Thaw may reveal unknown damage to pipes


Warmer days are coming to Dubois County after temperatures plummeted to zero during the latest winter cold snap. But some area residents might not realize the full effects of those arctic temps until they are long gone.

Local plumbing professionals said that waterlines that froze — and subsequently bulged in size — could flood unsuspecting households with up to tens of thousands of dollars in damages when they thaw in the near future.

“The water that’s in the pipes, when it freezes, it expands the pipes and busts it sometimes depending on the material,” said Chayce Rickelman, project engineer at Mehringer Plumbing in Jasper. “And then that ice plugs the pipes, so it’s not leaking while it’s frozen. And then once that ice thaws, the water starts leaking through that busted portion.”

He estimated that in the next few days — when highs are projected to break into the 50s and 60s  — the company will see the majority of the work related to the pipes frozen in the polar vortex that swept across the region.

Plumbers don’t often get calls when lines freeze, he said. They get them when they break.

Rickelman and the company’s vice president, Dennis “Bucket” Mehringer, recalled a previous incident when a frozen pipe broke open and flooded a house so severely that the water flowing from it collapsed a ceiling and leaked all the way into its basement.

“They weren’t home,” Rickelman said of the homeowners. “And it just kept running for days.”

Ed Messmer, president of Messmer Mechanical in Jasper, remembered a time when pipes burst in the attic of a business and caused significant damages to the structure. He said Thursday that several customers had already contacted his company with concerns related to frozen lines.

“If you walk in and your basement’s flooded out, you’ve got water coming out of the door, you’re talking tens of thousands of dollars [in damages],” he said. “If the situation were something fairly minor, you’re still talking several hundred dollars by the time you get a person out there and get those waterlines fixed and repaired.”

He later added: “We’ve seen major, major damage happen to places that have waterlines freeze and burst.”

Both Messmer and Rickelman advised residents to turn faucets on to where water is dripping out in different locations of their houses in times of extreme cold — especially in pipes that are more susceptible to the exterior weather, like plumbing located in an outside wall. Even a slow stream of water flowing through pipes can help prevent them from freezing. Opening cabinet doors to bring warm air near them also helps.

Rickelman encouraged anyone who still has a frozen line to call a plumber so a professional can determine the root of the problem and work to prevent it from freezing in the future. Messmer said sometimes a hair dryer or electric heater can thaw frozen lines before major damage occurs, adding that not all frozen lines burst.

“It happens a lot, but it doesn’t happen all the time,” he said. “So, sometimes it’s just a matter of getting those lines thawed out and warmed up.”

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