Deep-freeze thaw brings busted pipes, busy week for plumbers

The holiday season is busy enough during a normal year. But for plumbers, home heating contractors and emergency responders, the deep freeze over the past few days — and the warmer weather that is on the way — has made things even busier.

“I’ve probably had 40 or 50 calls since Friday night,” said Vince Marino, who owns Vince Marino Plumbing and works primarily in Pittsburgh’s Oakland, Shadyside and Greenfield neighborhoods. Marino had just a few minutes between service calls Monday to talk about the past few days.

“People’s pipes have been frozen since Friday, and now they’re starting to thaw out,” he said. “That can cause a lot of damage, and it’s been plenty busy.”

Temperatures took a dive Friday morning from about 40 degrees to minus 5 by Friday night, according to the National Weather Service. It stayed in the single digits through most of Saturday and Sunday, with wind chill temperatures nearing 30 below zero.

“We probably tripled our usual number of calls,” said Ben Vokes of Lower Burrell, owner of Ben’s Plumbing, Heating and Remodeling. “We’ve averaged 15 to 18 calls per day.”

Vokes said it’s probably the worst few days of cold-related damage he can recall.

“We haven’t seen this in twenty years,” he said.

Water expands as it freezes — it’s the only known nonmetallic substance to do so — and, as a result, can put pressure on the pipes that contain it. As many of those pipes are metal, they also are subject to some expansion and contraction. When temperatures start to warm up, the ice begins to melt and pipes can become damaged or burst.

It happened Christmas Eve at Shaler Area High School, where Bauerstown Volunteer Fire Department members responded to a sprinkler pipe that had burst around dinner time. On Christmas Day, weather-related damage caused a pipe to burst at Macy’s in Westmoreland Mall in Hempfield. That damage forced the store to close several of its entrances, and officials at Kennywood said frozen pipes forced the park to close Monday.

Susan Bayne of Murrysville said she meant to leave the faucets running slowly Friday, but it slipped her mind, and her family woke up to frozen pipes on Christmas Eve.

“We had to put our heat on up to 80 degrees, with space heaters, to thaw it out,” Bayne said. “We came back late Christmas Eve — we called it our ‘Christmas miracle.’ ”

In Greensburg, Bortz Hardware owner Gary Adams said Monday that he has seen steady business.

“We’re selling a lot of heat tape now, and we’ve been selling a ton of ice-melt products,” Adams said.

It was much the same for Dylan Grindle, manager at Hepler’s Hardware in New Stanton.

“People were picking up propane and kerosene heaters, insulation and heat tape,” he said.

A cashier at Ace Hardware in Lower Burrell said the store has seen a steady stream of homeowners and professionals picking up supplies.

In Penn Hills, Pheasant Drive was a sheet of ice as crews from the Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority were working to address a water main break in the Churchill Valley neighborhood.

Matt Junker, spokesman for Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, said the agency experienced two small leaks in McKeesport as well as one each in Jeannette and Greensburg during the cold snap.

Not only is the weather getting ready to turn, it’s getting ready to warm up, according to the National Weather Service, with temperatures forecast to reach the low 50s late in the week.

“We’re not going to get a ‘flash warming’ the way we got this flash freeze,” meteorologist Shannon Hefferan said. “(Monday), we’re only going to get up near 20 degrees. By Wednesday, we’ll get up toward the 40s, which is when you can get some contraction and expansion-type of things that occur. And we do have a chance of some rain on Friday, but not a lot.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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