West Michigan Drivers Push Frost Deeper, Causing More Frozen Pipes

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 28, 2014) –  The sting of subzero temperatures dip way below the surface in West Michigan.  Cities like Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Portage are all urging people to keep the faucets running to avoid costly repairs.

The Grand Rapids water system’s utilities supervisor, Doug Gillean, said freezing pipes have a lot to do with exposure.

“We had one today that was in the sidewalk,” he said about a call for frozen water pipes.  “The homeowner was being very diligent and clearing the sidewalk and that’s right where it was frozen.”

Gillean said the snow covering our yards acts as an insulator.  When we shovel it away, we expose the ground and pipes to frost.

He said there are other forces at play as well, frozen or burst pipes commonly occur near streets and roads for a reason.

“The down pressure from the frost and traffic driving over it is just putting that pressure on the water mains,” he said.

According to Gillean, the force of constant traffic literally pushes the frost deeper into the ground.  He said when you add frozen lakes surrounding Grand Rapids to the equation, the ground water has no where to go, causing pressure to the water lines from below.

“So that water that would normally be draining into the lakes would be coming up into the roads,” he said.

The problem most likely to surface in your homes, frozen pipes.

“The first step we try to determine is whether it’s in the yard and the homeowner’s service,” said Gillean.  “Or is it out in the road?”

The person responsible for a fix depends on where the pipe is frozen.  A diagram available at the City of Grand Rapids’ webpage better illustrates responsibility.

If the pipe is frozen somewhere between your home and the sidewalk, it’s up to the homeowner to find a fix.  If the frozen pipe is determined to be between the sidewalk and the street, it’s the city’s responsibility.

City workers say they typically dig down six feet or so and blast the line with steam.

“Some have taken as long as two and a half hours because it is a solid pipe of frost,” he said.

This winter alone, the city has been called out 120 times for a frozen or burst pipe.  Last year from November to March there were 80 calls for service.

Gillean said a majority of the service calls are from single person homes where water use is kept to a minimum allowing more time for standing water to freeze.

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