Think Like a Water Drop

Record high temps today, but a Winter Storm Watch forecasts heavy snow for the metro area in less than 48-hours.  The  anticipated 40-degree temperature drop prompts us to share some lessons learned in our handling of cold-weather claims in Think Like a Water Drop.

Case 1

A retired couple hopped in their RV to leave the Colorado winters behind and headed to Arizona until spring.  The house, heated with a propane forced air furnace with a standing pilot, was set for sixty degrees.  Unfortunately an 18-hour power outage occurred during a period of bitter cold winds leading to a broken pipe in the bathroom.  When power was restored the well pump kicked in and caused a thin jet of water to run for months.  This in turn caused water to flow into the cold air return ducts (made from a cardboard material) and then into to the furnace controls.  When the owners returned they found not only green grass in the yard, but world-class mold on the walls, ceilings, and carpet – you had to be there to see the carpet!

Lesson 1

Although the extended power outage was very unusual a better protection against water damage would be to turn the electrical power to the well off as no water was needed during the extended absence.

Case 2

A couple left for a 3-week trip to the south but wisely turned off the domestic water where the pipe entered the basement utility room.  While gone, the furnace electric fan motor died and the short (about 2-feet) section of the copper pipe between the foundation and the shut-off valve froze and split.   Fortunately the valve was off and none of the house pipes were damaged.  However, as we all know Murphy is mean and the ensuing water jet ate through a section of exterior sheathing and then eroded away the sand bed under the concrete slab floor.   Had it sprayed into the room it would have simply gone down the floor drain.  When the owners returned they found the entire finished basement had dropped about 6-inches – and an eye popping city water bill.

Lesson 2 

A prudent (almost paranoid) action still failed.  Even safer would be heat tape on the short section of pipe or to turn off the water supply at the water meter- an action that is awkward and requires special tools.

Case 3

A rental property owner wanted to save some money by setting the thermostat to 55-degrees in a vacant house.  He had heard this was a generally safe temperature fora newer, well-insulated house.  But the frugality went a little too far and he closed all of the upstairs bedroom doors and turned off the heat registers in the bedrooms (he did leave them on in the two baths).  When the temperature sank to 12-degrees below with a stiff north wind, the supply water pipe to the shower in the outside wall froze, leading to a significant water loss.

Lesson 3 

A thermostat can only measure the temperature at its location. The setting of 55-degrees might have been acceptable if the heat had been more uniformly distributed in the house.  It is critical that all areas with water pipes, including inside walls, be above freezing.

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