Fewer busted pipes expected in thaw

It is almost certain that area plumbers will soon be getting calls about "busted" water pipes, as the Southern Crescent begins to thaw out from a potent winter storm with frigid temperatures, sleet, freezing rain and snow that brought metro-Atlanta to a near standstill.

The number of damaged pipes, however, may be fewer than some might anticipate, according to local plumbing professionals. The slick snow patches along roadsides and shaded areas can be deceiving, according to Timmy Irvin, president and general manager of the Stockbridge-based Delta Plumbing Atlanta.

As the metro Atlanta region thaws from the year's first major winter storm, Irvin said he expects to start fielding an increased number of calls related to burst pipes, but does not expect to field many.

The danger of having pipes burst, due to inclement weather, increases with the period of time temperatures remain below freezing, Irvin explained. The temperatures, typically, have to maintain 15 degrees, or below, for at least 12 hours, before there is a significant chance for pipes to freeze, he continued.

Thursday's overnight low temperatures were forecast to reach the mid-teens in the Southern Crescent, according to Mike Leary, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Leary said high temperatures in the area Friday were expected to increase to about 40 degrees, with sunny skies melting the week's ice and snow. The weekend, he added, will warm up, with lows in the lower 20s, and highs in the upper 40s.

While cold and hazardous, this week's weather may not produce as many headaches and heartaches as previous arctic blasts, added Irvin, pointing to 2010's mid-January cold snap.

"In a typical day, we normally get about 30 service calls, and that day [following the January 2010 cold snap] we got close to 200 calls," Irvin said. "Night-time temperatures held in the low teens for three or four days, and when temperatures reached 36-37 degrees, we started seeing a lot of busted pipes." But lately, temperatures have been "teetering right around freezing," he said.

Call volumes increased for emergency water-damage cleanup and restoration services last year as well, according to Danny Brown, owner and general manager of Servpro of Henry and Spalding counties.

"Last January, we were extremely busy," said Brown. "But I'm not anticipating it being as severe as it was last January."

Plumbing companies can, at times, get up to 15 times their normal call volume, according to Philip Hesterlee, the president of Independence Plumbing and Septics, Inc., in Locust Grove. "We had a ton of calls [in 2010]," Hesterlee said. "You're not going to have a whole lot of busted pipes right now. It's not cold enough.

"But, if the pipes are exposed, they could burst," he continued. "The best thing to prevent it is to have a good drip [consistent drips] on the hot and cold side of the faucet."

Hesterlee advises residents to open their cabinet doors to allow the flow of warm air to their interior pipes. "A lot of mistakes people make is closing off heated space," added Irvin. "Make sure that you get heated air in the home to those areas. Leave faucets trickling, and make sure crawl space doors and vents are closed. Hose bib protection covers for outside faucets are useful, too."

The Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority is encouraging customers to take precautions to winterize their outdoor pipes and irrigation systems, said Chris Wood, president of JWA Public Communications, which represents water utilities in metro Atlanta and Central Georgia.

Residents and property owners are cautioned not to take any preventive measures during freezing temperatures –– and even after the thermometer has risen above freezing (32 degrees), pipes and valves still may be frozen or contain ice, said Wood, citing guidance from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

Wood said, If a pipe bursts, due to freezing or under any other circumstances, residents should know how to shut off the main water line servicing their home or building.