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Business heats up after deep freeze

February 6, 2019

MICHIGAN CITY — Local businesses have kept busy “putting out fires” during and after last week’s sub-zero temperatures.

“The big thing we noticed is the number of people that have a second home and didn’t have a monitoring system,” said Sherry Paniccia, co-owner of Paniccia Heating & Cooling at 5076 North Bleck Road in Michigan City. “So, the temperatures drop, the pipes freeze, and they have no way of knowing when the pipes burst.”

She pointed out that the kind of weather we saw last week speeds up the freezing process.

“Those temps were more extreme than we’ve ever seen. If the pipes were going to freeze, then they were going to do so much faster under these exorbitant conditions,” Paniccia said.

Tom Llewellyn, owner of Michiana Mechanical Heating & Cooling at 10415W CR-400N, Michigan City, represented another HVAC company that saw a spike in business – and a staff facing some very long days.

“We were overwhelmed with clients in the area with no heat,” he said. “We had a lot of issues and calls from new customers. I’m sure every company was maxed out.”

“Everybody shuts down, but we can’t,” Paniccia said of the many businesses that closed during the worst of the deep freeze. “We have to stay open for our customers.”

Llewellyn said the extreme cold took a toll on furnaces, and those in attics or crawl spaces were especially susceptible because of non-heated environments. And older furnaces that were on the verge of failing were pushed over the edge by the stress of being overworked.

“The cold exposes old, weak furnaces,” he said.

Frozen drain lines and frozen vents on furnaces were other common issues, Llewellyn said.

“Furnaces aren’t rated for this low of temperatures,” Paniccia agreed. “If they were, then they would be using too much gas or it would overheat when it ran normally.”

She recommended that owners of second homes, or those away from their homes for longer periods of time, increase the frequency of having others check their homes. She suggested at least once and maybe twice a day in very cold weather.

For added peace of mind, and to avoid costly drywall, flooring and other repairs/replacements, Paniccia also said homeowners might want to consider Wi-Fi thermostats. If temperatures drop too low in homes, they send alerts to homeowners.

Another inexpensive solution is an alert module that works with a landline phone and calls the homeowner if temperatures dip below a set point.

She also advised homeowners to change filters more often in extra cold because furnaces are running so much more.

“A lot of people were calling to see if it was OK if their furnaces were running continually,” she said.

Josh Poston, owner of Poston & Son Plumbing at 7181 Pippen Drive in Michigan City, agreed that “there’s no shortage of work right now.”

He’s been dealing with his share of overtaxed furnaces that couldn’t handle the extra low temps and resulted in frozen pipes. Then, once temperatures rise and pipes begin to thaw, homeowners are often awakened to the sound of rushing water.

“The day it warms up is when we get the most calls,” he said.

The big “freeze-up” was especially damaging in communities along Lake Michigan, including Long Beach, Beverly Shores and Michiana Shores, which were hit with brutal north winds off the lake. Especially vulnerable are the north and west sides of those homes, some of which weren’t built to withstand harsh winters, Poston said.

“The closer you get to the lake, the harsher those winds are,” he said. “A lot are rentals without people in them and others not looking after them often. It doesn’t take long for water lines to freeze in those temperatures.”

For homes left vacant for extended periods, he recommends a whole-house winterization by a professional. This includes blowing out water lines with an air compressor and other preventative measures.

Another suggestion by Poston is if a home has had problems in the past with frozen pipes, the homeowner can leave a small trickle of cold and hot water running continually from faucets. This is especially true for those near exterior walls. Homeowners can also open cabinet doors, such as under the kitchen sink, to allow more heat to reach water pipes.

Derrick Arnett, owner of Arnett Construction in La Porte, saw an increased number of area residents last week who were faced with a lack of attic insulation in their homes.

Many homeowners saw “ice dams” on their roofs, he said. Before the plummeting temperatures last week, snow that was already piled up on roofs froze into ice, accumulating under shingles. Once it thawed, there were roof leaks.

“Many older homes don’t have ice and water shields in valleys and on eaves,” Arnett said.

Proper insulation and ventilation in a home can help minimize ice dam issues, he said.

Arnett mentioned another case in which a window in a main living area of a home suffered a large crack, presumably from the extreme temperatures.

Homes weren’t the only casualty of the storm. Maria Alexeychuk, owner of O’Brien’s Battery and Tire at 3782 N. Wozniak Road in Michigan City, estimated a 50 percent increase in car battery sales.

Alexeychuk also saw plenty of residents worried that their vehicle had suffered a flat tire.

“Tires leak air when there are sub-zero temperatures, so people think that they are flat, but they just need more air (to compensate for the drop in temperature),” she explained.

There was also a mysterious SUV that was leaking gas. The team at O’Brien’s discovered that the fuel lines had shrunk in the extreme cold, which caused the vehicle to lose gas. Tightening of clamps on the gas lines was a simple fix.

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