By Dr. Lauren Weinrich, American Water
Rosy-cheeked children and romantic-eyed couples bundled up and laughing as they enjoy a skate around the frozen pond. It’s an iconic and idyllic vision every winter. But this fairytale-like scene “frosts over” significant issues faced by water companies and conservationists, not to mention homeowners and other types of service providers.
Our aging water infrastructure is under tremendous pressure to hold up as it is. But when you factor in winter conditions and a high-water demand, that pressure is magnified. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the key winter water issues and provide steps to help combat them so that everyone can enjoy all that’s great about the season and avoid winter water headaches.
The “cold weather equals less water use” myth. Many people believe that after the high temperatures and dry days of summer go away, water consumption drops considerably. On the contrary, the more time people spend indoors due to snow, ice and cold weather, the more water they consume.
Solution: Be smart. Using clothes and blankets to stay warm is longer-lasting and more water-friendly. So is letting ice- and snow-covered gear defrost gradually inside a garage or on a sunny porch.
The salt battle. The use of salt to de-ice roads and sidewalks is also a winter water enemy. Chemicals in salt enter water runoff and can corrode pipes, as well as increase demands put on water purification systems.
Solution: Look into organic de-icers.
Homeowners passive about pipes. Frozen pipes — resulting in broken pipes — is the greatest cause of water damage in winter, on average costing $18,000 per homeowner claim, and leading to significant waste of water. Frozen ground increases the downward force on pipes from the outside. From within, the more temperatures fluctuate — causing continual expansion and contraction of pipes — the more stress is placed on those pipes, increasing their susceptibility to breaks. Moreover, colder water traveling through the pipes can also have a damaging effect.
Solution: Be proactive homeowners. Identify your home’s freezing points and eliminate sources of cold air near water lines.
Homes in hot water. Colder outside temperatures require hot water heaters to work harder to raise the water temperature to where you like it and need it in your home. This “overtime” can be especially damaging to older heaters, and result in leaks or bursts. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends setting your water heater at 120 degrees.
Solution: Check your heater frequently for leaks and odd noises, then call your plumber if necessary.
The one-two roof-and-gutter punch. If too much snow accumulates on your roof, when that snow finally begins to melt, the ensuing water deluge can cause damage the roof — and your house if groundwater reaches the saturation point and seeps in. To make matters worse, water that freezes in gutters may not only damage the gutters, but can also contribute to the water overflow that finds its way into foundations and basements.
Solution: Use a safe snow removal system for your roof and keep your gutters clean.