The online RCAP Resources Library has a variety of resources that are useful to small, rural drinking water and wastewater systems.
Ready or not, it’s here. By now, many parts of the country have faced chilly, and even below freezing, temperatures. As typical with Fall weather, the days are warm enough that the quick overnight freeze isn’t a major problem. Yet.
Soon, though, those cold temperatures will be around day and night. That means a greater risk of water freezing in pipes. THAT means a greater risk of bursting pipes and lots of damage.
In this edition of eBulletin, we’ll tell you what the EPA recommends you do to prepare your water system for the winter. We’ll also give you some of the many methods suggested for winterizing water systems that you can pass along to your customers, and we’ll provide a quick tool that you can use to help them prepare for the cold weather. Finally, we’ll pass along a few tips to prepare for winter storms.
Homeowners, businesses and even water systems spend millions each year to clean up and repair damage from burst pipes caused by cold weather, though it’s hard to pinpoint a specific figure. But water system workers know the drill. While a plumber more than likely will have to repair the damage to pipes inside the home, the customers will call the water system to help with shutting off the water or even figuring out what to do with the extra-high water bill.
The best method for dealing with this situation is to prevent it, and doing so requires a little preparation by both the water system and the customer. We’ll start at the top: the water system.
For the Water System
The EPA has several recommendations for water systems to prepare for and get through the winter.
First, inspect system heaters to be sure they’re working properly. The EPA recommends doing inspections in October or November, though those in the North should start in September. After a thorough inspection, the heaters should be checked daily to ensure they’re working properly. You also need to make sure any propane or fuel-fed heaters are full of fuel. Having the heaters out due to lack of fuel, even for a few hours, can lead to pipe or pump freeze.
Another recommendation is to make sure fire hydrants are clearly visible and maintained during the winter. The need for maintenance or use by the local fire department can come up at any time, but things can get complicated if the hydrants have to be dug out first. Make sure the hydrants are brightly colored and easily visible. Make sure snow drifts are removed from around the hydrants, Also, make sure the hydrants are drained before the cold weather sets in, and be sure they’re well sealed to help prevent freezing or damage.
The biggest preparation will be to inspect outside equipment such as pipes, pumps and valves. Make sure they’re well insulated and all seals are intact and tight. Be sure to fix any leaky seals, because they may shrink in the colder weather, leading to bigger leaks and frozen (or burst) pipes. That will cost a lot more in the long run.
Also, be sure to seal the vents at the pump house to keep the cold out as much as possible. The heaters won’t do much good if cold air is pouring in from an outside vent.
Finally, drop the water level in your storage tanks slightly. You want plenty of room for the water to circulate. The more the water can circulate, the less chance it has of freezing.
These tips should help you get your water system ready for even the coldest of winters, which some forecasters say is what much of the country will have this year.
Once again, here’s a quick checklist:
Preventive Maintenance Tasks for Small Public Water Systems Using Groundwater (PDF booklet)
Preventive Maintenance Card File for Small Public Water Systems Using Ground Water (PDF log cards
There are two methods of winterizing a home – to prepare for winter in an occupied house, and to shut a home down for the winter and not occupy it.
The amount of preparation obviously is determined by location. Residents in Seattle will have cold, but may not face several days in a row of below-freezing temperatures, like residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas.
While it’s best to tailor preparation suggestions to your area, there are some basic suggestions that could apply to everyone facing cold winter days. Several agencies offer suggestions, from water systems to the American Red Cross. Here are a few for those planning on remaining in the home:
We also have a few tips for those who will be leaving their home for warmer climates this winter.
Want to get these tips to your customers? We’ve provided a way. Check out the link below for a PDF form in our Tips and Tools. The sheet can be printed and mailed to your customers.
American Red Cross: Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes
Some agencies and web sites suggest pouring antifreeze made for recreational vehicles in pipes, including those for swimming pools and sprinkler systems.
Not a good idea, according to the American Red Cross and the Environmental Protection Agency. The main reason is a simple one – antifreeze is toxic to humans, pets, wildlife and landscaping and is harmful to the environment. Antifreeze shouldn’t be used unless specifically called for by a manufacturer.
An alternative is a salt solution of one cup of salt per gallon of water. The solution is only needed if pipes are going to be without heat for an extended period of time, such as during a power outage or if the building is being closed for the winter.
It isn’t just pipes, pumps and homes that should be prepared for tough winter weather. Water systems’ offices and employees need to ready themselves as well.
Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for winter storms:
These are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you prepare your customers, and yourself, for Old Man Winter.