Valley pipes freeze in below-zero weather

After minus 18 degree temperatures Tuesday night, it's no surprise Valley plumbers woke up Wednesday morning to phone calls about frozen and broken water pipes.

"It's the worst I've seen in about 20 years," Scott Overli, a plumber with Jackrabbit Plumbing in Gardnerville, said Wednesday. "In the morning, we had about 35 calls for frozen pipes. I'm working on about eight today myself."

Overli said the majority of calls involved pipes in garages where water heaters and water softeners were exposed to the cold air.

"There were not a lot of them frozen under the house, like in Tahoe," he said.

He said of the houses he worked on, only one had a pipe that actually broke.

"The rest were OK," he said. "For metal pipes, we use a pipe thawer that gives an electric charge. For plastic pipes, we use a heat gun or space heater."

One thing people can do to prevent freezing, Overli said, is to keep a trickle of water going through the night.

"As long as it's moving, it shouldn't freeze," Overli said. "It's best to have a little hot water running, so the whole system circulates, the main line and the water heater. I suggest both hot and cold water running from different faucets."

Plumbers weren't the only ones facing frozen lines Wednesday morning. East Fork Fire & Paramedic Districts Capt. Terry Taylor responded to two separate incidents involving county and town water lines.

The first occurred at an airport hangar belonging to Minden Air Services, where a "dry" fire suppressing system somehow "froze solid."

"It has air in the pipes," Taylor explained, "but somehow it tripped and filled with water. The water line leading to it is owned by Douglas County, and that broke."

Taylor said the hangar and a neighboring business won't have operational fire sprinklers until the interior pipes thaw.

"You now have 20 spaces in that hanger with airplanes and with frozen water overhead, and you have to wait until the temperature gets above 40 degrees," Taylor said.

The second incident Wednesday morning occurred at Lira's Supermarket in Minden.

"The manager got there and found at least an inch of water throughout the store," Taylor said.

He said the backflow preventer valve for the fire sprinkler system, which is housed in an outer room with no heat, froze and cracked inside, tripping the release valve and blasting water through the drywall and into the store.

Lira's manager Kevin Mary reported Wednesday that the flooding caused minimal damage and was cleaned up quickly.

"We've been open since 11 a.m.," he said. "Fortunately, a lot of the water went out the back door into the gutter."

Mary expected the sprinkler system to be repaired and operational by Thursday.

"A lot of fire sprinkler companies are having difficulties meeting commitments because of frozen pipe problems all over the region." Taylor said. "Basically there isn't a lot you can do. You can wrap electric tape around pipes, but make sure it's time-locked and that you don't leave it going." Taylor said no one should ever try to thaw their pipes with a torch or other open-flame device.

"I had a fatal a number of years ago in Vallejo where they'd tried to thaw the pipes with a torch," Taylor said. "In most cases, if people are concerned, they can buy water and fill their toilet tanks by hand and have water to drink and cook with. In a few days, temperatures will come back to normal."

When warmer temperatures do return, Taylor said, people should be prepared for more leaks and ruptured pipes.

"Once water starts moving again, just make sure it's nowhere near the electrical system," he said.

Taylor also said residents should disconnect all hoses from their houses to ensure outside bibs don't freeze.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment