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How to Protect Your Pipes from Freezing

Frozen water expands, and as anyone who has suffered frozen pipes knows, ice is a powerful force that can break open most containers, including metal ones. Keeping your pipes from freezing in the winter is an essential task for New England homeowners, but fortunately there are some basic approaches to minimize the risk.

 

Before the storm

Foam insulation sheaths can be wrapped around water pipes to protect them from the cold air. The most vulnerable pipes are ones located inside exterior walls, run through an unheated portion of the house like a garage, and those that connect to an outdoor opening like a spigot.

Another option is to wrap heat tape around the vulnerable pipes. Heat tape is a flat ribbon that is coiled around the pipe like a corkscrew and uses electricity to keep the pipe warm, like an electric blanket.

Special heat lamps can also be aimed at pipes in cold sections of the house. Typically, these lamps will have a light that shines on the pipe. This makes it easy to check up on. If the light isn’t on, the lamp isn’t working.

Of course, adding heat tape or a heat lamp to your home means there will be an ongoing cost in the form of higher electric bills. Prices depend on the local power costs, but expect to pay between $40 to $60 each month for every 100 feet of heat tape.

If you’re going to leave your home for an extended time during the winter, such as a week-long vacation, then keep your heat on and set it to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also consider shutting off the main water supply and draining all the water out by running the faucets dry and flushing the toilets.

Plumbing pipes aren’t the only ones that can freeze. The pipes in a hot tub, a hot water heating system or any other type of pipe can freeze if the unit or its pipes are exposed in a cold space.

Many hot water heating systems allow you to use antifreeze to protect the system from freezing. Check your heating system’s manual and specifications to find out how,. If you do decide to add antifreeze, it needs to be checked each year to make sure it’s still working.

Remember that the best way to solve a plumbing emergency is to prevent it from ever happening.

 

During the big freeze

When a cold night comes, you want to keep the air around your pipes as warm as possible. For the pipes in your garage, keep the garage doors closed to keep out the chilled air. If the pipes in your kitchen are at risk, however, you need to use the opposite approach. Keep your kitchen cabinets open to allow heated air to flow over your plumbing.

You can consider letting your water run at a slow stream just above a drip if the inside of the house is extremely cold, such as if you lose electricity but your plumbing still runs. This movement will stop water from staying in prolonged contact with the pipes. While there will be a cost in the form of a higher water bill, it’s much lower than the cost of burst pipes.

 

Dealing with the aftermath

If things warm up and you notice any new plumbing problems, such as a decrease in water pressure, have a look at all of your pipes. Look for icy build ups around a section of pipe or visible cracks.

If you do discover the worst and you’re in our coverage area, call us as soon as you can so we can contain and fix the problem. We can be reached at (978) 433-5373.

If you want to try to thaw out a frozen section of pipe yourself, don’t use open flames like blowtorches or lighters. Instead, try a hair dryer or wrap an electric warming blanket around the frozen section.

Plumbing Maintenance and Repair in Central Massachusetts, Lowell, Harvard, Groton, Pepperell, Nashua

Why a home emergency is the worst time to call a plumber

Look, we get it. No one wants to call a plumber until their bathtub won’t drain or they’re wrapping their dishtowels around a spraying pipe. You’d rather spend your money on a beachside vacation, a nice restaurant or Christmas gifts for your kids. Plumbers are there to fix problems, right? So why call one when everything looks fine?

That’s a huge misconception, and one that costs a lot of people more money than it saves. You might avoid being forced to wade through your basement or take your grimey plunger to the kitchen sink if you check up on your plumbing system now.. The best person to do that is a plumber.

Fortunately, a lot of plumbing problems can be avoided with skilled maintenance and upkeep. We have four licensed plumbers on staff that can help thwart issues before you even know they’re there. If we catch it early, you won’t have water damage to deal with and fewer parts to replace. It can also save you from having to endure some awful experiences like backed-up pipes or showers with low water pressure.

Calling a plumber to perform routine maintenance is a normal part of being a homeowner. The cost of having a certified expert plumber check your home is tiny compared to the destruction that can follow an unchecked problem. That’ll leave you more money for plane tickets, steak tartare and plastic figures.

Call Wilson Brothers today at 978-433-5373 to learn more about our plumbing and maintenance services.

When to shut down your air conditioner for the season

Much like Christmas lights, many homeowners don’t know when it’s time to shut down their air conditioning system for the season. Even with the end of the hot summer days, some people delay shutting it down just incase they get hit with an unexpected hot fall day, but no one wants to have to wade through snow to put a cover on the outdoor unit.

Weather fluctuates from year to year, so there’s really no good day to mark on the calendar in advance.

Our recommendation is to link the task to some other change of seasons task you’re already doing. For example, when you put away your patio furniture, cover your swimming pool, untie your hammock, winterize your lawnmower or put your motorcycle battery on a trickle-charger.

Alternatively, you could wait for the first frost to hit. That’s a dead give-away that you won’t need to cool the house anytime soon. If you find yourself turning the heat on and you haven’t prepared your cooling system for the season yet, it’s time to get on it right away.

Why it matters

Some units, not all but some, have an internal heating system for the cooling system’s condenser. This keeps some of the liquids in the machine from freezing during operation. Unfortunately, the warmth can make an attractive nest for field mice once the cold weather hits. During the summer, the field mice have plenty of warm places to dwell in, but once it gets cold out they get desperate and will enter a condenser unit.

Wilson Brothers technicians install an electric switch for customers in their electric panel marked “AC Condenser” that will stop all power from going to the condenser. Homeowners also need to go shut down their control panels for the season as well.

Go outside and shut it off, but unless that power switch is thrown, electricity will still get to the unit.

In addition, not enough people place outdoor covers on their condensers for the winter. The units are made to be outside year round and the refrigeration oils and other liquids can safely be left inside, but a cover is still needed to protect it from direct contact with ice and snow.

Use only true factory-made covers for your specific outdoor unit. Some people try to make their own covers with blue tarps and bungee cords. While that does create a barrier for the elements, it lacks the ventilation that the proper covers have. The tarps will trap air inside and create a small habitat with trapped moisture inside. The condensation will pit and corrode the electric contractors and damage the unit.

What is the Mass Save Heat Loan?

Participating lenders offer 0% loans up to $25,000 (depending on the utility and the lender) with terms up to 7 years! To qualify for this type of loan, you must have a Mass Save Home Energy Assessment and install qualified energy efficiency measures recommended by a Mass Save representative.

You can get a loan from participating banks for zero interest to install energy efficient systems! No interest at all! And … it isn’t as complicated as it might sound!

Simply call Mass Save at 866-527-7983 and request a Home Energy Assessment. There is no cost or obligation. A Mass Save representative will go to your home and check windows; doors; attic, wall and basement insulation; and light fixtures and will give you a comprehensive report with recommenda- tions on how you can save energy and money.

The following energy efficiency improvements are eligible for the HEAT Loan Program:

  • High Efficiency Heating Systems
  • Central Air Conditioning/ Air Source Heat Pumps
  • Ductless Mini Split Heat Pumps
  • High Efficiency Domestic Hot Water Systems
  • Solar Hot Water Systems
  • Attic, Wall, and Basement Insulation
  • 7-Day Digital & Wi Fi Thermostats
  • ENERGY STAR® Qualified Replacement Windows

Once your Energy Audit is completed you will receive a Heat Loan Intake Form which you will need to review and sign.

The staff at Wilson Brothers Heating and Air Conditioning will help you to navigate through the application process and provide you with a list of participating lenders. We are available to answer any question you may have about the proper equipment to install and the Heat Loan Program process.

Visit the Mass Save website to learn more about this program, available to residential customers of National Grid, NSTAR Electric and Gas, and Unitil or call Wilson Brothers at 978-433-5373 or 800-498-5373.

Winter is Coming, Have your heating system tuned-up & maintained

We’ve had everything thrown at us, weather-wise, in the past few years.  We should be used to it.  Early October snowstorms, ice storms, tornado warnings with rain and hail … One thing we know for sure:  Winter is coming and we better be prepared!

Being prepared in New England means more than just having your heating system inspected, tuned up, and maintained.  That’s a given and should be done sooner, rather than later.

I’m talking about a PLAN B!
Do you have one?

Years ago, people in this neck of the woods had a wood stove that came in handy when they had problems with their furnace or there was an unexpected power outage.  Back then, getting a furnace or boiler back up and running after a mechanical failure took time (it sometimes still does).

Over the years, we have grown to take for granted that an “emergency call” for having no heat would be fixed immediately.  However, it sometimes takes days to obtain special parts.

And … we are all too familiar with power outages that can take days or weeks in some cases to return to normal.

So … what can we do?  What is our contingency plan?

You need to protect your home, not just to have the all-season comfort you desire, but also to ensure that pipes don’t burst in homes with no heat because of a power failure or system breakdown.

Talk to us at Wilson Brothers Heating and Cooling to put your PLAN B together.  Your home is your biggest investment and needs protection when the New England weather strikes hard.   We’ll be happy to discuss how each of the following can protect you for the period of time when your heating system is disrupted for any reason:

*    Wood stove
*    Propane or natural gas fireplace insert
*    Whole house generator
*    Electric Heater
If you haven’t had your heating system inspected and tuned up for the 2014 Winter season, call us today for an appointment: 978-433-5373.