Keep an eye on those pipes, furnaces

By Per Peterson

The sub-zero temperatures that arrived under the Christmas tree and have kept on giving ever since are starting to cause headaches for homeowners.

Area plumber Scott Schwartz said he’s received numerous calls over the last week from people who have never had problems with water lines freezing.

“(Sunday) I was at a guy’s house and he had problems with his laundry drain — it froze up,” he said. “He had water all over his house. They’ve had that room for many years and have never had trouble, but the drain on an outside wall froze up.”

Although it hasn’t seemed very windy at all, when the temperature doesn’t even get above zero degrees for this long of a period, a little bit of wind can go a long way in causing a lot of problems. That’s why Schwartz said it’s imperative homeowners inspect their foundation.

“Any place where the wind can get it alongside of the house — cracks in the foundation, the rim joist that sits on the

foundation — any place that cold wind is allowed to sift in and get at exposed pipes can lead to problems,” he said. “It’s not a bad idea to let a little water trickle through some of the pipes. Some people let it run into bucket, then dump the bucket back into the toilet tank.”

Temperatures are expected to stay below normal for the rest of the week before climbing into double digits by Saturday and into the mid-20s by Sunday. Still, Schwartz said, “it’s going to have to get pretty warm to break up a frozen pipe, because it’s been so cold for so long. If we can get to this weekend, I think people will be feeling a little better. It’s been cold before, but I guess it’s never been this cold for this long of a period of time.”

Schwartz said anyone planning on being away from their home for any period of time would be wise to shut their water off altogether. If the water freezes, then the weather warms up while the homeowner is away, a pipe could split and “we’ve all seen the horror pictures when people come home and there’s water all over,” Schwartz said.

Sam Sahlstrom said people not only have to pay attention to their pipes, but their furnaces as well.

“You get this type of weather and you have furnaces that are older, you find problems you didn’t know you had,” he said. “Sometimes a furnace can operate part-time and the motor can get hot because it can rest —  with this kind of weather, they don’t get that rest.”

Sahlstrom said furnace owners need to make sure the exhaust intakes on their machines are always clear; if they’re not, the exhaust can crystallize, get back into the intake and block its flow. He also advised people to have a few back-up heaters on hand in case their furnace goes out since help might not exactly be on the way immediately.

“It’s pretty busy, so people should have something on hand that will get them by for a little while until someone can get out there,” he said. “This weather creates a lot of problems.”

There are a number of local plumbers available if needed. Besides Schwartz at Water’s Edge and Sahlstrom at Sahlstrom Plumbing & Heating, Tracy area residents can call on G H Plumbing and Heating or Wilk’s Plumbing and Heating.