What do you do if your pipes freeze in this horrifically cold weather and panic sets in?
Public safety officials advise you to call a plumber right away, but if you can’t reach a pro and instead take matters into your own hands, one tool is a no-no, Boston Fire Department Commissioner Joseph Finn said.
He stressed during a recent news conference that people should not use blowtorches to thaw pipes under any circumstances. The consequences can be dire.
“We have tremendous loss of life and property throughout the year with people using torches who are inexperienced,” Finn said. “I encourage people to call a professional if they do have frozen pipes.”
But if you attack the problem on your own, Finn said, use a hair dryer.
“That’s probably the safest bet,” he said.
The Red Cross suggests using an electric hair dryer to thaw pipes, or wrapping them up in towels soaked with hot water. An electric heating pad can also do the trick, the group says on its website, as well as a portable space heater.
But be sure to keep space heaters away from flammable materials, the Red Cross cautions.
In a posting to its website, the group echoes Finn’s remarks about the perils of using a blowtorch.
“Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device,” the posting says.
The Red Cross says a pipe is probably frozen if only a trickle of water comes out of a faucet, and the faucet should remain open while the pipe is being treated.
“Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe,” the posting said.
You should continue heating a frozen pipe until full water pressure is restored, according to the posting.
Boston city officials also weighed in with a recent advisory posted to the city’s website.
“Don’t use an open flame to thaw pipes,” the advisory says. “If your pipes do freeze, use a hair dryer or rags soaked in hot water to thaw lines.”
And call the city if you’re stuck.
“When your pipes are frozen, there is often water available in at least one faucet,” the advisory says. “If there is no water coming through any of your taps, there may be a problem in your street or yard. Call the Boston Water and Sewer Commission’s 24-hour Emergency Assistance line at 617-989-7000.”
Plumbers have certainly gotten their fair share of calls in recent days.
Brian MacDonald, owner of Attleboro-based Brian MacDonald Plumbing and Heating Inc., said he’s received up to 10 calls a day during the punishing cold snap from people who need their frozen pipes repaired.
“With the weather, yeah,” MacDonald said, adding that calls for service typically spike with “below zero or close to below zero” temperatures.
He said it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day to fix pipes that have frozen.
“It depends on how bad the freeze is,” MacDonald said. “I’m currently at a house where the whole second-floor heating is all frozen.”
He said he’s happy to have the extra work, despite the logistical challenges of fielding so many calls.
“Like any business owner, the more business the better,” MacDonald said.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.