Most North Georgia homeowners have had this unpleasant experience. You step into the garage or some other room with outside walls after a cold night, and are greeted by a waterfall coming out of the drywall. After turning off the water supply at the meter and using every available towel to mop up the lake that has formed, there are two immediate goals: Fix the damage, and do something that will prevent this from happening again.
Most pipe repairs are well within the skill set of a homeowner with copper or PVC plumbing. Copper requires “sweating” a repair piece into place. You need a soldering torch costing $15 to $30, preferably with a built-in piezo lighter, and a roll of acid-core solder (not electronics solder). A tubing cutter is available at low cost at the same hardware store.
To make a repair, cut a piece of new copper pipe to length; cut out the damaged piece; insert a new copper bushing on each end; and solder each of the four joints that result. Be careful to keep the flame away from electrical wiring, insulation, wood and especially sawdust that may be present.
Heat the joint and hold the solder wire against it until it flows freely into place, all around the pipe. When it has cooled, the water can be turned on again.
PVC pipe requires only gluing. Don’t use the white PVC pipe if the house has cream-colored CPVC piping. CPVC is for hot or cold water, PVC only for cold.
You need a bottle of the purple primer, PVC or CPVC glue, and couplings or elbows, depending on what is broken. Cut the damaged piece with a metal hacksaw, apply primer to each piece to be joined, then glue. Press the pieces together and let them cure for an hour before restarting the water.
Busted pipes are most often caused by cold wind hitting them. Check for gaps in the house siding and insulation, and insulate all pipes running in a crawl space. Protecting them from cold air to start with works much better than some of the ideas out on the Internet, like letting the water drip overnight (it’s wasteful, and doesn’t work) or burning a light bulb next to the pipe. The light bulb trick, in particular, has caused house fires in Hall County in the past.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University.