When It Warms, Frozen Pipes Will Be Major Issue For Area

OCEAN CITY – The current cold snap that has gripped the resort for well over a week and will likely continue several more days has created a lot of problems in the area with broken pipes and other weather-related issues, but the worse could be yet to come.

With daytime temperatures rarely nudging past the freezing mark and overnight temperatures dipping into the low 20s or teens for the last week or 10 days, city and private officials have seen a spike in the number of broken water pipes and other cold weather-related issues. For example, since the last week in December, the Ocean City Public Works Department has responded to 32 cases of water leaks from frozen or broken pipes in the private sector and four lateral leaks on city-owned water lines caused by the weather, the most recent coming on Tuesday night when an eight-inch water main cracked in the middle of Coastal Highway around 58th Street.

At the Carousel Resort Hotel last Sunday morning, a frozen sprinkler system pipe burst in a 12th floor condominium, causing water to leak down eight floors, damaging eight other condominium units and four hotel rooms. In addition, water leaked out of the balcony of the room where the broken pipe was located and cascaded down the south side of the building, covering the south façade of the hotel with ice.

According to Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) Public Information Officer Steve Price, the broken sprinkler pipe triggered a fire alarm, causing the OCFD to respond to the Carousel around 11 a.m. on Sunday. While it’s not unusual for pipes to freeze during the coldest stretches of winter in the resort area, the current cold snap is creating more than its share of problems already, according to Price.

“It’s not unusual this time of year, but with these temperatures and the duration of this current cold spell, we’re seeing a little more of it that usual,” he said. “The problem has been this persistent northwest wind. That’s when we really see these problems increase.”

According to the National Weather Service, there appears to be no relief from the cold in sight for perhaps another week. On Saturday, the daytime high is expected to reach 30 degrees with 18 degrees forecast for the overnight low, and on Sunday, the temperature is not expected to creep above 30 with colder temps overnight.

Water leaks caused by frozen pipes can and do occur in occupied residences, but contributing to the problem in the resort area is the large number of unoccupied properties. With so many hotel rooms, condominiums and even private residences in resort vacant for long stretches, there could be cases of broken pipes that go unnoticed or aren’t reported until later.

Price said property owners could avoid major headaches and substantial losses by following a few simple tips, not the least of which is keeping the thermostat set to a reasonable temperature. He also recommended a few tips to ensure indoor plumbing is not exposed to extreme cold for an extended period of time.

“If you’re not home, leave closet doors open and kitchen cabinets open,” he said. “It might feel warm in the room, but the heat doesn’t get into those closed areas and that’s usually where the plumbing is.”

Another tip property owners might not consider when they winterize their homes but it could prevent the most common type of water pipe breakage.

“Heat rises,” said Price. “If you’re not home, if possible, pop out a couple of ceiling tiles to let the heat get up in those hidden areas where the pipes are typically located.”

While there have been a considerable number of cold weather-related problems reported already, oddly enough, the number of reported cases is expected to go up if and when the cold spell finally breaks. The number of breakages typically goes up as frozen pipes thaw, Price said this week.

“We’re anticipating that happening a lot when the temperature finally gets back to 40-45 degrees,” he said. “That’s when we’ll see more pipes burst. That’s also when we’ll see a lot more problems. It tends to generate a lot of fire alarms.”

After the fact, there are several disaster remediation companies in the area ready to step in if needed, including, for example, Royal Plus, which does a lot of work on properties damaged by broken water pipes, fires and other disasters. Royal Plus spokesman Sean Murphy said this week the company has already handled several cases and is preparing for many more.

“We’re getting a lot of calls already and we anticipate them to increase as this cold spell continues,” he said. “We’re ramping up and we’ve got equipment staged all over the Ocean City area. We pulled some equipment back that we had in other areas in anticipation of a lot of calls.”

Murphy agreed the number of cases would likely increase when the cold spell loosens its grip.

“When it starts to warm up, that’s when we’ll see the number of calls go up,” he said. “We’re planning for that now. We’re ready to help with remediation. We’re ready to step in and help. That’s what we do.”