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Leaks from frozen pipes keep plumbers busy, cost homeowners thousands in some cases


Brent Thompson, with Starkville-based clean-up company Paul Davis Emergency Services, clears out damaged insulation from a ceiling in one of the many Starkville homes with water damage from frozen pipes.

Brent Thompson, with Starkville-based clean-up company Paul Davis Emergency Services, clears out damaged insulation from a ceiling in one of the many Starkville homes with water damage from frozen pipes. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Isabelle Altman



One day after a hard overnight freeze earlier this month, Starkville resident Vaughn Nickels went into her kitchen to find what she described as a "waterfall." 


She and her husband had forgotten to turn their faucets on to drip and a water pipe in their attic had frozen and burst, flooding the attic and destroying the ceiling. 


"I was scared to death," Nickels said. 


She ran outside to find a neighbor to help her turn her water off from the road, but now she's having to renovate and redo the entire kitchen. Despite the hassle, she said, it could have been worse -- if the flood had begun while they were sleeping, she and her husband may have woken up to an entirely saturated home. 


Such stories have become common in the Golden Triangle since the weather began reaching below freezing temperatures at night over the last couple of weeks. Andrew Benton, owner of Columbus-based plumbing company Benton's Maintenance and Mechanical, Inc., has been working until 10 p.m. or even midnight every night. 


"Most of the times people have been out of town, and there's water lines busting in their ceiling and they're coming home to a house full of water," he said. "It's pretty bad." 


He estimates he's responded to about 20 such calls in the last two weeks or so, half of which have been in the last three days, when the overnight temperatures dropped to below 10 degrees and sometimes didn't even get above freezing during the day. 


"I have one (house) out over in Starkville that had five busted ceiling pipes and one of the neighbors didn't notice it until the water was flowing outside," Benton said. "That house was, just from the water damage, almost a total loss." 


Abby Thompson, who owns Starkville-based clean-up company Paul Davis Emergency Service of the Golden Triangle with her husband, said the damage she's seen in some houses over the last couple of weeks is on level with hurricanes and tornadoes. 


"A lot of people don't understand how much damage can be caused," she said. "And how big a deal it is. ... We've definitely been working around the clock going on day ... 17." 




Preventative maintenance 


Both Benton and Starkville plumber Dennis Dill said there hasn't been a freeze like this in at least two or three years. Benton said it's the worst he's ever seen it, and he's been working in the Columbus area for five years. Dill, who has worked in the area 17 years, said the last time he saw so many busted pipes and damaged homes was about nine or 10 years ago. 


Both Benton and Dill said the problem is copper pipes, usually in cold attics, full of water freezing and bursting during the cold weather. 


"Most of the time, it's copper lines and PVC lines," Benton said. "The copper lines will just freeze and then they swell and it'll blow a hole open. Then once everything thaws out, it's just wide open, water everywhere." 


He compared it to leaving a can of Coke in the freezer.  


"The PVC lines, they're actually shattering," Benton said. "They'll just shatter like a whole 2-foot section of them." 


Dill said the problem really comes when no one is home to notice when the leak first happens. 


"Then the water just runs until it caves the ceiling in or somebody sees it," he said. 


"I've seen four or five houses where it's been pretty much a lot of damage," he added. "Ceilings fall in, all the sheetrock's wet, the insulation's wet. Then it gets on the hardwood floors. It can cost a lot of damage." 


Dill and Benton both suggested leaving faucets dripping overnight -- both cold water and hot water, Dill stressed. 


"A lot of people turn their water on and let it drip, but they just turn their cold on," he said. "But that ain't doing no good for their hot lines, because it's not circulating through their hot line pipes. And that's usually what we've been seeing is the hot water line busting." 


Benton also recommended insulating the pipes, keeping the temperature in the house warm and even shutting the water off at the valve before going to bed at night.  




Cost of repairs 


Once the water's already leaking, the best thing to do is turn the water off from the road, Benton said. 


Then the clean-up begins. Plumbers like Benton and Dill fix the pipes which, unless it's a severe fix, is usually less than $500. The renovation of whatever room the leak occurred in usually runs closer to $10,000 or $20,000, Benton said, but it's usually covered by insurance. 


Thompson, whose company is handling the clean-up in Nickels' kitchen and who Nickels is extremely pleased with, said her company has gotten about 40 calls, but have only responded to about 18. They try to prioritize based on families who are having to move out and need to get back into their homes as soon as possible. 


"You're literally having to rip out their ceiling, rip out all of their flooring, rip out their baseboards," she said. 


"The busted pipe thing is pretty serious," she added. "At least in our experience over the last two weeks."




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