While the rest of the country is quietly enduring blizzards and ice storms, south Texas is being devastated by cold, winter-like temperatures. Have some pity, people. We’re not prepared for this stuff. Our blood is thin, our houses are designed to stay cool, and our plumbing is exposed.
Yes, my pipes froze again. Yes, I know this happened last year. Thank you for reminding me. Yes, we really should figure out a way to avoid this, but then what would I blog about?
This time it was all of them, instantaneously. During the day, while we were using them. It’s that cold here. I have it on good authority that today was colder here than in Alaska, at least on the day in question. See? This is not our fault. Texas was not designed for this weather. Darn global warming – er, climate change. Al Gore warned us that global warming could cause colder winters. It can also cause warmer winters, wetter and/or drier winters and/or summers, inflation, male pattern balding and acne.
Perry and I bundled up and rushed out to see if we could isolate the problem and solve it before it got worse. Since everything quit at once, we deduced that the main line out at the well must have frozen, cutting off supply to the house. We needed to get it defrosted before all the lines under the house froze as well. We didn’t want to risk having a pipe burst somewhere. Heavens, no. Not that.
We started with a hair dryer, then quickly moved on to more sophisticated equipment: a space heater under a makeshift tent constructed from a table, a folding ladder, a shredded old drop cloth, and 3 sleeping bags. At 2 AM, with temps in the teens and a windchill in the single digits, the pressure relief valve in the well opened up and started spewing water like fire hydrant. This sounds good, but it’s not. We needed the water to go past there, and now it was taking the easy way out. After shutting off power to the well, we called it quits.
The following day I had to come to grips with the truth: my pipes didn’t just freeze. Most of them burst as well. In the winter wonderland that is under my house, I walked around and counted 13 visible breaks. But 95% of my pipes are covered in foam pipe insulation, so I’m sure I missed a few.
We were entirely without running water for over 24 hours. During that time, 9 of my 10 children got sick. Again. Yes, we just finished with a bug. Thank you for reminding me. Why yes, there was vomit. Why is there always vomit? Thank you for asking. Two of my children were unusually spontaneous and missed the toilet. We appreciate spontaneity in our house.
In that 24 hours, I also managed to teach my children not to flush the toilet unless they did #2, a lesson I’m sure to regret in the years to come. Isn’t it funny how quickly they pick up certain lessons while others take weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime?
Fortunately I know a very hot guy who does plumbing. It’s no secret he has a crush on me, so I figured he would take the job. After 6 long cold hours and several unforeseen problems, we had cold water running in the tub. We also had a big hole in the kids’ wall where I had drywalled years earlier without leaving plumbing access, but that’s easy to fix.
At that point it was midnight and the temperature was in the teens again so I invited the plumber to a sleepover. Oh – did I mention that I’m in a romantic relationship with him? It helps that we’ve been married nearly 18 years. Sorta breaks the ice, if you know what I mean.
That was Wednesday. We enjoyed our indoor running water Thursday and Friday, using buckets in the tub to fill the toilet and heating water on the stove for dishes and a few badly needed baths. We even shared with other family members whose water had frozen.
I assured Perry that this was far less hardship than it would be for him to come home from work in the evening and stay up late into the night replumbing the house while the nighttime temps were in the teens. I wasn’t just willing to wait until the weekend; I wanted to wait until the weekend.
So he bought supplies Friday while he was in town and on Saturday, he set to work again. By now he was sick as well as the kids, but it didn’t stop him. This time he redid nearly all the plumbing under the house. Each milestone was a new celebration: cold water in the kitchen and bathroom sinks! Hurrah! Cold water to the washer: Start the laundry! Hot water to the kitchen sink: Let’s do dishes!
When the hot water to the tub was done, we ran into a new problem: the flow was almost completely blocked by sediment in the taps. Perry disassembled the handles and the faucet, but there was no way to clean them. He found a way to temporarily ease the problem by letting the water in the pipe fall back down the pipe and drain out a valve under the house but the blockage kept returning.
In the end, he solved the problem. The good guys always win in the end, don’t they? He turned off the main supply to the house, taking pressure off all the lines. He turned on the bathtub taps, hot and cold, wide open. Nothing came out, of course, because the supply was shut off.
Next, he opened a valve outside near the main supply, where any water in the system could simply pour out. Then we attached a garden hose to the spigot by the well – the only one that still had pressure with the supply to the house shut off – and brought it into the bathroom. We turned it on and forced the water into the tub faucet, backward.
Do you follow? One daughter called it “giving the tub an enema.” I don’t know where she learned that term. Nobody can accuse us of raising sheltered homeschoolers.
So we forced water backward, through the taps, through the supply lines, and out the open valve under the house, onto the ground. Ditto for the shower head. Hubby stayed under the house working the valves and monitoring the success of our efforts at creating backward flow, while a daughter and I worked together in the bathroom. Don’t try to picture it; just believe me when I tell you the whole process was comically awkward and messy, and also slightly terrifying when I realized water was spraying out of the tub enclosure onto the floor and the huge puddle had very nearly reached from my feet to a live extension cord.
In the end, it worked and nobody got electrocuted. Oh, and we all got hot showers with the best water pressure we’ve had in years. And we will all live happily ever after, unless the water freezes again next weekend when the temperatures dip again into the teens.