It’s a busy time of the year for Joe Herwig.
The owner of Joe Herwig Heating and Cooling has had a full work load for the past few weeks, thanks to the brutal cold that continues to grip the area.
Frozen water pipes is one of the most common problems of falling temperatures. When this occurs, Herwig is often called upon to thaw the pipes, restoring water to a residence or business.
“I did a boiler breakdown,” Herwig explained about a job he recently completed. “There was a lot of damage to the heating line, and I had to do repairs on the spot.”
One problem is pipes carrying water tend to be placed in areas that are cooler than the main section of the building.
“I recently did an old farm house where the water (pipes) ran down through the floor,” he explained.
In an usual situation, Herwig was called to a residence where the frozen pipes were located in an outside wall adjacent to a gun safe. When removed, it was discovered that the safe had been blocking a baseboard heater, causing the air to become very cold in the affected area.
During cold spells, people often turn to alternative heating systems in an attempt to save money. But Herwig cautioned that such practices can often lead to greater expenses because not all sections of the building are being properly heated.
“People who use wood stove or plug in heaters are making one room warmer, but the rest of the house is colder,” Herwig explained. “Pipes freeze in the colder areas.”
In one instance, Herwig was called to a residence where someone had closed the door of the room housing the thermostat. The room heated up, but the temperature dropped in rest of the house, causing the pipes to freeze.
“People who have zoned heating systems have to be careful,” he said. “They turn the temperature down in one zone to save money. But the pipes in that zone freeze, due to the colder temperatures.”
In the event that pipes do freeze, people should never use an open flame to attempt to thaw them out.
“The flames can ignite cobwebs or catch fire to the dry wall,” he explained. “Then the house itself will catch fire.”
Another problem with using an open flame is the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, and can kill a person breathing it.
The safest and most effective to thaw a frozen pipe is to have a professional do it, Herwig explained. Plumbers have the knowledge and skill to quickly locate the problem and correct it.
But people who want to undertake the task themselves can use hair dryers to safely thaw them out. Many hardware stores sell heat guns, Herwig said, which are more effective because they produce higher temperatures.
According to Herwig, one common preventative measure that does work is to allow a slow stream of water to run during the freezing weather. People with pipes in particularly high risk areas - such as in basements or near wells - can wrap their pipes in heat tape. The tape contains electrical elements which, when plugged in, generate heat to the pipes, preventing them from freezing.
“You should really do something like this in the summer time,” Herwig explained.
Another preventive measure is to make certain a consistent temperature high enough above freezing is maintained through the entire building.
“Many times I’ve seen people trying to save money by lowering the temperature in such areas as the garage. It might feel fine, but you’re asking for trouble. So if you’re trying to save money by turning the heat down, you could end up paying more if the pipes freeze.”