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Freeze warning: Tips for preventing frozen pipes

A streak of subzero temperatures has given plumber Keith Nelson about as much frozen pipe repair as he can handle.

“I’m ready for a break,” said Nelson, who runs Keith Nelson Plumbing and Heating in Woodbury.

He, along with other plumbers and utility specialists, have noted numerous calls from east metro homeowners after their pipes or water mains froze because of the cold.

Temperatures in the Twin Cities have remained below freezing since Dec. 24, 2017, with lows averaging at -8 degrees between Christmas Day and Jan. 5, according to National Weather Service data.

The Woodbury Utilities Division has received an uptick in calls from homeowners experiencing frozen water pipes or meters, according to a recent notice.

“Fortunately, we've only had a small number of frozen pipes," Woodbury Assistant Utilities Supervisor Danyell Lundell said. "Luckily, nothing crazy yet."

Several factors can cause pipes to freeze, but furnace air intakes blowing onto water meters has been a frequent occurrence in Woodbury.

The city recommends drawing the cool air away from the water meter or covering it with a large bucket.

Graphic by Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia

But in case it's too late, Nelson said homeowners should turn off the main water valve if they find pipes to their shower or kitchen faucet are frozen.

When pipes thaw, the ice can split and rack up more costs and headaches, Nelson said.

“We always encourage people to turn off their water right away,” he said.

Polyethylene piping, or PEX, are common in new homes. They are flexible enough to withstand cold temperatures. But PEX fittings are still susceptible to freezing, Nelson said, since they can’t expand and contract like the pipe.

Lundell said her department has only noted one instance where a homeowner’s service line had frozen. That person had been away from home for several days, she said.

In those cases, residents can take certain precautions, Lundell said, such as asking a friend or neighbor to check on their home and run the water. She added that people should keep their thermostats at 55 degrees when away.

Because utility rooms tend to be cooler than other areas, leaving the door to the utility room open and turning off water valves can also prevent issues.

Water running cooler than usual can also be a warning sign, Lundell said.

The city hasn’t experienced any issues with public water mains or other utilities freezing, she said.

Mike Edwards, owner of Edwards Plumbing in Cottage Grove, said owners of mobile homes should be especially vigilant. New Year’s weekend, he answered 28 calls from people with frozen pipes. All but one of them were from mobile home residents.

Mobile homes typically have their pipes underneath the floor. Since the structures sit a few feet above the ground, a cold wind blowing through the gap can freeze pipes that are too close to the outside. Repairs can easily run to $1,000, he said.

“If you live in a mobile home, put heat tape on the pipes that are underneath,” he said.

Heat tape is encased electric cord or cable that can be wound around pipes and plugged in to maintain temperature.

The pipes underneath the kitchen sink are especially susceptible to freezing, Edwards said. He recommends leaving the cabinet doors open to expose them to indoor heat.

During these subzero nights, homeowners can sleep better by turning on their faucets to let a trickle of water run.

Turn on the cold water tap. Many don’t know that hot water freezes faster than cold, Edwards said.

While the Twin Cities enjoyed a brief warm up earlier this week, another blast of cold is in store this weekend. Temperatures could drop below zero Thursday and Friday evening, while Saturday’s overnight low could be minus 10, according to the National Weather Service.

Residents in Woodbury and Cottage Grove can contact their respective public works departments with question related to freezing pipes or water meters.