Helping your pipes survive Saturday night

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This morning on 1170 KFAQ, Mark Wayne Mullin of Mullin Plumbing addressed the next nasty challenge for those still without power. We are forecast to have a hard freeze -- 19 degrees -- Saturday night / early Sunday morning. The usual tactics of leaving your undersink cabinet doors open and leaving the faucets dripping only work when a house has heat. When the temps inside the house dip below freezing, you've got a problem.

Mullin urged homeowners in this situation to cut off the water at the meter. (Hopefully you've already got the special tool that makes this easy.) Then open all the taps, including the outside taps, for about 10 minutes to let any water drain out. Flush your toilets and plunge as much water out of the bowl as you can. If you have an electric water heater, drain it.

I didn't quite catch what he said about gas water heaters -- whether it made any difference that those would remain heated, or whether the heater would not be sufficient to combat temperatures in the teens. It's probably best to play it safe and drain a gas heater, too. (If someone heard the interview more clearly, please leave a comment.)

MORE: Here's some advice on coping with winter storm power outages from Northeast Utilities, where the weather is colder for longer. Keep in mind that heating oil-powered furnace boilers and radiated heat systems are rare in Oklahoma:

Keeping Your Pipes from Freezing

Shut off the valve that allows water to come into your home. Then, open any drain valves and all faucets and let them run until the pipes are empty (it's helpful to identify these valves in advance). Next, flush all toilets and pour denatured alcohol into toilets and sinks to prevent water in the traps from freezing. Do NOT use automotive antifreeze in case there's trouble with your water system; you don't want the antifreeze to contaminate your drinking water. You may, however, use nontoxic antifreeze that's made for winterizing motor homes.

Turn off the furnace emergency switch. Then drain your furnace boiler by opening the valve at the bottom (this looks like a garden faucet). Also, open all radiator vents. Be sure the boiler is filled with water again before it is restarted.

The tank of your electric water heater will keep water warm for the first few days after an outage. However, it can freeze after prolonged cold and should be drained after three days of below freezing temperatures.

Given that we're only going to have one or two nights of below freezing weather, it may be that gas and hot water heaters will survive without any problem.

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Technically, (as I understand it, anyway) citizens are not supposed to be in the water meter cans turning valves. Residences should have private, local shut off valves for purposes such as this.

If you can't get your water shut off, and REALLY want to do this, please check to see if you have a private,local shut-off first before cranking on the city's meter valve. Otherwise here is my non-warranted advice and you do the following at your own risk:

If the valve at the meter looks like this:
then be aware of a few things. When this valve is in the ON position, the arrow should point toward the meter. To turn it off, turn it slowly clockwise 180 degrees until it points opposite the meter AND NO FURTHER!. Turning a valve like this improperly will break the valve nine times out of ten. Turning it the wrong way (counter-clockwise) can cause the top stem to blow straight out and up and into your eye! :)

If you have a valve that looks similar to this:
then you have a few other things to worry about.
If the top "ear" is parallel to the valve's body, the water is on. To turn the water off, turn the "ear" clockwise 90 degrees until the "ear" is perpendicular to the valve body.
Most of these types of valves will turn freely in all directions, but some don't. Also, some have a little play in them and sometimes being parallel and perpendicular will not necessarily mean the water is completely on or off.

If you don't know what you're looking at, don't touch it! You may be cranking on a gas meter instead of water! Your water meter will likely look like one of the meters listed here:

When in doubt, call the city up. We've got guys that do this daily and can help you with it. We'd rather turn it off for you, instead of you breaking one at 3 in the morning. :)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 14, 2007 12:21 PM.

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