Protecting “Forgotten” Pipes

The weekend’s hard freeze led to many burst pipes around Houston. But as Laurie Johnson reports — most of the problem pipes were outside and caused little property damage.

If you woke up to a small geyser in your yard after the overnight freezes, you’re not alone.

Brad Winbigler, owner-operator of Brad’s Plumbing, says 90-95 percent of the calls he’s getting are for
exploding automated sprinkler systems. That’s because the vacuum breaker on the system literally blows its top.

“Those vacuum breakers actually hold a little bit of water in them and they don’t wrap the top cap part, which is smart because if you wrap it that would be bad because the vacuum breaker wouldn’t work when it needs to in the summer. But without protecting that top part that little cap blows off and then next thing you know they got water just spewing out the top.”

Overall, Winbigler says he’s not getting too many calls about busted pipes inside houses. The calls that do come in are typically attic pipes that are exposed to strong winds coming through.

“Everybody really in Houston gets pretty much an A+, we just evidently didn’t get the word out on these vacuum breakers in this particular freeze that was it. Preparedness goes a long way with hurricanes and everything else and people in Houston were real good about protecting most pipes. It’s the ones they didn’t see or forgot about that got them.”

Winbigler says the next time there’s another hard freeze, consider wedging your attic stairway open slightly to allow some heat to rise into the attic. And he says it can’t hurt to let your exterior faucets drip just a little bit on especially cold nights.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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