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Thar she blows

Frozen water pipes damage buildings during cold snap

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By Vivian Moreau

Whistler fire crews were kept busy last week, keeping up with sprinkler system blowouts as a result of water pipes freezing in the cold snap.

Over half of the 52 calls that crews responded to between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2 were for sprinkler systems triggered by pipes cracked from freezing water, according to Chief Bruce Hall. Three of the calls were to buildings that incurred significant damage with water pouring from top floors through two floors below.

One of those damaged was Nesters Market, north of the village. Pipes broke in residential suites above the retail area about 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, sending a cascade of water through the ceiling and into the check-out area.

“I don’t know if it was 600 litres or 1,000 litres but it was a lot of fricking water,” said Bruce Stewart, the grocery store’s general manager. The popular food store closed for four hours and staff managed to rescue most of the business’s computerized registers. Two privately-owned upstairs suites had considerable damage.

Chief Hall said most of the sprinkler system damage in hotel and residence water systems were from branch line breakages.

“And some of it, to be quite frank, was just poor installations of systems,” Hall said, adding that some contractors who initially installed the systems didn’t use enough insulation around pipes.

Paul Fournier, owner of AJ Plumbing, received almost twice as many calls as usual last week when temperatures dipped.

“The magic number is if it’s below 17 Celsius for an extended period of time all hell breaks loose,” Fornier said.

In business in Whistler for more than 20 years, Fournier said he received over 50 calls a day at the peak of last week’s panic, that was mostly focused on broken sprinkler systems. He said causes could be pinpointed to poor maintenance on the part of homeowners.

“It’s penny wise and pound poor,” Fournier said, giving the example of one homeowner who turned off power to a heat trace line to save money. (A heat trace line is a heated extension cord that wraps around pipes to keep them warm.)

“One little cord not plugged in was a $1,000 mistake,” Fournier said.

Fournier advised homeowners to keep all interior doors closed and to keep thermostats set between 15-20 degrees Celsius in rooms that contain plumbing, and in other areas to at least 10 degrees Celsius.

“The warmer you keep it in the event of a power failure it gives you a good buffer,” he said. “If you only have it at 10 degrees Celsius and the power goes out it doesn’t take long to get below freezing.”

All 450 of Sabre Rentals’ 100-lb propane cylinder bottles were in use last week, according to co-manager Ross Croghan.

“We’re as busy as we ever get,” Croghan said on Friday, Dec. 1. He said the Mons Road store was at the point where it could only supply propane to those people with their own cylinders.

“We’ll have more cylinders coming and the crisis will be over by then, but there will be another one, there is every time.”

Temperatures last week dipped to a low of –17.8 Celsius on Nov. 28, according to Environment Canada. The record low for a Whistler November is –24.3 Celsius, set on Nov. 27, 1985.

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