Bursting heaters startle students; cold pipes blamed

Seth Freedland

When Zach Galin heard the explosion, he didn’t know what to think.

But after the bang came some bright sparks. And then water, lots of water.

“All of a sudden (my roommate and I) began getting wet,” said Galin, a Weinberg sophomore who lives in Willard Residential College. “The water was very hot, and we realized that it was from the radiator.”

Galin said he sprinted to his resident assistant’s room before coming back to his room, where he stood looking in disbelief.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have to save some of my stuff,'” he said. “I started pulling stuff out until the fire department forced me out of the building.”

The steam from the broken radiator set off the smoke detector — forcing all of Willard to evacuate.

Galin’s wet, 6 a.m. wake-up call Friday was one of two heater mishaps to hit the Evanston Campus last week. The second problem occurred in Bobb Hall. The incidents are rare but not unheard of, said Gary Wojtowicz, director of facilities management.

“This is not a big problem,” he said. “(Willard) is on a system with six or seven other buildings and none of them had problems. And Bobb was another isolated incident in that one room. We have 1,000 radiators on campus, so two isn’t bad.”

Wojtowicz said both incidents happened during the coldest temperatures of the season. It’s not usually a problem with the radiator, either.

“Almost always it’s caused by leaving a window open, and the cold air freezes the pipes,” he said.

He explained that when the pipes’ hot water, which can reach 190 degrees, varies greatly with the outside temperature, the expansion of the water can crack the radiator.

The best solution to the problem, Wojtowicz said, is to ask students to put “limiters,” or contraptions on windows so they can’t be opened very far. But he said this is unrealistic.

He added that as long as the water lines stay within reasonable temperatures, everything should stay operable.

But this information is too little, too late for Galin, who has struggled without a dorm room. He lived in a guest room on the first floor of Allison Hall for five days, wearing clothing borrowed from friends. He moved back into Willard on Wednesday night.

Galin said midterms have been “a bit stressful” without any of his notes, textbooks or computer — all of which were destroyed.

“They said cold water could have affected a pipe anywhere in the building,” he said. “It just happens to be my room where it exploded.”

Tim Gaylord, Willard’s residential hall coordinator, said Willard has faced difficulties with getting hot water on two floors. Even though the situation seems to have improved, he pled with residents to keep their windows closed for the rest of winter.

“You have to understand how cold it was that morning at 6:30 a.m.,” said Gaylord, a McCormick senior. “The sun wasn’t even up yet. That was rough.”