Winter Tips for the Water System
In order to prepare for extended periods of very cold weather, La Crosse water customers should be aware of and prepare for possible problems related to the water system.
The water service or “lateral” is the pipe that connects to the municipal water supply and extends into a home or business. Under extended, severe cold weather conditions, the water pipe in the ground can freeze. Interior piping can also freeze when exposed to below freezing temperatures in basements, cellars, crawl spaces and similar locations.
A simple way customers can help to avoid problems with frozen water services is to routinely run water from an interior, cold-water tap for about five minutes, two or three times each day, especially during periods when there is usually little water use. Reduced pressure and/or discolored water may be signs the water service is starting to freeze. If those signs are noticed, run cold water until the pressure and water clarity return to normal. Another preventative action is to run a small, continuous stream of cold water, about the diameter of a pencil, overnight and during extended periods when little or no water use is anticipated.
Interior piping and the water meter inside homes and businesses can freeze and burst if they are not protected. Interior areas should be adequately heated to protect interior plumbing from freezing. Openings to the outside should be closed and properly insulated to eliminate cold air entry. Similarly, repair broken windows, check doors, and insulate areas where cold air can leak in from the outside.
Meters and interior piping located near outside walls or foundations should be insulated to prevent freezing. If insulation will not provide adequate protection, wrap pipes with heat tape or heat cables. These products plug into power outlets and generate heat to prevent freezing. Purchase products that are Underwriter Laboratory (UL) Listed or approved by a similar independent testing agency, and install these items following manufacturers’ instructions. Unapproved or improperly installed products can result in fires. Inspect heat tape or cable for wear and replace when necessary.
Remove hoses from outside faucets and close the valves inside the house that control those faucets.
If a frozen, interior pipe is suspected, turn off the water at the main valve inside your home (located at the water meter) and call a plumber. A hair dryer or portable heater can be used to try to thaw the frozen pipe but stay alert for potential electric shocks if standing water is present. DO NOT TRY TO THAW A PIPE WITH A TORCH OR OPEN FLAME.
When away from home for a few days, keep the thermostat set at 55 degrees or higher. Have a friend check your house periodically to make sure the heat stays on and there are no water-related issues. When extended stays away from home are planned, consider having the water shut-off, the meter removed, and the interior plumbing drained and winterized by a licensed plumber.
Monitor vacant properties in your neighborhood that might be especially susceptible to freezing problems. Contact the Water Utility if you observe or suspect a problem.
City residents are also asked to keep an eye on fire hydrants near their properties to make sure the hydrants are clear of snow and accessible to the Fire Department in the event of a fire emergency.
When might it be advisable to disconnect your water service?
A customer may wish to have their water disconnected and may even wish to have the water meter removed if the residence will not be heated while sitting vacant or during the time of temporary disconnection. Any damage that may result from allowing a water meter to become frozen shall be paid for by the customer (or owner) of the premises.
Additionally, a customer may wish to have their water temporarily disconnected as a security measure to prevent extensive damage as well as water/sewer consumption charges should a pipe freeze and burst in their home during their absence.
It’s always a good idea to contact the utility to ask questions regarding your options if the property is going to be vacant , whether for a sale, foreclosure, vacation, etc, to understand the billing and other ramifications specific to your situation.
Please contact the La Crosse Water Utility (608/789-7536) with any questions.