January 27, 2013

Cold weather brings pipe problems

By Chris Fasolino

---- — PLATTSBURGH — With the bitterly cold weather, it’s no surprise that pipes have been freezing throughout the North Country.

“I’ve been getting calls from all over the place — Champlain, Plattsburgh, Saranac,” said Mike Donah of Dad’s Plumbing and Project Management, located in Cadyville. “It seemed to be on the second day (of extreme cold) that everything seemed to get noticed.”

Donah has been a North Country plumber for a decade and a half, so he has dealt with the problem many times before.

“I do a lot of building, and I couldn’t find a good plumber, so that’s why I became a plumber. Over 15 years of time, I’ve learned to do it right and keep water from freezing.”

Patrick Leary, owner of Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Services for Clinton, Franklin, and Essex counties, has seen a similar spike in emergency calls.

“By 11 o’clock this morning we’ve had 38 calls, just for today,” he said.

Frozen pipes are a problem homeowners definitely want to avoid. According to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, not all frozen pipes burst, but those that do can cause more than $5,000-worth of damage. With cold temperatures currently widespread, this has been a problem in many parts of the nation — including the North Country.

To prevent pipes from freezing, Donah advises preventative measures — what he calls “the precaution part of it.”

Pipe insulation is one such preventative measure. Donah generally advises homeowners to consider the issue of frozen pipes when they are first putting in a new tub or shower.

“You’re supposed to leave a space around the pipes so that the heat comes through,” he said. Also, “insulate the outside wall before you put in a tub or shower.”

He noted with the emergency calls he has received this week, “a few of them didn’t even know they had heaters in their basement.” A digital electric heater, which is programmed to turn itself off when it is warm enough, can be a way to prevent pipes from freezing without wasting power. 

An important safety warning is to never to use gas or open flames near plumbing.

Richard Patnode, of Richard Patnode Plumbing Heating in Ticonderoga, also noted that heaters can be good for basements and for crawlspaces. In addition, he stressed the importance of insulation, advising homeowners to make sure cracks in their outside walls are tightly sealed.

“It doesn’t take much of a crack for wind to blow in and freeze the pipes,” he said.

For Donah, such emergencies have made him a very busy man during the past week.

“I’m busy almost seven days a week, year-round,” he said. So, the frozen pipes of winter mean working late. “I still fit people in if they call me, even if I have to work late.” 

For homeowners, however, it is far better to take preventative measures. Patnode said: “There’s lots of things you can do. People are smartening up and doing things in their house to prevent pipes from freezing. A lot of people have smartened up, and some haven’t.”