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Is it Cold Enough for You?

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007

By: Dave Retz (Expired article)

Solvang, CA -

Incredibly cold temperatures have caused numerous failures in the irrigation and general water supply systems in the Santa Ynez Valley in the first two weeks of January, 2007. Most failures are due to freezing of water within PVC pipe which is exposed above the surface, causing subsequent cracking and bursting with a spray of water when the temperature reaches 40 degrees or higher (i.e., when the sun comes up). Photo Courtesy: Jim Heck

The recent weather has been very dry with no overcast, causing the sun to allow thawing of the damaged pipes, resulting in an explosion of water when the ice thaws in mid-day (anytime after 11AM).

Here are some simple tips to avoid a major catastrophe from broken plumbing:

  • Most important: if you have above-ground PVC pipes or sprinkler valves, INSULATE THEM. The desirable long-term insulation has been sold out by the local hardware stores. The alternative: wrap them with fiberglass pipe insulation, followed by the familiar duct-tape to hold it in place. Cover the entire set of sprinkler valves with a trash bag.

  • If you have an external cut-off valve for your irrigation system (outside of your house) shut it off, and drain it. There isn't an immediate need in the next few weeks for irrigation (lawn watering, etc.). Make sure you also set your watering system to OFF! Draining the system will prevent damage due to freezing within PVC valves and back-flows.

  • If you can't obtain insulation for your pipes, at least put an upside-down trashcan or blanket over the valves to protect them from the cold. This will help prevent damage from freezing.

  • Insulate the main feed to your house. If you don't have some sort of flow to the house for a period of 8 hours or so (i.e., you're out of town) the inlet will freeze and you won't have any water. Throw a blanket over it, or insulate your main feed with fiberglass or plastic permanent insulation (when it becomes available again). If you can't do that and you're in the house, let a valve drip slowly into the sink; that will keep some flow going and prevent freezing of the input line. There's nothing worse than getting up at 5AM to go to work and there's no water (or hot water)!

  • When things warm up, check the valves and back-flow valves on your sprinkler system. If there are cracks in the back-flow, water will go everywhere (from the cracks) when the sprinklers are online. You will have to turn off a main cut-off valve until you can replace the broken valve/pipe that was damaged. Make sure you know where your main cut-off is, and it isn't covered by some ambitious gopher - who commonly cover underground valves with dirt.
Hope this helps in your weathering our California weather strangeness. If there are any tips you have, please email me at the email address on the home page of this website.

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