Power failures can be short and last a few minutes, which pose a limited risk to homes in the area, but they can last for hours and days, if the weather is severe enough. Should a power failure last four or five hours, a home may not be heated above freezing, depending on the level of insulation and the outside temperatures. The National Weather Service (NWS) has several tips on how to survive winter storms and winter power failures. Before a storm hits The best time to prepare for a winter storm is before it hits, according to NWS. “Before the storm strikes, make sure your home, office and vehicles are stocked with the supplies you might need” in case of an emergency, the NWS website states. In the home, the primary concerns are going to be the loss of heat, power and telephone service. Supply shortage is also a concern should a storm continue for several days. Some items to have available in the event of a winter storm include flashlights with replacement batteries; a battery-powered weather radio and/or portable radio that can receive emergency information; extra food such as dried fruits, nuts and granola bars, and water; extra prescription medicine; baby items such as diapers and formula; first-aid supplies; heating fuel for any portable/emergency heat sources; and pet food and supplies if there are pets in the home. When the heat goes out Should the heat and power go out in the home, the first thing residents should do is close off unneeded rooms in order to avoid wasting residual heat in the home, according to the NWS. Stuff towels or rags in the cracks underneath doors in order to keep heat from escaping. Close blinds or curtains to keep in some heat. Make sure to eat and drink, says NWS. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Drink lots of water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks to prevent dehydration. Make sure to wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight and warm clothing to keep hypothermia at bay. Remove layers to avoid overheating when necessary, as overheating can lead to perspiration and chill later. After the storm Once a winter storm has passed and the ice and snow have melted, the dangers and risks have not all cleared away immediately. According to the NWS, melting ice and snow can cause minor flooding in roadways and ditches, and roads may still be icy or blocked. In the home, carbon monoxide poisoning is the most prevalent danger, so make sure your home is equipped with a carbon monoxide monitor that can detect when levels of carbon monoxide are reaching dangerous levels. Once the immediate danger has passed, be sure to get into contact with family and friends to let them know your status. If you still need help, they can let first responders know to keep attempting to get to you for assistance. If you need no extra help, first responders can save time and resources needed for others who are at risk following a storm. A good tool to use is the Red Cross’s Safe and Well listings page. This resource can be used to search for missing friends and relatives as well. The Red Cross Safe and Well listings page can be found online at safeandwell.communityos.org. Erin McCullough may be reached by email at email@example.com.