Coping With Winter Plumbing Emergencies at Work and Home

When I turned on my tap this morning and no water came out, I immediately began to panic. I knew what preventative measures to take – let the faucets drip and open the cabinets so the air from inside the house could heat visible pipes – but I had no idea what to do if the pipes were already there were frozen.

As record temperatures persist and soaring demand and road conditions make it largely impossible for plumbers to reach business owners and local residents, many of us are being forced to take matters into our own hands. To help, the Dallas Builders Association has provided advice on preventing frozen pipe damage to homes and businesses. Here are some tips:

Turn off your water

If you have access to the main water main at home and / or at your company, turn it off. Any water left in pipes can freeze, expand and damage pipes, which can lead to flooding once the pipes thaw. Modern PEX piping, as common in newer homes and buildings, can expand better (too soon?) Than traditional copper plumbing, but these pipes can also freeze.

Most houses have a shut-off valve on the city meter – those circular holes in sidewalks covered with metal lids – and another one closer to the house. A special meter key may be required to unlock the city meter. You can buy these keys from a hardware store. Newer homes usually house the shut-off valve inside, often in the utility room.

The box closer to or inside the building can be turned off by turning the lever a quarter turn to the right. The shut-off valve in the city meter must be switched off with a wrench. If you open the City Meter Box and find water in it, you can either remove the water with a bucket, siphon or pump, or defy the ice-cold liquid and take action. Use your wrench to turn the valve a quarter turn to the right.

Leave the taps open

If your pipes are not yet completely frozen, a faucet slightly open will assure you that the water is off and that some future damage to your plumbing has been mitigated. When pipes are frozen, an open faucet gives the water in the pipes a place to escape after thawing. This can help reduce flooding.

Hire a licensed professional

When you contact a plumber, make sure they are licensed and trained. Avoid outsourcing work to people who cannot or do not want to provide you with proof of training. A list of approved plumbers in the area can be found here.

Then be ready to wait. The existing shortage of plumbers in the region results in waiting times for repairs that take weeks.

Place a space heater near water tanks

If you find that you have a steady stream of running water but it only runs cold, or if you have running water but only a small trickle, you may have a frozen tank water heater. This is a less serious problem than frozen pipes. However, if a cold shower and / or icy hand washing are not appealing, place a space heater next to the unit. Typically, the metal manifold conducts heat and thaws in a few minutes.

Contact a sprinkler specialist

When I thought the pipes in my apartment were frozen, I stopped a passing maintenance worker for an update and advice. It turned out that one of our building’s sprinkler lines was cracked and flooded, forcing the complex to kill the water and bring out the wet vacuums.

Fire protection sprinklers present a unique challenge to home and business owners during this type of storm. For apartment residents, this is largely beyond our control. However, if you happen to have the contact information of the company that installed sprinklers in your business or home, get in touch and see what they can do.

For more information, see this video from the DBA.

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