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Take immediate measures to prevent frozen waterlines

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - The Idaho Falls Water Division is encouraging property owners who have properties that are 20 years or older to take immediate measures to prevent frozen and broken waterlines.  

“This week’s forecast is calling for single digit and subzero temperatures. The last time we experienced an extreme drop in temperatures, we received an average of 20 to 25 calls per day from property owners reporting frozen or broken pipes,” Idaho Falls Water Superintendent Dave Richards said.

As temperatures drop below freezing, frost penetrates into the ground. During periods of extreme cold, frost can penetrate the ground to where it causes serious problems for underground utilities, especially waterlines with insufficient depth or insulation. As water freezes, it expands in size which then stops the flow of water to a property and can cause waterlines to split or rupture. 

“Prior to about 20 years ago, pipes were buried 5 feet underground in Idaho Falls, although depths in some older areas of town may be shallower. Construction standards have changed, and now waterlines are buried deeper, providing even more insulation for the pipes,” Richards said.

Insulating indoor waterlines in unheated areas will slow the freezing process within your home or building. Vacant properties should be protected by leaving some heat on.  

In the event of an emergency or even minor waterline repairs, it is extremely beneficial for others who frequent your property to know the location of the master shut-off valve and how to operate the valve. The master shut-off valve is typically located where the waterline enters the property, most likely in the mechanical room, basement or crawlspace. If unable to locate the valve, it may have been covered by a basement wall. The valve is typically either a gate valve or a ball valve. Check to make sure the valve operates freely and is easily accessible.

If water flow is reduced, allow cold water to flow to thaw a partially frozen line. If there is no flow to any indoor faucet, check water valves inside the property to ensure they are completely open and have not been accidentally closed, including the valves near water heaters and water softeners. If all valves are open, but there is still no flow call the Water Division at (208) 612-8471 to ensure that water service has not been turned off temporarily. Broken Pipe
If pipes do freeze, do not use a torch to thaw the pipes. Applying too much heat too fast can cause the ice inside the pipe to fracture and rupture. Rather, safely use a hairdryer, space heater, or rags soaked in warm water to gradually warm the frozen pipe until a little flow of cold water is restored to the faucets. 

“Space heaters should be used with extreme caution, in a well ventilated area, and according to the manufacturer’s guidelines,” Idaho Falls Fire Marshal Scott Grimmett said. “We’ve responded to several structure fires this year caused by inappropriate use of space heaters. They should always be placed at least 3 feet away from anything combustible. Purchase a model that automatically shuts off if tipped over, and never leave a space heater unattended while in use."

Once water flow is restored, allow the faucet’s cold water to run until the frozen section is thawed and full flow is restored before turning it down. Leaving a trickle of cold water running until the outside temperatures regularly remain above freezing will prevent the line from freezing again, especially if the frozen section is not able to be further protected. If unsure about how to proceed, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.  

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