With the coldest temperatures seen in decades, water pipes inside and outside homes are at risk for freezing and breaking.
The Pennsylvania American Water Company offers advice to customers on how to protect their property.
"Frigid temperatures can lead to frozen water pipes inside of the home and costly plumbing repairs, while substantial amounts of blowing and drifting snow can impede access to fire hydrants during emergencies," said Steve Tambini, Pennsylvania American Water vice president of operations. "We advise customers to take safety measures that will help protect their homes and neighborhoods from extreme winter weather."
First, know what areas in the home are vulnerable, such as unheated spaces and outside walls. Next, eliminate sources of cold air near water lines by repairing broken windows, insulating walls and sealing doors and windows from drafts.
Know where the water valve(s) are.
Protect pipes and water meters by wrapping exposed pipes with insulation or electrical heat tracing wire. Exterior meters should be enclosed, and any snow that covers a lid should be left in place, as snow acts as insulation against very cold temperatures.
Use electrical wraps with caution, as some brands have caused fires in the past. Consult an expert before installation.
If you have pipes that are vulnerable to freezing, allow a small trickle of water to run overnight. The cost of the extra water is much lower than the cost of repairing a broken pipe. Open cabinet doors in the kitchen and bathroom to expose them to warmer room temperatures.
If a pipe freezes, shut off water supply immediately. Thaw with a hair dryer, space heater or hot water. Be sure not to leave space heaters unattended, and avoid the use of kerosene heaters or open flames.
Once the pipes have thawed, turn the water back on slowly and check for cracks and leaks. Expansion of water when frozen will frequently crack pipes.
If you are away from your home, have a friend, relative or neighbor regularly check to make sure the heat is working and pipes have not frozen.
For less than $100, you can purchase a freeze alarm that will call a user-selected phone number if the inside temperature falls below 45 degrees.
Snow accumulations from storms and plowing can leave fire hydrants partially or completely buried. Residents should clear snow around hydrants near their homes, or ask a neighbor or someone else to do it.
"Pennsylvania American Water maintains approximately 36,000 hydrants across the Commonwealth," added Tambini. "By keeping fire hydrants clear of snow, the public can help firefighters easily locate them and access water quickly, preserving valuable time to potentially save lives and structures."
To keep hydrants from freezing, Gary Lobaugh, the company's external affairs manager for western Pennsylvania, said, "We use what is called a dry hydrant. All of the critical hydrant infrastructure is below the frost line. When a hydrant is turned off, the water above the frost line drains into gravel around the hydrant." He added that when hydrants are opened, the drain is closed so that water only drains when they are closed again. The technology is similar to that used for external hose-bib faucets.
Sub-freezing temperatures can hasten aging water mains to break and cause unsafe driving conditions. If you see a leak, or your water service is disrupted, contact the company's 24-7 customer service center at 1-800-565-7292.
More cold weather tips can be found at www.pennsylvaniaamwater.com, or by visiting the company's YouTube channel (youtube.com/paamwater) or its Facebook page (facebook.com/pennsylvaniaamwater.com).