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Cold plays havoc with plumbing, heating

Pipe break cancels classes at St. Peter School

David Wright, an employee at Harold G. Butzer, Inc. Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, solders a pipe Tuesday evening at Fairgrounds Road Church of Christ. The pipe had frozen and busted in the recent spell of cold weather.

David Wright, an employee at Harold G. Butzer, Inc. Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, solders a pipe Tuesday evening at Fairgrounds Road Church of Christ. The pipe had frozen and busted in the recent spell of cold weather.

As Mid-Missouri reels from subzero winter temperatures early this week, local plumbing and heating businesses have seen increased calls for cold-weather repairs.

A prime example of the problems occurred at St. Peter Interparish School, which canceled Wednesday's classes because of a water pipe break forcing employees to turn off electricity in the building and clean up water damage. According to a letter sent to students' parents on Tuesday, a fire sprinkler line ruptured in the ceiling above the school's kitchen.

"The water did considerable damage to the Vogelweid Learning Center just below the cafeteria and will require extensive cleanup over the next several days," stated the message signed by Mark Veit, director of student affairs and athletics.

Dave Kempker, owner of Plumb Magic, said his company has responded to several reports of frozen pipes in the area.

“Typically you get them when the weather’s like this,” he said.

Pipes in older homes, Kempker said, are more susceptible to freezing. Homeowners can take steps to reduce the risk of freezing by blocking drafts from windows and doors.

In homes where pipes have a pattern of freezing and heat tape cannot be applied, a second option is to drip water from a faucet. This allows water to run continuously through the pipes, making it more difficult for them to freeze.

Kempker urged homeowners applying heat tape to pipes to follow the instructions carefully, as improper use can result in fires — especially in mobile homes. Tape should be properly insulated and installed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, he said.

But it isn’t just pipes that are freezing in this weather — sometimes, it’s entire homes and their owners that feel the chill when their heating systems stop working.

Travis Rackers, president of Aire Serv of Central Missouri, said the cold weather has brought in a number of calls about heating problems.

“They’re things that we’re not used to hearing about,” he said.

The main issue Rackers has encountered is insufficient sizing — the homeowners’ heating systems aren’t large enough to keep their houses warm, and the problem is further compounded when the systems are kept in crawlspaces and attics. The average heater, he said, is poorly equipped to handle outside temperatures under 7 degrees.

“Any time it gets below that, most systems are not designed to heat a home very well,” Rackers said.

To prevent heating problems, Rackers said, homeowners should check the furnace filter and replace it on a regular basis. Additionally, they should have a professional perform a heating tune-up before winter temperatures reach their peak.

Jeremy Wilhelm, a dispatcher at Harold G. Butzer Inc., said this winter has been especially harsh. His company received 35 calls on Tuesday, about 20 of them dealing with frozen pipes, and the office has had to deal with plumbing woes of its own — last week, a main line on the street burst and flooded the building with water.

“This is probably the worst one,” he said. “And there’s probably more to come as (the pipes) keep going out.”

At River City Florist, a malfunctioning boiler part has brought several changes to the store, floral designer Lauren Moscato said.

While it waits for a new boiler part, the shop is relying on space heaters and has taken steps to minimize the risk of frozen flowers. But Moscato says business hasn’t been too affected.

“Our customers have been very understanding,” she said.

One state office building dealing with heating problems on Tuesday was the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) offices on the west side of Jefferson City.

Office of Administration officials said employees discovered that one of more than 20 heating units serving the DHSS offices at 930 Wildwood Drive was not working properly.

The landlord was notified and repairs were being made.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the thermostat for the affected area was in the mid 60s.

Staff members worked with employees who needed to move to other areas because of the lack of heat.

This is not the first time this building has had winter problems.

In February 2011, following an 18-inch snowfall, the building had to be closed while snow was removed from the roof after engineers told state officials the roofs could be in danger of collapsing.

A similar situation, prompted by a snow and ice buildup, closed the same buildings for two days in December 2006.

Jeff Haldiman of the News Tribune staff contributed to this story.

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