Cold, renovations seen as reasons for burst pipes

Though many students are accustomed to high levels of precipitation on the streets of New Haven, some were recently met with similar wet conditions in the comfort of their dorm rooms when pipes burst at locations across campus recently.

A variety of causes were given for the flooding that affected six residential colleges and the Hall of Graduate Studies over the past two weeks. Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said the age of the facilities was a possible factor in the problems at HGS, which he said has not been comprehensively renovated since its construction in 1932. But some recently renovated buildings have suffered damage to areas and systems where vulnerabilities to cold had not been extensively tested, Saybrook College Master Mary Miller said. Still, open windows and freezing temperatures are considered the primary causes of many of the flooding incidents, Deputy Director of Facilities Operations Eric Uscinski said.

“There are some times when you have that kind of freeze-up in machinery, but we’ve seen a lot of windows left open,” Uscinski said. “I know people tend to open them up and forget to close them, but when you have temperatures like we have, it doesn’t take long for things to freeze.”

A sudden but persistent cold snap may be partially to blame for the recent facilities problems, Connecticut Weather Center meteorologist Michael Thomas said.

“It had been unseasonably warm until about two weeks ago, but once that cold front came through on the 14th, temperatures have not even been close to seasonable since then,” Thomas said. “We do see these cold trends, where we have arctic air settle across the coast for quite a few weeks.”

Despite the recent surge in burst pipes, Jay Lawrimore, the chief of the National Climatic Data Center’s climate monitoring branch, said temperatures are not chillingly low.

“There have been some days that approached the cold temperatures we’ve seen in the past, but in general, we’ve certainly experienced worse conditions in the past 30 years,” Lawrimore said.

In some cases, newer facilities are simply untested under conditions this extreme. The basement in Saybrook was flooded Tuesday after two pipes adjacent to the hydraulic trash removal lift ruptured, Miller said. The lift, which travels from the basement to street level, was installed when Saybrook was renovated in 2001, and includes an exterior door that may not have been properly insulated, she said.

“New buildings almost always have trouble with freezing pipes, and — there’s a great deal of trial by cold, where every single location of where things tend to freeze becomes known, identified and fixed,” Miller said. “The design might not be perfect in terms of where water is adjacent to cold. It does seem to me that renovations are vulnerable.”

Miller said maintenance workers in Saybrook are taking steps to better insulate and heat the college’s temperature sensitive areas. Such adjustments by maintenance were not unusual she said, citing similar incidents in Saybrook and in recently renovated parts of the Divinity School last year.

An open window was deemed the cause of a frozen pipe which burst in Pierson College and a ruptured pipe that submerged a bathroom and two suites in Timothy Dwight College last week. In TD, firefighters said the pipe had frozen after a window was left ajar in an unsecured attic above the flooded suites. Similar problems may have factored into the flooding in HGS and the burst pipe in the Ezra Stiles kitchen that flooded the Stiles and Morse dining halls Saturday night, Custodial Services director Robert Young said.

This problem is not exclusive to Yale buildings. The Harvard Computer Society suffered equipment losses when a burst sprinkler pipe flooded its offices last week. And residents of the greater New Haven area are facing frozen pipes and furnaces in record numbers, said Michael Criss, the plumbing manager of Solvit, Inc., a Cheshire-based company that offers plumbing repairs among its services.

“We’ve had numerous crews out at nights, sometimes 24 hours,” Criss said. “We haven’t seen it this bad in quite some time. Usually you get a burst for two days or something, but it’s been pretty consistent for the past three weeks.”

Comments