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Frigid air leaves pipes frozen, lingering problems

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Sub-zero temperatures lead to ice-coated water lines, meters

By Marty Finley

The arctic blast blanketing large pockets of the U.S. in snow and sub-zero temperatures has brought new headaches for Hardin County residents beyond how many layers of clothing are needed to stay warm.

A rash of calls came into water departments and districts this week as burst pipes, frozen plumbing and ice-coated water meters became a primary concern for residents.

Jim Bruce, general manager for Hardin County Water District No. 1, said his district fielded more than 60 calls from residents who were without water once the temperatures dipped dramatically, mostly caused by frozen pipes. Staff members were assigned specifically to those calls, he said.

The district, which manages the water systems in Radcliff and Fort Knox, experienced at least six water main breaks on post Tuesday. None were reported in Radcliff by midday, Bruce said.

“That’s really what our biggest problems are right now,” he said.

Bruce said residents should let a trickle of water run through their faucets while temperatures are dangerously low, which will cause a slight uptick in water bills but reduce the likelihood of freezing.

Mobile homes, he said, need proper insulation and skirting at the bottom of the structures, where colder air can intrude and wreak havoc on plumbing.

James Jeffries, general manager of Hardin County Water District No. 2, said his office received around 14 calls from residents in a 24-hour period, three of which were for frozen meters while the rest were for frozen pipes.

“The calls are heavy,” he said.

Jeffries said meters have boxes around them to insulate from freezing temperatures, but if the lid has a leak or has been removed or the box has been damaged, the meter will freeze.

Older homes particularly are susceptible to frozen pipes because water lines often are installed along exterior walls and sinks are placed near windows. Like Bruce, Jeffries suggested keeping small streams of water running and opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow for warmer air. Crawlspaces also can be a culprit if they are exposed to sub-zero temperatures, he said.

Ultimately, Jeffries suggested residents inspect every room for possible dangers on a case-by-case basis. A bathroom in the middle of a home, for instance, is safer from freezing temperatures because the water lines are less likely to be exposed to the cold, he said.

Though temperatures are expected to stabilize later this week, Jeffries said he is braced for a brutally cold winter based on what he already has seen.

“This is a winter I think we have to be aware of this (problem) from start to finish,”

he said.

Officials in Elizabethtown and Vine Grove reported fewer problems. Don Hill, public works supervisor for Elizabethtown, said his department had received around a dozen calls since the temperatures dipped, but those numbers are not alarming or unusual this time of year as the weather turns colder.

Vine Grove Mayor Blake Proffitt said the city conducted pre-emptive maintenance on its system in advance of winter, installing insulation in spots where they had experienced trouble before. He considered this the main reason why the calls from residents had been held to

around 10.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate,” Proffitt said.

In the private sector, though, Knight’s Mechanical had a service backlog of 3 to 4 days. Debbie Swift, a service dispatcher with the company, said if the colder air does not break soon, the backlog will extend up to a week.

Swift said phones were “ringing off the wall” as residents were facing frozen plumbing, lack of hot water or failing heating units.

“It’s crazy,” Swift said of the rash of calls. “I’ve been here for 26 years and we’ve never been this busy on both sides before.”

Because the company is so backed up, she was hoping the temperatures would increase enough to unthaw frozen lines. The problem, she said, is those thawed lines will be in danger of bursting.

“That will lead to more calls,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.