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Oil heat experts urge 'common sense' when it comes to preventing freezing water pipes

Homeowners could use one thing to help prevent freezing pipes in their heating systems with the arrival of winter's coldest weather: That's "a little common sense," said Kevin Rooney, chief executive of the Oil Heat Institute of Long Island.

Rooney said that freezing water pipes are a common failure of oil-fired hot-water heating systems during bitter cold, which in the form of Arctic air blanketed Nassau and Suffolk counties on Wednesday, is freezing water pipes.

When it gets cold, people have a tendency to turn down their heat at night or when they are away from their homes, Rooney said.

"When heat doesn't go on regularly then water isn't moving through the pipes," Rooney said. "A pipe with stagnant water on an exterior wall facing north, well, it doesn't take much time for that pipe to freeze."

Keep the thermostat at a temperature that ensures water will move through the pipes -- probably in the mid 60s minimum and in some homes a bit higher, experts say.

"Turning it down to 50 or 60 in September is OK but not when it's 6 degrees outside," said Ed Schoen, owner of Prestige Heating Service in Massapequa.

Near frozen pipes also can reduce water flow and cause systems to be sluggish, taking what seems like forever to generate heat, Schoen said.

Rooney said wrapping pipes with foam insulation or using polystyrene boards to insulate walls also can help reduce the chances of freezing pipes.

"But in some cases, you can't reach the pipes," he said. They're behind walls and are not accessible.

Again, common sense can help. To help prevent pipes supplying water to a bathroom or kitchen sink from freezing, simply turn on the faucet so water drips slowly.

Water moving through pipes doesn't freeze as easily, Rooney said.

It might cost a half-gallon of heating oil to turn up the thermostat a little bit for a 12- or 18-hour period, Rooney said.

"But that's a lot cheaper than paying for repairs and damages after a pipe freezes," he said. "It can be expensive to unclog a frozen pipe.

"I remember having a pipe repaired in my home several years ago, and it was $400 to $500."

Oil and gas-fired hot water systems should be inspected before the start of every heating season, experts say. An inspection, which usually includes changing filters, checking connections and system leaks, runs about $150.

And it's never too late for an inspection, Schoen said.

"Do them for the safety and reliability of the system," Schoen said of annual inspections.

An inspection should include a digital combustion analysis, which determines whether deadly carbon monoxide gas is being vented into interior living space.

Regarding reliability, a properly trained technician, both licensed and insured, also can make sure controls and gauges are running properly, Schoen said.

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