State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Extreme Cold Hits State College Area, Schools Open Late, Homeowners Coping With Broken Furnaces and Frozen Pipes

by on January 28, 2014 6:55 AM

Update 1:22 p.m. The National Weather Service has posted a new Wind Chill Advisory notice. The Advisory will be in effect from 10 p.m. Tuesday until 1 p.m. Wednesday. Wind chills could make it feel like it's 20 degrees below zero.

Another jolt of arctic air sent the mercury tumbling overnight.

The National Weather Service has posted a Wind Chill Advisory for State College and much of Central Pennsylvania.

Just before 6 a.m. the temperature stood at zero with a wind chill of minus 15 degrees.

It's so cold the State College School District is opening schools on a two hour delay. School officials are concerned about student safety and the possibility that buses will be hard to start.

The recent wave of exteme cold has been keeping repair crews busy fixing broken furnaces and frozen water pipes.

At Norris Plumbing and Heating they say furnace trouble is frequently linked to overuse, with heating equipment working overtime to keep homes warm. Co-owner and office manager Alison Norris says furnaces that aren't properly maintained are more likely to break down when you need them the most.

"People don't consider it a priority and that's when they run into problems," Norris says. "People should get their heating systems serviced and maintained. People seem to neglect ... maintenance that manufacturers require."

The other issue her team is encountering is related to folks who left town for winter break or the holidays and folks who only come to town for football games and special events. Many have returned to discover broken pipes.

Part of the reason is residents turn the heat down too low before leaving town. Norris suggests never turning the heat below 62. However, she says often residents will turn the thermostat to 50 creating the risk of frozen pipes. Once the pipes thaw they often break.

"We find that people will leave for weeks and they don't check on the house ... then they walk in and everything is frozen. Then we have to carefully thaw pipes," Norris says.

It can quickly become a larger issue when there are severe wind chills combined with poorly insulated homes.

Norris Heating & Plumbing has been in business for more than 30 years. Norris says the current cold spell is probably the most severe, in terms of length, that she has seen in roughly a decade.

That means frequent calls are expected from customers saying they have no heat. Norris says there are quick solutions when a furnace breaks. For example, the company can bring portable, temporary heaters to a home and raise the temperature back up to a safe level.

"If they call right away ... we can install them and will get heat back in the house and prevent problems," Norris says. "There are things you can do even if you don't have heat and we need to do repairs."

Norris says an annual, professional maintenance service on a heating system each spring will help ensure a resident does not face a major heating issue in the dead of winter.

"It's like anything else, like going to the doctor or dentist or car maintenance, the more you neglect something the more it's going to cost you," she says.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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