Deep freeze taking toll on area

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

Cold weather can have a chilling effect on many aspects of life when the temperature dips below zero. Fortunately, there are several remedies to keep those vehicles, pipes and other cold-weather victims operating smoothly.

Area hardware stores sell several products that help with home heating. Propane heaters, heat tape, insulation, flex-o-pane, weather stripping and pipe wrap have been big sellers so far this winter, said Rick Abbott, Soldotna branch manager of Spenard Builders Supply.

"They're even coming in and buying the coats we have out on the sales floor," Abbott said.

According to Abbott, sales of heating-related merchandise has been higher than normal for this time of year.

"We've also been spending more time with people to make sure they put their heat tape on correctly and giving other advice so they don't cause damage to their homes," Abbott said.

Maintenance on things like furnaces and oil heaters is something that should not be ignored during any season. During the winter it can be especially important to change filters and make sure things run smoothly and efficiently.

"A lot of maintenance people often comment they meant to do it earlier but just didn't get to it," Abbott said.

Improper installation of products like heat tape or improper use of heaters can result in fires and other disastrous results.

"The most important thing if you are using heat lamps or tapes is that you're very careful to use the directions and instructions and cautions that come with those items," Abbott said.

According to Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Gary Hale, homeowners should have taken care of their maintenance needs earlier in the season. Sweeping chimneys, changing filters in furnaces, removing dust and lint from boilers and inspecting heat tape should be done before a cold snap actually hits, Hale said.

There has been a decrease in heat tape and chimney fires in the past four years, which shows that fire prevention programs are working and that people are being more careful with their maintenance, Hale said.

"In all types of fires right now we have not seen a rash of fires attributed to those factors right now," Hale said. "It's good for the public and shows that preventative maintenance is proving itself."

Hardware stores aren't the only places doing brisk business of late. The plunging temperatures are keeping plumbers busy dealing with frozen pipes as well.

Mike Eberhard, who works for Roto-Rooter and S&R Enterprises on the central peninsula, estimated that this week's weather has doubled his work load. Since Sunday morning, he has been getting four to 12 calls per day for frozen pipes.

"Keep the water running," Eberhard recommended. "As long as there is water running through, it won't freeze."

House trailers, especially, are having problems, he said. The skirting around the bottom of trailers often doesn't have enough insulation, or holes in the skirting let cold air into crawl spaces that can freeze pipes. Even a small hole in a crawl space under a trailer can freeze a pipe up to 20 feet away, Abbott said.

One remedy to this problem is to heat up crawl spaces under house trailers, but that can be dangerous if not done properly.

"Oftentimes, with old trailers and the like, people will take heat tapes or heaters and use too long a cord, override the breaker and do all kinds of things to make sure pipes don't freeze," Abbott said. "I've been here a long time, and, unfortunately, I've seen that happen, particularly in this type of winter."

Gas lines and car engines require a little extra effort as well to keep them from freezing during the winter. Derek Virgil from Soldotna Y Thawing Service said the business has had a few more tows due to frozen engines so far this year.

Virgil recommends knowing what temperature the vehicle's antifreeze is rated for.

"If (the antifreeze) is only for 10 below, it's probably going to freeze," he said. "We try to get all vehicles good to 40 below at least."

In cold temperatures, condensation can build up in gas tanks, causing water to get in the gas, which can then freeze. To keep this from happening, Virgil recommends keeping the gas tank full, using a block heater and using HEET, a product that removes water from fuel.

Using common sense and caution when taking precautions against the cold is probably the best advice for wintertime safety. Keeping an eye out for others can help as well.

"Look to your neighbors, and if they need help, help them," Abbott said.

"This is the time of year for that."

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