Frozen pipes burst, fire hydrants freezing across cold Chicago

January 8, 2014 (CHICAGO)

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Plumbers say a lot of times a frozen pipe is actually a broken pipe-- water just hasn't yet flowed through. Expect that to change as the mercury rises in the coming days.

On Wednesday night, hot water was once again flowing at a Near West Side apartment where roommates have spent three days roughing it.

"I took a cab over to a friend's house and showered there. Otherwise, just trying to kind of not smell too bad at work, I guess," said Jeffrey Karst.

Their frozen pipe along an exterior wall was thawed by Four Seasons Home Services plumber Ruben Rabbers. He's been working 16 hour days for a week, dealing with pipes split open by expanding ice.

"It almost looks like a snake swallowing a frog. It gets that kind of a bubble in there," said Rabbers.

He's likely to be even busier, with a warm-up later this week causing more expanding and contracting.

"I'm expecting next week is going to be less thawing and more repairing because pipes have thawed out on their own," said Rabbers. "And broken."

On Wednesday, it felt like much of the area had sprung a leak. The Schaumburg Public Library also had to close.

"I've never seen a week where the concentration is just on one issue," said Rabbers.

Tips to frozen pipes

If your pipes haven't yet frozen, Rabbers recommends letting your faucets drip. But if there's already a blockage, shut off the main water line into your home and try warming up the frozen pipe.

"One thing you can do is just open the cabinets. Let some warm air in from the building," said Rabbers.

If that doesn't work, try some pipe insulation or even a heat source-- though plumbers say prolonged use of a heater or hair dryer can be a fire hazard.

After Rabbers restored the hot water here, the fix revealed another problem pipe in the building.

One issue solved, another having to be tackled. It's been that kind of week.

"We've been having as many as five or six repairs in just one call after the pipes are thawed," said Rabbers.

The wait for a plumber right now can be two days or more. It's been that busy. Four Seasons Plumbing says it's had to order additional warming equipment to thaw those frozen pipes.

Frozen pipes burst across Chicago

A water-main break took a toll on a busy Chicago street Wednesday. It was just one of several cold-related incidents creating challenges for firefighters.

Crews had to wade through knee-deep water in the 4900-block of North Pulaski overnight in the Northwest Side Mayfair neighborhood after a pipe broke and caused flooding in that area. Pulaski was closed to traffic between Argyle and Ainslie streets.

In Lincoln Park, frozen fire hydrants were the problem overnight for firefighters responding to a fire in an apartment building on Webster near Clark. No one was hurt, but the fire destroyed one unit and forced other residents out into the cold.

On the Mag Mile, water from a burst water pipe inside the Columbia store flooded the sidewalk and Michigan Avenue near Chestnut. The pipe burst overnight due to the subzero temperatures. It sent water pouring down the store front windows. The entire first floor of the store is flooded. Crews were trying to get rid of buckets of water. No one was hurt and no merchandise was damaged. The store is closed Wednesday.

"It primarily happened towards the front of our store because that's where the main pipes that froze were located, and then we were dealing with 2 or 3 inches of water on the first floor, and so we're still several hours later now getting it cleaned up," said Alison Anderson, Columbia Sportswear.

Frozen pipes burst at a Cook County courthouse Tuesday night, causing the lobby to flood. It happened at the end of the day after most people had left the courthouse. Officials say the mess was confined to the lobby, but it was no small leak.

Video showed water gushing from the ceiling and overflowing a garbage bin that was unable to stem the tide. On Tuesday night, crews at the criminal courts building were mopping up the mess by hand. The sheriff's department says it was caused by a water-main break in the lobby.

No one was injured when the pipe burst, and county officials say the mess was about 90 percent cleaned up by 10 p.m. Tuesday night. The criminal courts building reopened Wednesday.

At the Leo Burnett building in the Loop, water gushed on the 15th floor Tuesday afternoon.

And on the Northwest Side, the Oliviers had their own mess to deal with. When frozen pipe sections burst or start to thaw, the flooding creates a mess in the home or business.

"We started to open this up, and as we did, more water started coming out. And then there was no water pressure, so we pretty much knew that something was definitely wrong," said Francesca Olivier.

They called Adan Perez of A and C Plumbing, whose phone has been ringing constantly. Before their exterior pipe burst, the Oliviers tried keeping it warm with insulation and a space heater left in a crawl space-- not the safest idea.

"Clearly that didn't work, so we'll have to find something more sustainable in the future," said Joe Olivier. "I wondered how much it's going to cost to repair, and I'm wondering what we can do to prevent it in the future."

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