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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Want to keep city water flowing, smoothly and inexpensively? City officials advise letting a thin stream of water run in subzero conditions.

Frozen meters heat up bills

So far this winter, city crews have had to replace 575 water meters because they froze.

That’s a headache for homeowners, who have to pay for the repairs, which start around $130, but it’s nothing compared to what has happened to dozens of other residents.

Around town, at least 50 customers have had their water lines freeze.

We’re not talking about a frozen pipe under the sink, here. We’re talking about the water line that is typically buried 4 feet deep under your front lawn, the one that carries water into the house.

At North Side Plumbing, they’ve had plenty of calls from people who turned on their water and had nothing come out because their supply line was frozen. It happened to a whole cluster of houses along one street in the Lakeside area, according to Dean Koontz, an employee at North Side.

Koontz said he hasn’t seen this many cases since 1977, another notoriously brutal winter.

With a lot of snow on the ground, the snow can help insulate the ground from the extreme cold, Koontz said. But if you’ve shoveled your sidewalk, which the city requires you to do, the insulation is lost. Koontz said a lot of people have had their water lines freeze under their sidewalks.

And the ground just keeps freezing deeper. According to the National Weather Service, the ground is frozen 4 to 5 feet deep in some spots in the area.

That means the ground is freezing down to the depth of water lines, putting them at risk.

And it’s going down to 9 below tonight.

One plumbing company I spoke to said it has been getting calls about frozen lines, but workers tell the callers they can’t help them.

There are ways to deal with a frozen water line. Koontz said you can hook up electric lines to the water line and run low-voltage electricity through the pipe. That is supposed to warm the pipe and thaw it out.

But it’s not working this year, Koontz said. It’s just too cold.

And if you have a water line that is made of PVC pipe and it freezes, you’re just out of luck: You can’t run electric current through a plastic pipe.

You can dig up your yard and replace the line, an expensive process – and one that the homeowner has to pay for.

Or you can wait until the weather warms up and the ground thaws. Who knows how long that will take? Even then, there is a chance that a water line that was frozen could have cracked.

The best option right now is to let your water run, just one faucet running a small stream of water about the diameter of a pencil lead, according to a news release from the city of Fort Wayne.

That will keep the water flowing through the water line and water meter so they won’t freeze, city officials and plumbers say.

The city also advises people whose water meters are in unheated garages to cover them in an insulated box and keep the garage door closed to retain as much warmth as possible.

If your meter is in an outdoor pit, make sure the lid is not missing or broken.

The city also advises wrapping pipes that run through unheated garages and crawlspaces in insulation.

And chalk all this up as one more thing to remember from the winter of 2014.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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