Tips to protect water pipes and natural gas systems

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The recent cold temperatures and expected bad weather could spell trouble for water and natural gas systems in people's homes.

The Charlottesville Fire Department and Columbia Gas of Virginia have some tips to protect your homes from problems.

Because water expands as it freezes, pipes can put under tremendous strain and may break.

According to the fire department, frozen pipes are one of the biggest risks to property when the temperature drops.

Pipes that may freeze are most likely exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs and sprinkler lines, water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements or crawl spaces or attics, and pipes that run along exterior walls with little or no insulation.

In order to prevent pipes from freezing, the fire department recommends removing, draining and storing hoses that are used outdoors, closing valves supplying outdoor hose bibs, opening the outside hose bib to allow water to drain and allow any water still in the pipe to expand without causing the pipe to break.

Insulation can also be added to attics, basements and crawl spaces, which will help maintain higher temperatures in such areas.

Locate any water supply lines in unheated areas and make sure both hot and cold water pipes are insulated.

For exposed water lines, homeowners may want to consider using a "pipe sleeve" or installing "heat tape" or "heat cable" on them.

If there are water supply lines in a garage, keep the garage doors closed.

For pipes in kitchen and bathroom cabinets, open the doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing fixtures. Any harmful cleaners or chemicals should be moved to keep them out of reach of children.

Allow the cold water to drip from the faucet if it is served by exposed pipes because running water helps prevent freezing.

If possible, keep the thermostat in the home set to the same temperature during the day and night, leaving the heat on even when you are not there and set to a temperature that does not go below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

If a pipe is already frozen, keep the faucet open as you treat the pipe so water can flow as it melts. Running water aids in melting.

Heat can be applied to a frozen pipe by means of wrapping it with a heating pap around it, using a hairdryer, or using a small portable space heater. Blowtorches, kerosene or propane heaters, charcoal stoves or other open-flame devices should not be used.

Apply the heat until full water pressure is restored, or if you cannot locate the frozen pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If your home suffers a burst pipe. turn off the water at the main shutoff valve, usually at the water meter or the main water line, and leave faucets opens until repairs can be completed.

For natural gas systems, Columbia Gas says residents need to protect their outside meters from hard-packed snow, icicles on the eaves and gutters that could fall, and dripping water that can freeze.

The company also says excessive snow and ice buildup around the fresh-air and exhaust vents for natural gas appliances can cause malfunctions and could create a carbon monoxide hazard.

Keeping meters visible and accessible for maintenance and emergency responders will help, which means not letting snow cover the meter, not shoveling snow up against the meter, and using a broom instead of a shovel to clear snow away from the meter.

If using a snow blower or plow near the meter, use caution.

Do not kick or hit the meter or its piping to break away snow or ice. If the meter is completely encased, call for emergency assistance from your natural gas service provider.

Vents should be kept unobstructed and free of debris, which requires knowing where air supply ducts are so they can be kept clear. Chimney and roof vents should also be kept clear.

Columbia Gas says accumulated snow can put stress on meter piping, which may cause a natural gas leak. It also says blocked vents could lead to abnormal pressure in the system, affecting appliance operation and interrupting service.

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