Are your pipes frozen? A San Antonio plumber gives some advice

Even among the San Antonians who had heeded plumbers’ warnings – faucets dripping overnight to keep the pipes from freezing – the record-breaking cold meant many residents were still waking up with pipes frozen.

For many San Antonians it was a first: low temperatures in the single digits, an ankle-deep snow cover, icy and impassable roads. Residents filled social media with rare photos of snow covering trees, houses, and cars, and flooded the same online forums with questions about installation issues that arose overnight.

“Does anyone else have this problem? That has never happened to us, ”wrote Rebecca Stanford of San Antonio in her Nextdoor group in the neighborhood.

Like many other San Antonians, she had insulated the outer plugs and dripped the faucet furthest from the plumbing of her 1959 ranch-style home in the MacArthur Park neighborhood, only to find that water wouldn’t flow when she woke up. The shower did not turn on. The toilet would not fill even after flushing. Had pipes burst? Or was the pipe just frozen?

“The same thing happened to me!” a neighbor answered.

“Thank goodness I bought drinking water a few days ago,” wrote another.

Your neighbors tried their best guesswork. But many of them shared the same message: there will likely be no way to know until temperatures rise and the pipes start to thaw.

A plumber from San Antonio endorsed this advice.

“It has to be above freezing,” said Dano Pagel, who has worked as a plumber for 35 years. “The moment (pipes) crack, they are frozen.”

Pagel said many people will try to heat pipes with a hair dryer or an electric heater. Some may notice that water begins to flow.

“But in some cases when you see that there is no water, (the pipe) just rips open – like someone got a fillet knife and cut it,” he said. “Even if you turn on water, it’ll shoot out of there.”

By the time the pipes thaw, an immense number of San Antonians currently lacking running water may not know if their pipes have cracked – and where the leaks could have occurred, Pagel said. He believes this may not happen until Tuesday or Wednesday, when temperatures stay above freezing for an extended period of time.

On Monday he was one of the plumbers in San Antonio who did not want to venture out onto the icy streets of the city in his heavy plumbing cart. All of its customers have to wait until the ice melts and it is safe to travel. Pagel then prepares for a flood of phone calls about sudden leaks as the water in the pipes begins to thaw and drain through cracks.

In the meantime, he said, residents can try to find the main valve to shut off the water to their home, although doing so could be difficult if the valve is outside and covered in snow.

With the San Antonians’ water still flowing in their homes, Pagel recommends turning on all taps connected to pipes connected through the exterior walls of the home. There should be a steady stream of water flowing through the faucet, he said, because running water requires much lower temperatures to freeze.

Insulated covers for outside spigots can protect the spigot itself, but won’t prevent pipes from freezing inside the wall if there is no or poor insulation, he said.

“If you let your water run for two or three days it can add $ 5 or $ 10 to your water bill,” Pagel said. “If you need a plumber, it’ll be at least $ 500 or $ 600.”

The San Antonio Water System also recommends draining faucets so that the water flows through the pipes. It is also recommended that residents open cabinet doors under the sinks in the kitchen and bathroom to allow warmer air to enter the plumbing. And if there are rooms without heating ducts, the doors should remain open so that heat can flow in from other areas of the house.

By Monday afternoon, SAWS had not experienced any water or sewer breaks, said a spokesman. There is no way of knowing how many residents are facing plumbing problems due to the freezing, he said.

If the residents do not have water, it is because of problems in their own four walls.

“My friend thinks the pipes in the garage are frozen – I don’t know what to do about it,” said Jenny Schubert, a retired school teacher who has lived in her MacArthur Park home for 32 years.

Schubert woke up around 1 a.m. on Monday when her carbon monoxide alarm went off. It turned out to be an error message, but she soon discovered another problem while washing her hands while making a cup of tea: no running water.

She fell asleep again. No water later. She tried unsuccessfully to thaw the pipes in her garage.

“My friendly neighbor brought me bottled water,” said Schubert, “and that’s where I am right now.”

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