Athens Apartment’s Pipes Burst From Cold Weather

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While cold weather turns rainwater into snow and ice, extreme temperatures can turn indoor and below-ground water into hundreds of dollars worth of damage.

Water pipes burst Jan. 22 at 140 Mill Street in Athens, and Ohio University junior Kerry Tuttle and her roommate found themselves bailing water out of a flooded apartment.

The fire alarm started going off," Tuttle said. "Back in the corner by [my roommate's] room, the sprinkler system had burst. There was just water pouring through the ceiling, pouring through the walls, pouring down the hallway, as well as in her closet."

Tuttle, her roommate, and her neighbors were forced to shovel the water out with trash cans and coolers. Tuttle said they were lucky to have avoided any damage to electronics and only sustained minor water damage to clothing. The roommates were offered a temporary stay in a campus residence hall but instead are living with friends until they are allowed to move back in.

The apartment building is at the intersection of Stewart Street and Mill Street, was built in 1999 and is owned by Gezala LLC, according to the City of Athens' web site.

City engineer Andrew Stone said that during Athens' previous bout with well-below-freezing temperatures, his office, which deals with busted pipes and water main breaks, received about 170 calls, some from personal residences and some from businesses.

"Depending on how long water runs inside a structure, [damage] can be extensive," Stone said. "To the point where you have to redo walls. Outside we haven't had too much damage to the water mains. They're usually deep enough that we don't see lots of broken mains due to cold weather."

Tuttle said their landlord wasn't in the area when the burst happened, but that he was there within 45 minutes.

"By the time I got home about 45 minutes after it happened, the water had stopped but our entire hallway was flooded, half of my room was flooded, the living room was flooded," Tuttle said. "By then it had started leaking down onto the apartment underneath us.

"For the next three hours we wore rain boots around our apartment," Tuttle added. "Our apartment is a mess is because we had to move everything from our rooms, take everything off the walls. When your foot would step on the carpet there'd be a little puddle around it. It was totally soaked, like standing water."

The Athens fire department was called and the whole building was evacuated. The pipes in Tuttle's apartment were the only ones in the complex that broke. 

"We are not allowed to be in the apartment for 3-5 days," Our heat is turned up to 90 degrees to try to dry everything. There's fans everywhere. We're in limbo trying to figure out when we can move back in."

Stone talked about how residents can avoid having their pipes burst during this week's severe cold weather.

"Probably the most important thing I would tell people is know where your main water shut off valve is inside your house. If you need to deal with it quickly, you're going to need to know how to shut off that water," Stone said. "People should really pay attention to the temperature in the area where the water lines come in. Oftentimes it'll come in through a crawl space, perhaps under a porch. Those spaces aren't heated, or if they are they're heated very poorly.  Cold temperatures can reach those water lines quickly and they can freeze easily.

"Open up the cupboards under their sinks so that the heat from the room can get into that space and keep those water lines warm," Stone said.