Pipes burst; pros busy

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LEWISTON – Burst water pipes during last week’s frigid temperatures are keeping sprinkler, and plumbing and heating companies busy.

As temperatures fell below zero Thursday and Friday, pipes in some buildings and homes froze, burst, then thawed over the weekend, leaving some property owners wading in water.

The Auburn Fire Department has responded to 12 calls for broken water pipes since Jan. 1, according to Ray Levesque, a platoon chief with the department. One call was for a building that had water coming out of a sprinkler head.

Levesque said the main cause is that property owners turn down thermostats when they are away, coupled with cold temperatures.

Act Now Rapid Rooter of Lewiston handled 12 to 17 calls in the past week, most of them for trailers, mobile homes and old farm houses where pipes were not well insulated against the cold.

United Piping and Welding of Turner has also received calls over the past few weeks. On Monday, it was for a vacant building on Lisbon Street.

Eastern Sprinkler Services, which installs and repairs automatic fire sprinklers, has responded to more than 50 calls in the last week and a half, according to owner Jerry Haynes.

“A lack of action in taking preventative measures” due to the warm weather in December has led to the increase in calls this year, Haynes said.

But while some plumbers are busy, others are finding the winter slow.

“We haven’t really seen anything,” said Roland Laverdiere, owner of Able Power Rooter in Lewiston.

Laverdiere usually deals with frozen sewer lines this time of year. But because this winter overall has been warm, and because some snow blanketed the ground before last week’s cold set in, there is no deep frost to freeze underground pipes.

“You’ve got to have a month of cold weather to get the frost in the ground,” he said.

For above-ground pipes, like water pipes that snake through a home’s basement, experts say freezing can be prevented:

• Pipes should be protected and properly insulated from the cold.

• Homeowners should pay particular attention to pipes that are near windows or in an area where heat doesn’t circulate.

• During cold snaps, homeowners can help prevent frozen pipes by keeping water running.

When all else fails, both Lewiston and Auburn fire departments have boxes that property owners can purchase to keep their building keys secure, yet available to firefighters in case of a pipe burst. Fire departments have a master key to the box and can use the key in non-emergency situations instead of knocking down doors. These boxes can also include contact information for the departments, according to Capt. Larry Morin of the Lewiston Fire Department.

When firefighters receive a call for burst pipes they first work to stop the flow of water, which might include calling the water department to shut off the flow from outside the building or home. Next, they clean up the damage and help the homeowner clean out the water. The fire department does not thaw frozen pipes, or fix pipes.

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