Commonwealth Journal

January 8, 2014

Stopped Cold

Frozen pipes create drain on businesses, homeowners

By HEATHER PYLES and KEN SHMIDHEISER
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

At 5:30 a.m. Tuesday — the beginning of her work day — Cindy Roberts opened the door to the Odgen St. Subway and was instantly deluged as icy water three inches deep cascaded from the restaurant.
Pipes in Subway’s ceiling had frozen and burst, soaking suspended acoustic tiles which collapsed onto the dining area below, and raining thousands of gallons of water into the restaurant.
“I wonder what the water bill will be this month?” opined Bob McAlpin, who with Doug Hall owns the complex at the corner of U.S. 27 and Ogden Street.
Subway’s frozen-burst-pipe woes were not unique.
As temperatures began to warm yesterday following Monday and Tuesday’s arctic blast that plummeted the thermometer into single digits, many Pulaski County residents and business owners discovered that the bitterly cold temperatures did more damage than what they first thought. 
“It has been nonstop,” said Aislynn Frei, with Frei Plumbing, located at 239 S. Richardson Drive in Somerset. “Guys are working around the clock.”
Many thought Wednesday’s mid-30s high was a sign that they were out of the woods, but that’s not the case. As temperatures rose, those who thought they were dealing with a cases of frozen pipes realized they were facing a much messier situations.
“We’ve been real busy,” said Greg Epperson, owner of Epperson Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing, which is located at 208 Ringgold Road in Somerset. “Actually, the calls kicked up today. When the pipes start thawing on their own people realize the pipes are busted.”
When pipes started thawing and water resumed flowing, many discovered that their pipes had ruptured during the deep freeze, but that ice frozen in the burst pipes had blocked the flow of water. As the ice plugs thawed, the floods began.
The Shopville Public Library is a testament to what happened to many in the county.
“We did have a pipe to freeze and burst,” said Pulaski County Public Library Director Charlotte Keeney.
An early morning inspection of the Shopville library, located just off East Ky. 80 near Shopville Elementary School, didn’t reveal any signs of water issues. But once the temperatures began rising, the frozen water thawed, and ruptured pipes in the library’s ceiling began leaking. 
Keeney said personnel were able to get most of the library’s books out of the way before they became water-logged. She noted that water hadn’t burst through the library’s ceiling, but instead leaked through.
“The damage to the books is minimal,” said Keeney, although she said the library’s carpet is soaked and will have to be dried.
The Shopville library will remain closed for several days while the clean-up is carried out.
“Hopefully by Monday it’ll be opened,” said Keeney.
Keeney said people who usually use the Shopville branch can call the main branch at 679-8401 for their needs.
And although Somerset Independent students were expected to return to classes Thursday, some will be returning amidst clean-up and repair work to a couple of the district’s buildings, thanks to burst pipes.
“We did have some water damage due to frozen pipes,” said Somerset Schools Superintendent Boyd Randolph. “But we had a great response from maintenance and custodial staff.”
Randolph said pipes had burst in Meece Middle School and Hopkins Elementary School. The water damage from both incidents was relatively limited, according to Randolph. 
Randolph said the Meece issue occurred in the fifth-grade hallway and “was mostly contained to that area.” 
He noted that a pipe busted in the physical education facility at Hopkins. 
“With three days of consistent temperatures 10 degrees and colder, that has to be a record,” said Randolph.
Meteorologists have said that one would have to look back as far as February 1996 to find similar temperatures in the area. The arctic cold snap that settled over the area beginning Sunday evening and lasting through Tuesday caused daytime highs in the single digits Monday and Tuesday and brought about wind chill warnings in the overnight hours. 
Randolph said some “minor” clean up and repair work took place on Wednesday. He noted that “a few things got wet” when the pipes busted, but overall there was little damage.
“We’re still doing some minor clean up and we may have minor repair work here and there when the students come back,” said Randolph. 
But he added that the work will not interfere with classes. 
“As of right now, we plan to return to classes (Thursday),” said Randolph on Wednesday afternoon. 
And as this week’s temperatures continue to climb, local plumbing specialists will continue working around the clock to ensure everyone can get back to normal. 
“We’re trying our best to reach everybody,” said Epperson. “We’re just getting to what we can.”
Although temperatures aren’t likely to fall to the single-digit range anytime soon, Desi Frei, owner of Frei Plumbing, and Epperson have some advice to help prevent — or at the least, keep damage to a minimum — in the future.
“First of all, find the shut-off valve,” said Desi Frei. 
The shut-off valve to a home is usually located where the water first enters the building. That could be under a crawl space, or above the water heater. The water supply should be cut off as soon as a frozen pipe is suspected to ensure that, should a busted pipe be the case, water damage is kept to a minimum. 
“The biggest thing is to shut the water off first,” said Desi Frei, who noted his business had dealt with between 30 and 40 phone calls daily concerning water issues over the past several days. “It eliminates all the volume.
“When it freezes you don’t really know (whether the pipe has busted) ... the best thing to do is shut the valve off,” Desi Frei added. “If it is busted, you’ll hear the dripping.” 
Epperson said property owners need to be checking their water pipes often. Knowing whether there’s a problem is the first step to ensuring water from busted pipes flood a whole residence or building. 
“They need to visually go look and listen for leaks,” said Epperson. “That’s really the only thing you can do, is check.”
Epperson said home and business owners should take steps to prevent any freezing, such as making sure pipes are kept warm through the use of heat tape or additional insulation. Epperson said foundation vents and access doors to crawl spaces and other areas susceptible to the cold should be closed as well. 
“We’re working late tonight,” said Epperson. “We were out until (3 a.m.) Wednesday ... we’re just trying to keep people stabilized.”
Back at the Odgen Street Subway, owner Jimmy Nelson said work crews had already cleaned up the flood damage and were working as quickly as possible to get the restaurant reopened.
“We hope to have our doors open for business Saturday morning,” Nelson said. “But if someone has to have a Subway sandwich, they can always go down to our south store.”