Pipes burst in Darnall, Harbin; Students warned to keep heat on

January 22, 2009

Water pipes burst in Harbin and Darnall Halls over the weekend, during what was widely reported to be the coldest weather Washington has seen in five years.

Caroline Klibanoff (COL ‘12), a resident of Harbin Hall, was in her room when a pipe burst.

“Friday morning I was getting ready for class, and had just turned on the heat when it made a horrible hissing sound,” she said. “A huge puddle had formed under our heater and it was growing super fast … We started quickly moving all our stuff from the floor out into the hall, ran and got our RA, Derek Pham, and he helped us move all the stuff out, and called housing services … Nothing was damaged, because luckily we were there when it happened.”

Kyle Stidham (COL ‘12), a resident of Darnall Hall, was not so lucky. He was not in his room when a pipe burst, causing water to leak from the ceiling and soak his belongings.

According to Andy Pino, Director of Media Relations, the problem was connected to the heating system in the dorms.

“Every residence hall is different,” Pino said. “In Darnall Hall, pipes run along the outside wall and connect to the fan coil units in every room. If heat is shut off completely, then no hot water circulates and the water in the pipe or in the coil itself can freeze—especially when it’s as cold as it was this past weekend.  If the fan coil is set on low and a window is left open, cold air from the open window can also freeze the coil.”

Klibanoff and Stidham report different experiences with University Facilities, who cleaned both rooms. For Klibanoff, help was swift and effective. She and her roommate were displaced for an hour while maintenance workers dried the room with wet vacuums and fans.

In Stidham’s case, help was slower to arrive.

“Initially, [Facilities] didn’t do a whole lot because I don’t think there were many people from maintenance working at the time,” he said. “[Director of Residential Life Stephanie Lynch] told us that they would provide temporary housing, and they just said that they were going to fix it over weekend. People didn’t come until later in weekend.”

Stidham and his roommate were offered a room in the Southwest Quad for the weekend while their room was cleaned.

The University is taking steps to protect dorms against further incidents. Facilities answered calls from residents who lost heat, and fixed problems in boilers and heating units in individual rooms. In a broadcast email to the school, students were encouraged to prevent pipes from bursting by leaving their heat on and their windows shut when temperatures dipped below freezing.

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