Home and business owners in the Treasure Valley have added two new curse words to their vocabulary this winter frozen pipes.
The frigid air that is working its way into walls and freezing plumbing all over the Valley since late December is not discriminating.
Since Jan. 16, United Water has received almost 900 calls from customers who discovered they had no water service including 224 this Tuesday alone.
Boise, Meridian, and Nampa fire departments have responded to dozens of alarms only to find broken pipes and water gushing out of local businesses. Boise Fire alone had at least 40 such calls since the beginning of the month, spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said.
Its not just homes. There have been broken pipes all over town, from the Stueckle Sky Center at Bronco Stadium to a West Boise apartment complex to expensive homes in the Foothills.
Plumbers and disaster-cleanup companies go from call to call to call. And its all because of a historic cold snap that has kept the Boise area in record-low temperatures all month.
The cold just doesnt care, said Kenny Calkins, the owner of Cloverdale Plumbing, which has brought in extra workers to keep up with the calls. Once it gets cold enough, there are not enough plumbers in the Treasure Valley to keep up.
Weve had six two-man crews working 12 hours a day, United Water Public Affairs Manager Mark Snider said. Over the weekend, it blew up. I bet weve had 600 to 700 calls since then, he said.
TIME TO CALL A PLUMBER
If its a frozen water meter (the brass device that connects main water lines to homes and businesses and gauges water usage), United Water will take care of that. If the water meter is working fine, then its a pipe in your house or business. That becomes your responsibility which usually means its time to call a plumber.
It could happen to anybody. All it takes is someone leaving a garage door open for a little while or forgetting to detach a garden hose from an outside spigot. Maybe the vents underneath a home are wedged open. Businesses may have air leaks near exposed pipes.
Take Nampa Fire Assistant Chief Doug Strosnider. While his firefighters have been called to more than a dozen fire alarms that turned out to be broken pipes this month, he had to thaw out frozen water lines in his garage after someone not him left the garage door open for a few hours last week.
The same stories are circulating around offices and workplaces all over the Valley. Water softeners in garages are freezing up. Pipes near vents are stopped up. Space heaters and hair dryers are getting a workout as people try to safely thaw out pipes. A trailer home in rural Caldwell was destroyed by flames Monday morning after residents tried to use a propane heater to thaw pipes.
Valley residents have endured three solid weeks of frigid temperatures. All but two days in January have been below normal and not just a little. Average daily temperatures are 10 to 24 degrees below normal.
The National Weather Service measured sub-zero temperatures for four days in a row, beginning Saturday morning, when it got down to 3 below zero at the Boise Airport. That was the coldest temp in Boise since December 2009. That was the day United Water and Cloverdale Plumbing started getting deluged with calls.
The National Weather Service reported a low of 9 below in Ontario Tuesday morning.
Temperatures in Boise through Wednesday averaged 15.2 15.6 degrees below normal. That had the city on track to be the second-coldest winter since 1865. But based on the forecast through the end of the month, the city is expected to finish the month with an average temperature of 18.8. That would tie 1875 for the seventh-coldest winter.
MORE PLUMBING PROBLEMS ON THE WAY
Unfortunately, once the weather gets back to normal this weekend, pipes that are frozen at Treasure Valley homes and businesses will inevitably crack and burst, the experts say.
Once it warms up, those pipes will thaw out pretty fast, said Calkins, who is braced for a second round of emergency calls when the warm-up happens.
Calkins said hes surprised at how many newer homes Cloverdale Plumbing has been sent to. His theory is that people with older homes have been through similar cold snaps in the past and have figured out where the vulnerable spots are. People with newer homes are learning the hard way this January, he said.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
One thing to help people who have concerns is to keep a faucet running (a pencil-lead-thin stream) somewhere inside for a few days, even after it warms up, to make sure if they do have a pipe leak or crack, the water will have somewhere to go instead of building up pressure and bursting the pipe.
Experts say people should check out as much of their plumbing as they can, as soon as possible, when the cold recedes to make sure they have no problems.
Its also essential for home and business owners to know where their water shutoffs are in case a pipe does burst. You want to limit the damage.
Homes and most businesses should have an inside main shut-off valve that cuts off supply to the whole building. There is also an outside, underground water shutoff valve, where the buildings line connects to the water main. You can turn off your water there as well.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr