01/04/18 — Maintaining safety, home

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Maintaining safety, home

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on January 4, 2018 5:50 AM

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Tony Anderson with Keen Plumbing uses a torch to unfreeze an irrigation line while replacing a backflow preventer at Goldsboro Orthopedics Wednesday. Anderson says that he has been working extended hours because of an increase in weather related repair calls.

Plumbing and heating repair technicians have been flooded with service calls this week as subfreezing temperatures grip the Wayne County area.

And as snow blankets the area today, even more problems could occur, including busted water pipes and frozen heating units.

Jackson and Sons responded to 140 calls for service Tuesday and nearly the same Wednesday, while the Keen Plumbing Co. responded to calls for service this week.

"We have taken in the past 24 hours, a good 75 calls," said Shelly Barbour, dispatcher with the Keen Plumbing Co., Wednesday afternoon. "We're on a backlog right now."

Plumbers have been responding to frozen pipes at area homes and damaged backflow devices at local businesses, including several medical facilities.

"It's about half and half," she said.

The backflow devices prevent contaminants from entering water lines and even though many businesses have insulation boxes to protect the devices, some were damaged during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and have not been repaired, Barbour said.

"A lot of boxes got washed away from the hurricane," she said.

Residents throughout Wayne County have mostly experienced frozen pipes during the subfreezing temperatures this week. Repair crews have been primarily blowing warm air under homes to unfreeze the pipes.

As snow blankets the area, more problems could develop, including broken water pipes due to snow covering the ground, she said.

"When the snow and ice come, that's going to be a different story," Barbour said. "(Snow) gets heavy and it will lay on pipes and cause them to freeze. There's no way to protect it."

The best way to prevent pipes from freezing is to allow warm water to drip from faucets throughout the evening and even during the day when temperatures drop to subfreezing levels as they have this week.

"If you keep a flow in your pipes, it may help it from freezing," she said.

Kitchen and bathroom cabinets should also be left open to allow heat to keep pipes warm and prevent freezing, she said.

"The heat in your house can actually circulate under the cabinets," she said. "It will keep those pipes warm."

Other precautions include covering vents on the outside of a home to prevent cold air from freezing pipes. Water hoses should be removed from outside spigots and the spigot should be covered to avoid damage.

Repair crews have also been responding this week to failing heating systems at homes throughout the county, said Ron Carter, vice president of service with Jackson and Sons.

"We are experiencing a huge amount of no heat due to the extremely cold weather we're experiencing," Carter said. "These units aren't designed for cold weather."

Residents who are turning up their heat to 75 degrees are experiencing more problems due to heating units not being able to keep up with the freezing temperatures.

The best temperature to maintain is anywhere from 68 to 70 degrees, which is a safe range for heating systems, he said.

Residents started calling for service last week, even before the colder temperatures set in this week.

"We saw an uptick actually last week and it really got busy on Monday," Carter said. "We actually took 140 service calls (Tuesday)."

Service calls were about the same on Wednesday, with the company being able to service between 75 and 80 calls each day.

"We've got a little bit of a backlog," Carter said. "We've got a little bit of wait time, but we've got people to handle the service calls."

A lot of the calls are from residents who do not have their heating units serviced regularly, Carter said.

Heating unit problems include a combination of issues, including heat pumps being overstressed from cold temperatures and auxiliary heat mechanisms not being able to maintain adequate temperatures, he said.

"During these cold conditions, your heat pump will run nonstop and auxiliary heaters will have to maintain heat in your home," Carter said.

The addition of precipitation could lead to heating units freezing, if the defrost mechanism isn't working properly.

"When we have frozen precipitation, it can't keep up," Carter said.

Cold temperatures are expected to lead to higher electric bills in December and January. The rise in cost depends on the amount of usage, said Meredith Archie, Duke Energy spokesperson.

"In the past during extremely cold winters -- after the January 2014 polar vortex and the February 2015 arctic blast -- the average residential usage increased 20-25 percent," Archie said. "The impact on bills will vary depending on rates."

Residents who use electric heaters as the primary source of heat, when heating units fail, could experience higher electric cost, she said.

"We recommend using them for only one room and to supplement your primary heat source," Archie said. "If you use them as your main heating source and you use multiple ones, the costs can be significant."

Some of Duke Energy's conservation tips include reducing thermostats to the lowest comfortable setting while at home and reducing the temperature a degree or two during the day.

Window drapes and blinds should be open on sunny days to allow the sun's rays to warm the house and closed at night to help insulate a home.

Air filters should be changed regularly, since dirty air filters make a heating system work harder.

Isolated power outages could occur during the winter storm. Duke Energy customers can call 800-419-6356 to report an outage.

"We currently have sufficient resources to meet customers' energy needs, but the low temperatures put higher stress on mechanical equipment used to generate and deliver electricity," Archie said. "Isolated equipment problems are possible, as well as potential weather-related issues, that could cause outages."

The Tri-County Electric Membership Corp. is also on standby if any outages take place, said Bob Kornegay, Tri-County EMC manager of marketing and member services.

"Our system has extra capacity built-in but electric usage is running at record high levels and we are asking our members to conserve energy," Kornegay said.

Ways to conserve include reducing the thermostat to 68 degrees, unplugging unnecessary electric devices and delaying the use of a dishwasher, clothes dryer and washing machine from peak times, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Lights should be turned off when they are not in use and windows and doors should be sealed, he said.