Warm-up after deep freeze a problem for pipes

Robert VanNatta said the effect of the pipes bursting in his home was like taking a shower in his dining room, with sheets of water cascading down around light fixtures that sent him and his wife, Dorothy, scurrying to find the shut off valve.

“I’ve never had anything like this happen in all my life,” said Robert VanNatta, a retired Methodist pastor from Claysburg. “So this has been a spell. I won’t forget this – it is history making in my book.”

Robert VanNatta is one of a number of residents to experience pipes bursting as a result of warmer temperatures following this week’s polar vortex, which brought wind chills of about 30 degrees below zero to some areas.

He said he was expecting a visit from his insurance adjuster by Thursday evening and hoped the problem would be resolved quickly.

In the meantime, Robert VanNatta, his wife and son are using the bathrooms at a nearby Sheetz gas station and borrowing water from neighbors.

“I’m hoping it’s not weeks until we get our water back,” Dorothy VanNatta said. “You can’t turn anything on because it will come back through the light.”

The deep cold was more than enough to freeze some pipes, and many area plumbers are now swamped with calls about fixing the damage.

Charles Kimmen, owner of Kimmen Plumbing and Heating in Altoona, said his company has seen a “massive volume” of calls reporting damage from either frozen pipes or burst pipes over the past three days.

He said he received about 20 calls on Thursday and would normally get about four or five, estimating that the number his company has received during the cold spell was quadruple that of a normal week at this time of year.

“The majority of them weren’t even our usual customers but people that were just going down the phone book and calling every plumbing and heating contractor they could,” Kimmen said.

Amber Hughes, an administrative assistant at Smithmyer Plumbing and Heating in Altoona, echoed the sentiment, saying that the company has gotten a number of new faces this week.

“I’ve worked here since 2009,” she said, “and this year was the most frozen, broken pipes calls I’ve ever seen.”

And homeowners weren’t the only people affected by the warming temperatures.

Lee Bowden, general manager of The Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Spa, said several sprinkler heads burst in the facility, damaging 20 guest rooms.

Half of the soaked rooms are almost ready to be reopened, but the others will require new drywall and other repairs.

Some of the flooding also forced the resort to close the 1796 Room Steak and Chophouse on Wednesday, Bowden said, but the restaurant wasn’t severely damaged and opened again Thursday night.

Julia Reusch, a spokesperson for Allstate Insurance, said the insurer could not estimate how many claims reports it received during the deep freeze but said most people should be in the clear if they have not already had issues with their pipes.

The steps to follow if a pipe does burst, Reusch said, are pretty basic. Start by making sure to turn the water off, and shut off the valve on the hot water heater

if the damage is to a hot water pipe.

She said the emergency number for a plumber should be kept somewhere that can easily be found, and not just saved in a cellphone, in case of an emergency.

Once a plumber has been alerted to the situation, Reusch said homeowners can call their insurance agent and will likely be asked to take pictures of damage,

regardless of which company they use.

Reusch also recommended that homeowners catalog their belongings to make a claim easier to file. Allstate offers the Digital Locker smartphone application for free to help make this process more streamlined, and the app is available to those who do not have Allstate insurance.

Kimmen said the most important preventative measure a homeowner can take if very cold temperatures are on the horizon is to be aware of the possible damage that could occur.

A number of calls he received were from people who didn’t plan for the deep freeze, he said.

He said sealing up a home against drafts, especially for those who are in older houses,

can help keep the pipes from freezing.

Opening ceiling tiles to allow warm air into that space, if possible, is another precaution. However, Kimmen said there weren’t many measures that could be taken when temperatures drop as low as they did this week.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve never seen temperatures this low and this extreme before,” Kimmen said.

As for the VanNattas, they’re working to limit the damage and taking solace in some small blessings, like the fact that roof or ceilings didn’t come down.

“We were glad a neighbor helped us to turn off the water because the ceiling might have caved in,” Dorothy VanNatta said. “Thank goodness it’s drying. It’s always something. You just take it one day at a time.”

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.