Keeping pipes protected in extreme cold

COLUMBUS (WCMH)—Three years ago, Ohio plunged into the deep freeze with the arrival of the polar vortex on January 6-7, 2014.

The temperature plummeted a spectacular 54 degrees in 24 hours, with icy wind chill values of -30 degrees and lower across the northern half of the state.

During the height of rush hour on Jan. 6, a large water main burst near N. Fourth and Gay streets, sending thousands of gallons of water pouring onto streets and alleys that quickly turned into ice rinks in a flash freeze.

The rupture of a 100-year-old cast-iron water main that had never caused a problem previously served as a reminder that most cities are faced with an aging infrastructure. In the past 5 years, Columbus has quadrupled the waterline replacement and rehabilitation budged to around $20 million to improve on the design and construction of water lines.

protecting-pipes-2The city prioritizes water lines that have a history of breaking when making upgrades and repairs. During the past century, materials have changed, from cast-iron to ductile iron and PVC pipes (suburban areas).

“Due to pipe material differences over the eras, a 50-year-old pipe might be more unreliable than a 75- to 100-year-old one,” said Laura Mohr, spokeswoman with the city’s Department of Public Utilities. “Those that break more frequently are the ones that get identified for replacement and rehabilitation in the capital budget.”

The water lines lie below the frost lines, but after days of frigid weather, the ground above hardens and puts added stress that can cause a fault or weakness in the line. A common misconception is that the water freezes and causes a rupture, but breaks are actually initiated by the frost-freeze cycle.

During cold snaps, the number of breaks can double compared to the rest of the year, keeping crews busy. The City of Columbus not only handles urban breaks, but also works with 20 contracting suburbs.  If you see a blue sign, that means the city is already aware of the problem.

You can protect pipes on outside walls in your home by opening up the cabinet doors and allowing room heat to flow underneath. Leaving a trickle of water running keeps the water moving and less likely to freeze. Experts also recommend insulating those pipes with a soft blanket to hold in warmth.

Mohr advises that you immediately call 614-645-7788 to report a leak in your neighborhood. Repairs can take several days, based on the nature and location of the leak and proximity to homes and offices. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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