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Don't Let Those Pipes Freeze!

As realtors, we tend to hear many stories of winter-related homeowner issues from week to week. While we all live in fear of the dreaded ice dam,- in winter, local stores tend to sell out of roof rakes quickly, and most of us are out there shoveling off our roofs after every snowfall to avoid the expensive fallout of ice damming. This year, we have a new winter worry to concern us -- frozen pipes!  I'm not merely referring to the pipes within your own home, I am referring to the service lines which come off the water main on your street. It turns out that homeowners are responsible for keeping service lines on their private property clear, the town is responsible for the water main. We Northampton residents are a bit incredulous at the severity of this freezing cold winter - spring can't come soon enough!  In the meanwhile, here is an article about frozen water pipes from the Daily Hampshire Gazette earlier this week.


Derek Shingara, of Shingara Enterprises, uses a blowtorch to melt away snow and ice around a curb stop valve outside a home on Seventh Street in Shamokin, Pa., Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Shingara Enterprises was sub contracted by Aqua Pennsylvania to locate the valve after a homeowner reported his pipes were frozen. (AP Photo/The News-Item, Larry Deklinski)

Area public works officials issue recommendations to avoid frozen water pipes, service lines




Monday, February 23, 2015 

(Published in print: Tuesday, February 24, 2015)


NORTHAMPTON — As persistent snowfall has raised concerns about roof damage across the region, nearly a month of below-freezing temperatures has local


Department of Public Works officials warning of another threat faced by homeowners — frozen pipes. “The one thing I would recommend to people — if you’ve never had it happen to you, this would be the year to check your pipes,” Amherst DPW superintendent Guilford Mooring said Monday.


The Pioneer Valley saw 27 straight days of below-freezing average daily temperatures before the streak was broken Sunday, according to Alan Dunham of the National Weather Service. “That’s a fairly long stretch,” he said. “Unheard of no, but you don’t have many stretches longer than that.” 


Dunham said arctic air from central Canada that moved into the region after each of the recent snowstorms is to blame. There’s a chance of snow Wednesday, and continuous below-freezing temperatures are nearly certain Wednesday through Sunday. With those freezing temperatures comes a deep frost that can threaten water meters and pipes inside and outside homes.


“The ground is seeing a freeze that it hasn’t seen in a very long time,” Northampton water superintendent Greg Nuttelman said Monday. Nuttelman and Mooring agree that when the temperature drops, it is a good idea for homeowners to let their faucets drip to protect their pipes. A higher water bill is “cheap insurance” against broken pipes, Nuttelman said.


The key to preventing broken pipes is keeping them warm, Nuttelman added. That can be achieved by opening doors to rooms where pipes are located, placing a lighted bulb near pipes, wrapping them in insulation and opening doors to cabinets where pipes are enclosed.


In addition to more than the usual number of reports about interior pipes freezing, there has been an increase in outside water service lines freezing in both Amherst and Northampton, Nuttelman and Mooring said.


The water service line is the pipe that brings water from the main in the street into a building. The majority of the length of these pipes are buried on private property and are the responsibility of the homeowner should they burst.


Nuttelman said his crews have responded since last Thursday to 16 cases of frozen service lines, a typically rare occurrence.


In Northampton, the DPW will try to thaw the pipe using a machine that sends jets of hot water into the frozen line from inside a home. If that does not work, however, the pipe must be dug up and thawed using steam.


Some of those frozen service lines were last reported frozen in the late 1970s.


In Amherst, the DPW keeps a list of homes that have histories of frozen service lines. When the temperature drops, the department notifies people on that list and encourages them to keep their water running.


If no water comes out of the faucet when it is turned on, Nuttelman said it is most likely that pipes nearest a wall, door, window or along the floor that are frozen.


To start, homeowners should open a faucet near the frozen pipe to release water vapor from melting ice. Begin warming the pipes using a hair dryer starting from the faucet and moving toward the frozen section.


Nuttelman said the expense of leaving a pencil-width stream of water running is a small price to pay to avoid the high cost of replacing burst pipes or service lines.


Water meters can be another casualty of cold weather. Mooring said that water meters, commonly found in basements, often break when homeowners shut off their water before going on vacation. Water trapped inside the meter can freeze, breaking the meter, if temperatures inside the home are allowed to drop. 


As a remedy, Mooring suggests leaving the heat on even if you shut off your water.


Chris Lindahl can be reached at


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