WATERLOO — Very cold temperatures are still wreaking havoc on plumbing across the Cedar Valley.
Classes were canceled at the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence in Waterloo after a fire sprinkler line burst at 2 a.m. Wednesday in the elementary school’s boiler room, according to district spokesperson Tara Thomas.
Thomas noted crews were still in the process of cleaning up the mess, but staff was reporting for a professional development day in other areas of the building. She anticipated students would be back in school Thursday.
It would take longer than that to get back to normal at New Aldaya Lifescapes in Cedar Falls, where a large water feed line burst underneath the campus’ chapel Monday evening, cutting off water to the skilled nursing facility, according to CEO Millisa Tierney.
Around 125 residents were drinking portable water and showering and bathing in the assisted living facility as of Wednesday. Employees were manually flushing toilets and refilling them with five-gallon buckets, following the emergency plan already in place, said Tierney.
“Truly, our residents are receiving all the care and services they would receive if we had running water,” she said. “Our staff is doing a bang-up job.”
She said plumbers and contractors were busy Tuesday and Wednesday tearing out the chapel and laying new pipes to reconnect skilled nursing as quickly as possible.
Pipes freezing and bursting was a common theme around the Cedar Valley, according to Dalton Plumbing president Dave Krejchi. He said his business had received more than 100 calls just in the past few days dealing with that specific issue.
“The phones were running so fast, we couldn’t keep up,” he said.
Most problems stemmed from homes — and particularly basements — that were too cold, or not enough insulation around the pipes or between the pipes and the outside walls. Those who forgot to remove their garden hoses also were seeing broken water spigots.
PEX or plastic piping is more flexible and able to expand and contract with the temperature than older copper or galvanized plumbing, but in sustained subzero temperatures, any kind of pipes were susceptible, Krejchi said.
He offered a few tips to homeowners on how to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting:
Keep your home warm — at least 68 degrees — and don’t cut off any of that heat to your basement, even though no one may be down there. “A lot of people turn their heat down too low and close registers off in your basement,” Krejchi said. “You don’t want to do that. The basement is where your plumbing is.”
Once the heat’s on, make sure it’s actually getting around your house by keeping the thermostat set to “fan” instead of “auto.” “It’s not gonna hurt to keep your fan on so you’re moving air flow,” he said. That’s in addition to changing out your furnace filter monthly, and keeping your furnace maintained each year.
Though not everyone needs to, it’s probably a good idea in extreme cold to keep a small stream of water running in one of your home’s faucets — especially if you live in an older home with older plumbing. “Trickle water in the faucet so it keeps moving,” he said. And consider keeping cabinets where plumbing is located open, so that warm air gets to the pipes.
The biggest thing, Krejchi said, is keeping things warm — even if you like it a bit colder, your pipes don’t.
“Don’t get cheap on the heat,” he said.