What Happened To My Pipes? Canyon Lake Plumbers Explain
Canyon Lake-area plumbers say their phones are ringing off the hook.
Dozens of area residents are calling from dark, waterless homes to report ruptured pipes and issues with irrigation pipes and septic systems.
Joshua Creasy, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of New Braunfels and San Marcos, said icy roads so far have prevented him from making house calls but he’s helping as much as he can over the phone anyway.
He tried to make a service call on Wednesday but spent 1 ½ hours just trying to get his van out of his Startzville driveway.
“The weather that we’re having is unprecedented,” Creasy said. “I’ve lived in this area since sixth grade, except when I was in the military. I have never seen single-digit weather.”
Did You Watch the News?
Thomas Siry, owner of 3 Brothers Plumbing, said he’s managed to make three house calls but also is limited to adding people to his waiting list while trying to dispense useful advice to frantic customers.
He’s astounded by the number of calls from people who say they didn’t know the winter storm was coming because they were tired of politics and stopped watching the local TV news.
“We got 81 calls today alone for frozen pipes, broken pipes, that sort of thing,” Siry said. “…a lot of my customers are saying we had no idea it was going to be this bad.”
Although main roads are improving, driving around Canyon Lake’s hilly neighborhoods in big vans won’t be possible until conditions begin to improve at week’s end.
Burst pipes are the main reason phones are ringing off the hook at 3 Brothers Plumbing and Mr. Rooter Plumbing.
Pipes that rupture tend to be located inside outer walls or under a dwelling, where they’re susceptible to cold temperatures.
“Nothing breaks on the inside wall because of the warmer air inside of the house,” Siry said. “The wind chill is what really makes the pipes break. Pay attention to this. It boils down to the condition of the home. Know that you have pipes exposed under your home or on the outside. When you get this rare weather, protect pipes better. The main thing is to keep the water moving. Pencil-lead size on all faucets. This won’t overwhelm the septic system.”
Creasy said if you’ve already got a ruptured pipe, you’ll have to wait for a service call.
But if you’re sitting at home, counting your blessings, think twice before leaving unless you’ve shut off the water at the street.
Bad things can happen if you leave to buy groceries, presuming you’ve dodged a bullet.
Pipes can rupture during the freeze or the subsequent thaw.
“You want to be home to be able to monitor that situation,” Creasy said. “The last thing you want to return to is a flooded house with two or three inches of standing water.”
What’s a Shut-Off Valve?
If Canyon Lake Water Service Company cuts the water to your house, it’s always a good idea to go outside and turn off the shut-off valve, he said. Look for the little black box next to the water meter, usually located at the street. To see an instructional video by Creasy, click here.
Afterwards, drain fixtures to remove pressure from pipes.
“That way, if it freezes, the water can expand in the pipe, not outwards,” Creasy said.
“If you’re leaving the house vacant for any length of time, turn the water off at the meter, open hose bibs and drain the house down,” he said. “You might experience some frozen pipes but they won’t break because the system is not under pressure…It gives the air somewhere to go. If the house is pressured up and sitting vacant and we have this cold, ice forms in pipes and expands and breaks pipes. If you drain the water down and let air in, lines will have frozen pipes but won’t break.”
If you’re unsure whether CLWSC shut the water off or the problem lies with your own plumbing, talk to neighbors to see what they’re experiencing,” Creasy said.
PEX Pipes & P-Traps
Many newer homes use PEX pipe, which can expand to three times its size to allow for freezing before shrinking back to its original size. If there’s a problem with a PEX pipe, it’s usually related to a fitting, not the pipe itself, Creasy said.
Homeowners with copper or galvanized pipe may not be as lucky. These pipes are more prone to cracking and bursting.
P-traps — U-shaped pipes in toilets and underneath sinks — trap debris, prevent clogs, and stop sewer gases from infiltrating homes. But in a freeze they can cause water to back up into showers and toilets.
“Be aware of the plumbing that’s exposed to the temperatures, that’s in the elements, that’s what you have to pay attention to,” Siry said.
Canyon Lake Construction
Siry said many of the houses around Canyon Lake were built years ago by people who asked their neighbors to help them out with plumbing issues.
“A lot of homes have shoddy plumbing, no building codes,” Siry said. “Newer homes are built well. But some lake homes were just thrown up.”
Septic Systems & Irrigation Lines
Septic systems are a little more complicated, Creasy said.
Most plumbers aren’t licensed to deal with wells or septic systems — just the plumbing leading into septic tanks. Plumbing starts right after the meter and ends at the city sewer. On properties without city sewer, plumbing will start right after the meter and end at the septic.
Residents will know if the freeze got to their septic system when it backs up into the “lowest part” of the house like bathtubs and showers.
“Let’s say you flushed a toilet and see water coming up into the bathtub,” Creasey said. “That’s how we know they need to have their septic pumped or a clogged ine that needs to be cleared using an augur. An aerobic septic will have alarms and a red warning light leting you know there is a problem with it. Conventional septic systems are difficult to diagnose without. septic company or a plumbing company going out there.”
Irrigation lines also are susceptible to freezing temperatures. Backflow assemblies are designed to keep irrigation water from getting sucked back into CLWSC’s drinking water system. Plumbers recommend buying insulation bags to protect backflow assemblies during the winter.