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Frozen Pipe Calls Up for Plumbers But Still Not Like the Old, Cold Days

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It's a lot colder outside this winter compared to last. But is it cold enough to cause extensive problems with frozen water pipes?

One insurance trade group warns that a water pipe break can cause up to $5,000 dollars in damage inside a home. And calling a plumber to thaw out frozen pipes that haven't broken can still add up to a $400-$500 bill very quickly.

Several eastern Iowa plumbing companies reported an uptick in service calls about frozen pipes in recent weeks. But several thought the problem was more severe in years past—mainly because people have learned to insulate or use heat tape on exposed pipes to prevent just such freezing problems.

That statistic was cold comfort to Eva Myers who owns a mobile home in southwest Cedar Rapids. It all started Thursday morning with a surprise.

"I went to the bathroom, turned on the faucet and—nothing," Myers said.

Myers said she quickly ran to some other rooms and twisted the knobs there and the result was the same—no water. That's when she knew the cold temperatures had frozen the water pipes underneath her mobile home.

Brad A'Hearn of Ben Franklin Plumbing, got the service call to Myers' home. A'Hearn said he doesn't get as many calls like case as he used to because homes are better insulated and even mobile home owners routinely take steps to safeguard water pipes in winter. The usual protection for mobile homes is to use insulation combined with electrical heat tape that wraps around pipes and prevents freezing.

A'Hearn said the customer had the right tape. But there was a problem. It just wasn't working. "It's not like these heat trace cables are easy to check. There's nothing that stands out and says I'm not working right. Usually it takes something like this to get into it," he said.

The news that her heat tape had failed actually wasn't a surprise to Myers. "The heat tape probably should have been replace, it was about 12 years old. I thought about it this fall, but didn't do it," Myers said.

A'Hearn said the old advice about leaving a faucet dripping to keep the water flowing does work—but only up to a point. If it's cold enough, and especially with a strong wind, pipes not protected well enough will freeze regardless of leaving the water trickling into a sink.

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