Stupid Tax: Frozen and Burst Water Pipes
I never realized that there was actually a penalty for leaving your crawl space access door open. Well, if you did it on January 16th, 2009 (which just happens to be one of the coldest nights of the year outside of Richmond, VA), the penalty is almost $400! How do I know, you ask? Don’t ask.
We woke up Saturday morning to no water in the house (this really stunk because, besides the obvious, I was really looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning after not feeling well all day Friday). After making some phone calls to ask some advice on what to check to determine exactly what was going on, I went outside to check the pipes in the crawl space and realized that the access door was wide open! Though it was very cold outside, it struck me as I entered the crawl space just how warm it was under there – it was actually quite comfortable. So I crawled all the way under the house and all the pipes looked fine. On the way out, however, I saw that the main supply line was bulging and had burst. The problem was, unfortunately, that the main supply line went right by that open access door. All night long the wind whipped in just far enough to freeze that main line even though the rest of the pipes were fine.
When I realized it was the supply line, I kinda freaked out because, of course, I had no way to shut the water off if it started to thaw. So, I immediately called the county water people to come and shut off the water ("it will be a while" and "we can turn it off later today but can’t turn it back on until Tuesday" were the gems from that conversation). I Then put some ice packs on top of the broken parts to prevent them from thawing (the pipe had bulged and burst in a second place by this time).
Anyway, after calling a plumber, I was able to get the situation remedied that the morning before any damage was done and the plumber was able to turn the water back on for us. Literally, the short section of pipe immediately in front of the door opening is the only thing that froze. I was quite nervous about the next couple nights as they were forecast to be almost as cold, but I did makes sure that door was locked up tight and even wrapped some towels around the exposed section of the pipe. UPDATE: Two nights have gone by with no more issues (though I admit that I went out to make sure that door was closed before going to bed each night and will probably do so again tonight).
To help you avoid this stupid tax that I encountered, here are some tips to prevent pipes from freezing (other than moving to Tucson):
- Ensure there is no way for wind to get to where the pipes are – seal any leaks (no matter how small) that allow cold air in around your pipes.
- Wrap pipe insulation around your pipes
- Consider installing electrically powered heat tape around your most vulnerable pipes
- On really cold nights, leave a faucet dripping very slowly to ensure water keeps moving and doesn’t sit in the pipe and freeze.
- Disconnect and drain hoses, close off inside valves to your hoses and open the outside valves to get the water out. Then, leave the outside valves open to allow any remaining water room to expand
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing
- Close your crawl space access door! (argh!)
By the way, if you’re looking for a useful hobby to take up, I think plumbing may be the answer. I spent almost $400 dollars for 30 minutes of work replacing about 5 feet of copper pipe, 1 elbow joint, and two connectors. I can’t imagine that the materials for the job cost more than $15 (of course there are specialized tools needed but they are reusable). If I had some plumbing skills, I could have saved myself quite a bit of money as well as time sitting around waiting for the plumber to arrive. Plus, plumbing is a good skill to have for home additions and renovations. I think I just might check into this….(just don’t tell my wife I’m contemplating yet another hobby!)
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