By Tom Spayth Contributing Columnist
February 15, 2014
The things you promised yourself to do last fall like close the louver in the crawl space, close the window in the basement, put some insulation between the pipes in the basement and the outside wall. Probably you even kidded yourself into believing it wasn’t too bad last year so why should this year be any different. Oh boy did the plumbing industry love you during these last few weeks.
Stories such as “it took one whole week for the plumber to get here, and when he did he charged me and arm and a leg” had to be a joke because your arm is not gone. This and other stories like this could have been avoided if only common sense had been used.
So this year, before winter sets in, preferably in the summer when you don’t even want to think of cold weather, remember what it was like to be without water. Walk around your home and look for any place where the weather could get in. A good place to start is any hole where a pipe or wire may go through the outside wall. Take time to put a sealant around this opening. Check to make sure windows close tightly. Siding should be checked to see none has come loose. Brick walls may need to be examined to see no mortar has fallen out between the bricks. If you have a soffit make sure it fits tight and there is insulation between the outside and the pipes.
If you have water pipes in the attic of your home, proper care must be taken to see they get insulated properly. This is one place were the average person fails miserably. Most think if they get pipe insulation and place it on the pipes they are safe. Consider this — insulation works both ways to keep heat in and to keep cold in also. So remember, if your pipes get cold enough to freeze the insulation will help to keep it frozen. The best way to accomplish the task of keeping the pipes from freezing is to make sure there is no insulation between the pipes and the ceiling of your rooms. Then cover the pipes with insulation making sure the insulation stays on top. This should allow some heat from the heated room below to keep the water from freezing. This might not be the perfect solution, but putting water pipes in an unheated attic is far from perfect either.
Now comes the misconception that heat tapes are the way to accomplish all things great. If you go away for a day or two who is watching to see they are still working? Even if you are home the tapes are usually somewhere where they are difficult to see. Then if one should go bad, and believe me they do, will you have a replacement handy?
Now in case you do all this and they still freeze the method of thawing them becomes the problem. Do not reach for a torch unless you have good insurance and really want to move. Instead, the common hair dryer usually works best. A heat gun is good but sometimes they can get too hot. Also look at what kind of pipe you will be working on. If it is galvanized, copper, or plastic, the ideal method should be apparent to you.
If you do not care to take care of some of these problems you can be sure that during the 2015 winter season you will again become acquainted with a plumber.
Tom Spayth is the Plumbing Administrator for the Madison County/London City Health District. He can be reached at (740) 852-3065.