Apex homeowners learn hard lesson about winter storms

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- Winter storms taught some homeowners a hard lesson about one of their popular appliances.

"They all froze and the pipes burst," Neil Harman said.

When Harman's home lost power for more than 24 hours thanks to the severe weather, the pipes in his tankless water heater burst.

"When I opened the panel up, water was all over the inside here. It was spraying out from parts back here and on the side in a very strong jet. Water was coming out at me," he said.

Harman's tankless system is installed outside his home.

"The fault is that when it freezes where those pipes come in here there are plastic connections in here and over there. As soon as they freeze, they crack," Harman said.

Neil Harman

And Harman isn't the only homeowner in the neighborhood that had the problem.

"One here. Two or three up the street. Starting over here, there's four or five," he said.

Harman said they were all caught off guard. Then they did some digging.

"According to the manufacturer, if you went to Noritz website and you looked at any of these models on the outside, they explicitly say, 'If it's cold and if it freezes and the power goes out, then you must either completely flush the unit or you should have an automatic generator to come in and turn it on.' Well, no one puts automatic generators in their houses normally, because that is an expense," he said.

Harman claims when he closed on the home three years ago, he never got the owner's manual to the tankless water heater from his builder. He said he had no idea that he needed to drain the water during a freeze.

Harman called his builder, Wardson Construction.

Wardson sent a plumber and warranty manager to the homes affected. Wardson told me they confirmed the units were installed properly. Wardson also added at the time of closing, homeowners were provided all of the warranty materials for their home.

Wardson said he was very sorry for circumstances but sometimes events that cause problems are just unfortunate. He added, all areas of the home and mechanical systems are susceptible to freezing with a prolonged loss of power and extreme temperatures. Wardson instead said Duke Energy would be the responsible party on the length of the power outage.

Neil Harman

As for Harman and his neighbors, they had to pay thousands to get new tankless systems. Harman has this advice for others:

"They should carefully check to make sure they have a house with an outdoor water heater and that they're correctly insulated and they know how to dump the water out of them if the water freezes, if you get a very cold day," Harman said.

Another tip to protect your tankless system is to buy a freeze protection kit that will open the valves and dump the water if the power fails.

As for the builder's contention that the power company was to blame, Duke Energy released this response:

"Duke Energy is committed to providing reliable electric service. But situations such as storms can cause power outages and we recognize extended outages are inconvenient for our customers. As part of our storm response process, we use many methods to communicate with customers, urging preparation for extended outages and sharing estimated restoration times. When storms do hit, Duke Energy has thousands of employees working to get the power back on for everyone as quickly and as safely as possible.

As cited in our regulations, Duke Energy is not be liable for any loss or damage to a customer or customers resulting from a service failure or interruption due to a cause beyond its control including an Act of God.

Additionally, we always encourage customers to follow manufacturer operating instructions for appliances in their home or business."

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