How Weather Changes Can Impact Your Residents' Pipes

By: Bill Eller December 19, 2018

SeasonsMany of your residents know that during a cold snap, they should consider whether their plumbing is protected, but do they know that summer droughts and spring and fall rains also can pose a danger to their plumbing?

Most people are aware that cold can cause their interior plumbing – especially in crawlspaces, walls and attics that aren’t insulated – to freeze, potentially bursting the pipe and causing water damage to homes, along with a lot of inconvenience and expense. However, drought and heavy rainfall also can cause homeowners plumbing grief.

During a drought, heat can dry the ground so that the soil shrinks away from water and sewer service lines, allowing the pipes to “belly,” or sag. When that happens, flow is impeded and sediments and other solids collect in the pipe, causing blockages. Alternatively, the soil falling away from the pipe will create a weak spot, and when there is an increased demand for water – not uncommon during a drought – the pipe can burst at that weak spot.

Droughts also can play havoc with water mains, as shifting soil moves pipes that, many times, are already under pressure and at the end of their usable lifespans. At the same time, many water providers are struggling with leaks and water main breaks.

Roots also become an issue for sewer and water service lines during droughts, as the pipes may become the most ready source of nutrients and moisture for nearby trees and bushes. The roots will attack joints where there may be minor leakage, and once they begin growing into a service line, they can be cut back and poisoned, but are nearly impossible to completely remove.

Cold weather and dry weather are both bad for plumbing, but torrential rain is no better. Some municipalities still have combined sewers, that accept both sewage and storm water runoff, and others have inflow and infiltration problems – meaning that there are unauthorized hookups to the system, such as gutter drain pipes, or groundwater is seeping into the system through joints or cracks in the sewer mains. This means that a sewer system can get overloaded – especially during a heavy rain – and may backflow into homes as the system receives more water than it was built to handle. In other cases, backflow can be caused by flushing the system to remove clogs.

What can homeowners do to prevent backflows? Cleanup for water damage is expensive, and avoiding it altogether is the better choice. Homeowners can buy trap plugs to prevent sludge and debris from backflowing into their homes. They should fit tightly, be cleaned twice a year and inspected at regular intervals. Fix-all plugs can be purchased from a hardware store for less than $10 each. To ensure that no water backs up into the home, homeowners should consider installing a backwater check valve, which allows water to flow in only one direction, preventing the backflow of water into the home. Homeowners also can have backwater check valves installed on basement fixtures, such as toilets, showers and sinks.

Backflow can be dangerous to older homes in other ways – older pipes may leak under the stress from backflow, causing erosion around pipes, possibly seeping into the foundation or bursting.

When a pipe bursts, do your residents know who is responsible for the service lines? Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in the HomeServe Biannual State of the Home either didn’t know who was responsible, thought their service provider was responsible or thought their homeowners insurance would cover it – it usually doesn’t.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, offers an educational program that can address these misconceptions as well as affordable protection to homeowners. The program partners with cities and utilities to offer homeowners repair service plans for their service lines and interior plumbing. The program has a nationwide network of contractors who are licensed, insured and have undergone a strict vetting process and call centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, that are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

To learn more about how you can give your customers peace of mind, contact us.