Winter weather is no match for reliable water

 

As temperatures get colder and snow, hail and sleet storms strike, you’ll likely depend on access to hot water more than ever. After all, nothing beats a hot shower and a warm meal during the wintertime.

We get it. So much, in fact, that at Aqua, we have an entire process in place to keep your water flowing in even the harshest of conditions. No matter what kind of winter mix hits your town, our field workers have you covered.

We spoke with John Aulbach, president of Aqua Virginia, and Ed Kolodziej, president and COO of Aqua Ohio, to get the scoop on how Aqua braces for winter weather.

Nature throws plenty of curveballs.

Let’s face it: Weather can be weird. One day it’s warm and sunny, and the next day there are little pieces of ice falling out of the sky. Because we don’t have any weather psychics on staff, our team must be prepared for whatever weather the world decides to throw our way.

For example, down in Virginia, things are a bit, well, calmer than they are up north. However, that’s not to say Virginia doesn’t get its fair share of winter weather.

“Freezing rain is a threat to our mobility and slows our response times. Plus, icy branches and wires can interrupt the power for pumps we use to keep the water flowing,” says Aulbach. “That’s what makes our standby generators so important.”

Heavy snowfall tends to hit Virginia in the western, northern and central parts of the state. And when the sun pops out and snow melts, flooding can occur.

Ohio also has its fair share of freezing rain and intense snowstorms, but our friends in the Midwest are also susceptible to a phenomenon called frazil ice.

Frazil ice in the Great Lakes (via the Aqua Ohio team)

 

“Think of a sno-cone without the sugary goodness,” says Kolodziej. “That [consistency] can threaten the flow through our raw water intakes from Lake Erie. When the lake turns to frazil ice, it’s difficult for the heaters on our intakes to keep up.”

When frazil ice strikes, the Aqua team has to force a block of ice and straw (called a “straw pig”) through the intake pipes by reversing the water flow from the plant into the lake. The straw pigs then scrub the inside of the pipe, and when the water temperatures rise, everything melts without having a harsh impact on the ecosystem. Hooray for science!

Pipes will freeze—it’s inevitable.

Here’s the deal with frozen pipes: When stationary water inside pipes drops to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the pipes freeze. It’s that simple. According to Kolodziej, it happens each and every winter without fail.

When water freezes, it expands, which can then break pipes, flood interiors and cause major damage. It’s no good.

“As a preventive measure, we encourage customers to insulate or use heat tape to protect pipes in unheated areas such as outdoor faucets, crawlspaces and garages,” Kolodziej explains. “They can also leave cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air to reach pipes or even leave a trickle of water (about the size of pencil lead) running overnight.”

Wondering why you would ever knowingly leave your faucet on all night? Well, according to Kolodziej, it all comes down to the fact that moving water is less likely to freeze. The water entering your house is usually about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which can prevent ice from forming.

However, if things do freeze over and a pipe bursts, you’ll want to shut off the valve for your water supply as soon as possible. This action can be the difference between a small mess and a huge nightmare.

It’s cold out there, folks.

When the weather ramps up, our workers can’t exactly call it a day and go home. Our customers rely on having access to safe water each and every day, and that often means our workers have to lace up their boots and tackle the storm in all sorts of wild conditions.

Recently, for example, Aulbach’s team in Virginia experienced a winter weather line break on Thanksgiving morning that impacted about 150 homes. Before the damage could wreak havoc on everyone’s meal preparations, the team located the leak and restored service before the repair was even completed. The Virginia team also distributed bottled water door to door so that Thanksgiving cooking could go on while the team kept working on the repair.

Frozen pipe (via Pixabay)

 

We can’t always predict what Mother Nature has in store for us, but we can make sure our team is fully prepared and ready for any challenge. Whether it’s rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we always encourage our workers to be safe, stay warm, and ask for help if they need it.

Providing water and wastewater service to communities and being able to sanitize and deliver reliable, safe drinking water is a true privilege, says Kolodziej.

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Winter is Freezing—But Your Pipes Don’t Have to Be

As we all know, winter is here, and that means it’s cold outside. While you can keep yourself warm by throwing on another jacket or blanket, it’s important to remember that your pipes don’t have the same option. The water inside them can freeze and expand, causing major problems throughout the winter season.

Want to avoid that nightmare? We want to help you do so. We’ve recruited the help of our old friends Fred Wags and Felicia Fluff to help teach you the steps you can take to prevent frozen pipes.  

Step One: Thaw

If your pipes are starting to freeze, follow Fred’s lead and grab a hair dryer. Hold it about six inches away from the frozen area of the pipe, and move it back and forth to thaw out the pipes and get your water flowing again.

Step Two: Insulate 

Fred and Felicia are keeping warm, but that’s because they have fur. Pipes don’t have jackets or fur, so insulation is the next best thing! If you’re unsure about how to insulate your pipes, check out this video by the U.S. Department of Energy. Make sure you follow the step-by-step instructions to insulate the pipes in the cold areas of your house so you don’t have to worry about breaking out the hair dryer again.

Step Three: Open Doors

While we aren’t telling you to keep any major entry or exit points open, there are a few doors in your house that should stay ajar this winter season. Any cabinet doors underneath a sink should be left open to allow hot air to flow in and warm up the pipes. Just make sure Fred and Felicia don’t get their paws on anything they shouldn’t!

Step Four: Remove Hoses

Before it gets too cold, make sure to go outside and pack your hoses away for the winter. It sounds simple, but this quick action will keep hoses from getting exposed to the elements, freezing or getting damaged over the winter months.

Step Five: Keep Water Running

Felicia and Fred are thirsty little creatures, and if you want to keep them hydrated, listen up. Make sure to keep the water source furthest away from your heater running with a small stream if the temperature outside gets below 10 degrees. Moving water doesn’t freeze, so this trick will ensure that your pipes don’t, either.

Step Six: Eliminate Drafts 

If you want to keep Fred, Felicia and your pipes warm, it’s important to eliminate any drafts you have coming into your house. Your pets will be happier, and you will be too. If you’re not quite sure how to fix drafts, this guide from This Old House should send you in the right direction.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about ways to prevent your pipes from freezing this winter season. Fred and Felicia are feeling confident the pipes won't freeze this winter, and you should too.

Stay warm, and stay safe!

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