Archived Story

Officials warning of large number of frozen pipes

Published 10:47am Friday, February 14, 2014

The weather may have warmed up a bit, but the cold winter continues to affect local residents.

Austin Utilities is warning that a higher than normal number of people are dealing with frozen pipes, as this winter has seen nearly 50 days with temperatures at or below zero since Dec. 1, 2013.

In a typical year, Austin Utilities General Manager Mark Nibaur said Utilities hears of fewer than a dozen reported cases of pipes freezing — often just a handful. This year, Nibaur and Utilities have heard of more than 40 — and that’s just the ones reported.

A big reason: the deeper frost.

“We’re seeing that frost line going down much deeper than what you’d normally see in the winter,” Nibaur said.

This winter, Nibaur estimates the frost line is reaching closer to water pipes — 4 to 5 feet deep — when it’s typically 2 to 3.5 feet. Nibaur has even heard reports of frost forming on pipes in Austin basements.

Austin Utilities is urging customers to take the temperature of their water and continue monitoring it for the next two months, even after several days of warmer weather.

If the water temperature gets below 40 degrees, residents should immediately start running a continuous pencil-width stream of water from a faucet, according to Austin Utilities.

If water stops running, Nibaur urges residents to call Austin Utilities. While Austin Utilities does not fix frozen pipes, workers will check if it’s frozen pipes or another issue and recommend a contractor. Repairs for frozen pipes can be costly, ranging from around $200 on the low end to as much as $800 to $1,000.

According to Austin Utilities, If more water services freeze, customers could be without water for two to three days or more before a repair can be made due to many plumbing contractors being overwhelmed with calls.

Nibaur said he’s heard pipes have frozen quickly in many instances. The issue can affect businesses and residences, regardless of the age of the building.

The issues aren’t limited to Austin, as several other Minnesota cities are facing similar issues. What has so far been the Twin Cities’ coldest winter in decades has led to a spike in frozen pipes inside and outside homes, causing major headaches for residents and keeping local plumbers busy.

Several factors, including lack of insulation, can lead to a frozen pipe, and the damage caused by a resulting rupture can be significant. Typically, the pipe connecting the house to the water main freezes underground, effectively shutting off the water supply to the residence or business.

It’s not the ice itself that commonly causes a ruptured pipe; it’s the huge increase in water pressure that results from it, said Patrick Huelman of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Cold Climate Housing Program. That water pressure finds the weakness in a pipe or connection, and causes it to break.

For more information, contact Austin Utilities office at 507.433.8886 or email ww.talk2au@austinutilities.com.

—MCT Information Services contributed to this report.


Sign in to Comment | Need help commenting? Click here

Editor's Picks