Plumbers: Cold temps causing countless problems

January 26, 2013

Temperatures well below freezing have put a strain on many utilities entering area homes this week, but one in particular has born the brunt.

Area plumbers said they have been dealing with large numbers of calls to repair iced-over or burst pipes, damaged boilers and frozen baseboard heaters.

Gary Slusser, owner of Slusser Brothers plumbing in Wilkes-Barre, said he received 17 repair calls by lunchtime Friday, 16 more than he took on Wednesday. He attributed the increase to prolonged cold temperatures. Some of the people have piping in cool areas, where if it's 20 degrees or 32 degrees it won't freeze, but now with continuous days of cold, cold weather they're freezing, Slusser said.

Low temperatures recorded at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport reached 6 degrees on Friday, 0 degrees on Thursday, 2 degrees on Wednesday and 6 degrees on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service at Binghamton, N.Y.

None of those were record lows, but it's been cold enough to keep plumber Carl M. Krasavage on the go throughout the week. We came in this morning, we had over 40 calls, said Krasavage, owner of Carl M. Krasavage & Sons Plumbing & Heating in Swoyersville. We've got five, six crews here, and we're going around the clock.

Winterize to save

Slusser and Krasavage both recommended taking inexpensive and simple steps to winterize pipes and heating systems to avoid costly repairs later.

Slusser also recommended learning where the water main enters the home – it's often in the basement – so it can be shut quickly in the event of a rupture. If a pipe does burst, close the main valve first, then look for valves closer to the ruptured line to isolate the damage. The big thing is get the flow shut off first to stop the damage, Slusser said.

The freeze also has led to higher-than-average electricity consumption.

Power demand in PPL Electric Utilities' 29-county distribution network peaked at 7,150 megawatts Wednesday evening, and exceeded 7,000 megawatts on three days this week, according to utility spokeswoman Martha M. Herron.

Though that was below the record of 7,577 megawatts set in February 2007, it represents the highest winter demand for the company in two years, Herron said.

Last year, power demand eclipsed 7,000 megawatts only four times, all in the summer. A megawatt roughly represents the energy required to power 1,000 homes.

Limited power problems

Herron said the high power load has created limited localized problems, but the utility has increased its staffing levels to cope.

John Castagna, who lives in the Beech Mountain Lakes development in Butler Township, reported experiencing one such issue this week. Starting Tuesday, Castagna said the power in his home and a neighbor's home flickered multiple times a day, particularly after dark and in the morning. The power has been going off and on like somebody flipping a switch dozens of times, Castagna said Thursday. It's playing havoc with our furnace, with our television, with our computers, and I'm afraid it's going to do some damage.

Herron blamed a pair of malfunctioning transformers, saying they were repaired Thursday. The Beech Mountain Lakes Association confirmed Friday that the problem had been fixed.

Joe Swope, spokesman for UGI Utilities Inc., said the company has not seen operating problems regarding power supply, and that he did not believe power consumption approached a historic high for the utility this week. Generally, because there are fewer and fewer people on electric heat, the higher demand is in the summer, Swope said. Gas is really where you will see the significant demand.

Swope was unable on Friday to provide details about natural gas demand this week.

Cold-weather tips
The weather ahead

• Allow faucets to drip to keep water moving.

• In unheated areas such as basements and garages, wrap pipes with insulated heat tape.

• Leave cabinet doors open to allow heat to reach pipes.

• Set thermostats slightly higher than usual in homes with hot water heat to keep the boiler running longer.

• Have boilers drained and refilled with water containing special heating anti-freeze.

AccuWeather.com predicts cold temperatures will continue through the weekend before abating slightly early next week. Its weekend forecast is as follows:

Today: Low 9 degrees, High 23 degrees, partly sunny with snow flurries

Sunday: Low 14 degrees, High 26 degrees, sunny

Monday: Low 34 degrees, High 35 degrees, snow and ice

Tuesday: Low 41 degrees, High 44 degrees, partly cloudy