Frozen water lines, meters keeping local plumbers and city workers busy
by Steve Kadel
Staff Writer
Jan 10, 2013 | 4150 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
City of Moab water/sewer superintendent Lloyd Swenson replaces the cover after thawing a frozen water meter at 131 East 100 South on Monday, Jan. 7, assisted by water operator Levi Jones.
Photo by Steve Kadel
City of Moab water/sewer superintendent Lloyd Swenson replaces the cover after thawing a frozen water meter at 131 East 100 South on Monday, Jan. 7, assisted by water operator Levi Jones. Photo by Steve Kadel

The recent cold snap has been a bane for homeowners and a boon for plumbers.

Frozen water pipes have been common throughout Grand County as nighttime temperatures plunged below zero during the last few weeks.

Mike Smith of Mike Smith Plumbing said Friday, Jan. 4, that he responded to 15 reports of frozen pipes in the past week. “And that’s just me,” he said. “I’m sure the other plumbers are the same way.”

The problem usually comes from pipes freezing in crawl spaces, Smith said. He advised people to make sure openings to crawl spaces are plugged so cold air cannot seep in.

Smith, who has lived in Moab for eight years, said this has been a colder-than-average winter so far, although, he added, it is nothing like the winter of 2009.

Moab City Public Works Director Jeff Foster agrees the cold weather has been causing trouble.

“We’ve had a number of people’s internal plumbing freeze up,” he said.

In about five cases a water meter in the city has frozen, Foster said. One had to be replaced because it couldn’t be sufficiently warmed, but the others began working again after a city crewed warmed the meters.

City water/sewer superintendent Lloyd Swenson and water operator Levi Jones responded Monday, Jan. 7, to a frozen meter at 131 East 100 South. They used a propane torch to slowly warm the meter, but warned citizens against trying to do the same with frozen pipes. Heating equipment too quickly could damage or destroy a main water line, Swenson said.

Foster said the biggest problem seems to be lines freezing between the meter and the house.

“People come home and they haven’t had water,” he said. “Maybe the line froze because it wasn’t deep enough in the ground. It’s a nightmare. Plumbers have been real busy.”

Last week, a residential sprinkler line broke and water was flowing, Foster added. City employees turned off the water at the residence, whose owner was out of town at the time.

It’s the same story in Spanish Valley.

“We’re getting numerous calls for frozen pipes,” said Mark Sovine, manager of Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency.

The agency’s policy is to respond and, if the problem is a frozen water meter, staff will try to warm the meter. If the water line to the house is frozen, it becomes the tenant’s responsibility, Sovine said.

The agency offers suggestions for avoiding frozen pipes, both on its website and when representatives make a house call. Sovine said one time-honored method is to leave a faucet running in the house.

“I like to get it so it barely becomes a stream,” he said. “The kitchen sink would work. I’ve even heard of some people letting their toilet run.”

Sovine said he didn’t have figures on the number of calls the agency has received since the weather turned cold, although he called the situation normal for winter months.

“It happens,” he said. “It’s just part of the cycle.”

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office and Questar Gas Co. both issued winter gas meter safety advisories this week.

Questar spokesman Darren Shepherd said the cold temperatures haven’t been a problem because natural gas is relatively impervious to freezing. “It can handle all the cold you can bring,” he said.

However, trouble can occur when snow on a roof thaws, drips on a gas meter below, then freezes. Shepherd cautioned residents not to kick or knock ice off a meter, which could damage the equipment.

The company also advises customers to be careful when shoveling snow off driveways, sidewalks or roofs to avoid burying and possibly damaging natural gas meters.

Questar suggests:

• Keeping snow from burying exhaust and intake vents, and from piling up on gas meters. The pilot light could be extinguished if vents are plugged.

• Create a shelter around the gas meter to prevent build-up of snow, but do not use metal objects such as a wheelbarrow or trashcan, which can cause corrosion on the meter.

• Those who have a meter in a driveway or other high-traffic spot where it could be damaged are advised to call Questar. The company can install protection posts or can relocate the meter to a safer spot.

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