When it rains..

IF ONLY!

So, it’s obviously not raining. That -12 degrees really stung as I walked outside tonight gathering snow in buckets to melt for flushing toilets as our pipes are (once again) frozen. The dogs hate this cold. The cabin fever is VERY real.

And there’s no real end in sight. More on that later.

Today I’m going to write about the cold and what it does to an old house and its inhabitants. Before I dive in, let’s back up a few days.

I went back and did a quick scan of the recent weather and it appears that we are on day 6 of this cold snap — single digit (some positive, some negative) highs and negative double digit lows. The moment I see temps dropping below 10 degrees I enter what I’d politely describe as panic mode. At a minimum, this means that I am expecting frozen pipes in our laundry room and our furnace to start losing the battle to the cold. A couple years ago, we had a cold snap like the one now and we started having a water pressure problem that I couldn’t make sense of. We called a plumber in and after some trial and error it was determined that the water line from our well had frozen solid. Upon inspection, our well water line is (a) not insulated, (b) not heated, and (c) above ground in an uninsulated crawl space. The plumber left and came back 30 minutes later with something that circulated hot water up the pipe until the ice broke free. They charged us a couple limbs and we had running water again! I also learned a bunch more about our water system and the carelessness of previous owners. Knowledge is power, right?

Our well water line froze again yesterday. I called up the same plumber and explained what I thought was going on (see above). Turns out that I was right.. except for the other things that were wrong in addition this time. He brought out the same contraption and 30+ gallons of hot water to bust up the blockage in the water line. We had raging water pressure.. for about 30 minutes. I saw the water filter for the house was in pretty rough shape and gave it a change. It helped a little. The pressure kept dropping until we were back where we started. The plumber came back and quickly determined that the system that triggers the well pump was also frozen. A heat gun and some patience brought the water roaring back!

We were headed out for the evening as yesterday was new years eve. I put heaters in place to keep the well pump trigger line warm, left a couple taps dripping, and we set off for the night. Home at noon today with no water pressure again and a well line and pump trigger line as blocks of ice. Our house also was a balmy 49 degrees. A call is out for our plumber again..

So, what have I learned? This is a pretty complex question with one silly and a few insightful answers. The silly answer is that I can never leave this f****** house ever again! But as I begin to assess what’s going on, I made a few observations and have some adjustments for next time. This is by far the coldest weather we’ve ever seen at this house. I saw two different all time record lows in the last six days. I also know that our house is HORRIBLY insulated from the basement and crawl space so I expect a certain level of cold during the winter. As I’m unwilling to accept my silly answer on anything more than a temporary basis, the adjustments all deal with insulation and access. Here’s the issues and the reasons that they happen and aren’t easily remedied:

  • The well line freezes as the pipe is not heated or insulated, at least not any more. I can see evidence of this having been tried once before but nothing much else to report on that. I cannot insulate or heat the pipe as I cannot physically access anything in that part of the crawl space, period. So, up to this point I’ve relied on running enough water that the well pump triggers often enough so that the water line doesn’t freeze. The solution for this problem is that I will be cutting an access panel in the floor of one of the rooms in that part of the house, at which point I will redo all insulation and pipe heating.
  • The laundry pipes (yes, I mentioned those a while back) freeze often and traverse an absurdly cold (parity with the outside air) portion of the crawl space. I can access semi-easily about 70% of this pipe run during the winter and I have twice tried pipe heat tape and insulation. The last time I redid the insulation work on the pipes, I took special care to make sure that everything was installed correctly and functioning. As it turns out, it’s either too cold for this solution OR I still have work to do. The solution here is to not buy pre-packaged solutions and install a more custom and professional pipe heating system.

This cold snap looks to last another six days. Looks like I’ll be here running the dish washer and flushing toilets a lot until it’s not record breaking cold anymore. 🙂

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