Water Woes, 2011

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.


  1. Amy Walton says:

    Praying everything is fine from here on out. What a difficult experience! Sickness + no water = one big mess.. So sorry you and yours had to deal with this all at once.

  2. I feel for you! Utah wasn’t affected nearly as badly by the storm that consumed the entire country, but I have friends in TX who had about as rough of a time.

  3. I also wanted to mention, with regard to heat tape, though I also see someone else mentioning super cold temps, that we live in interior Alaska and our pipes have never frozen (including our well) and we have extended periods in the fifty-below range (and a reasonably old house). All I can say is that without the heat tape, we’d be lost.

  4. Something similar happened to us one winter up here in Indiana in -10 degree weather. And we also had sick kids. Bless your hearts! Glad it is all better now!

  5. Kim,
    We live in WY, used to live in TX, and haven’t had water in over a week. Several pipes busted, but then our temps were -42 here and that’s hard on any pipes, with or without heat tape. Glad you have yours fixed, hoping mine will be by Saturday, we have more serious below zero temps predicted. Thank you for the laugh, nice to know someone else out there laughs when these things happen. God Bless

  6. Amazing Kim! Love those moments you are wondering what’s going to happen next?!! Please tell me the new pipes are that hex piping that cam freeze and not break?! And just imagine how much would you have to pay if Perry didn’t know how to fix it?! So glad you have water 🙂

  7. I’m right there with ya sister! I live in the hill country as well and my pipes froze for the first time this winter. Thank God for handy hubbies, eh?! But, don’t let me get ahead of myself….my hubby works outa town and is only home Sat. and Sun. So, me and the kids dealt with frozen pipes, power outages, unflushed potties, greasy hair, smelly teenagers,and morning sickness till he got home (STILL dealing with morning sickness, I’m gonna have a serious talk with God). Anyhoo, we ended up using electric blankets wrapped tightly around the pipes secured with electrical tape to thaw them out! This is after we called all over hill country creation looking for heat tape. Of course, everyone said they had just sold out the day before! We also used a heating pad covered in blanket batting also secured with electrical tape to thaw a shorter pipe leading into the house. As for the wretchedly hard water? We also had major sediment built up in the lines 2 summers ago. It seemed to form after the auquifer got so low when we went through the drought. My hubby blew air with the compressor backward through the lines. He also installed a “drop trap” where the rocks should settle if ever there’s a next time. You just open it up and they will fall out under the house. We also splurged last year and bought a water softener! The thing is heaven sent! We haven’t had a sediment problem since , and the girls’ eczema is vastly improved (not to mention the texture of every head of hair)! Blessings to you, break out the bleach, kill the bug!

  8. My husband wanted me to tell you Perry should buy PEX piping (it comes in blue for cold and red for hot, but the colors just tell you if it’s for cold or hot water, the piping is the same) next time. It will freeze but not burst and that’s experience talking.

  9. I can SO sympathise with you! We are also on well water with a pump. We are in Alabama, so not as much cold weather here either, until this year. My sister was at my house one day, and said she couldn’t believe that I (the cheap one) had a water cooler in my kitchen. I told her that 1. I got it free as it was left in one of our rental houses, and 2. if the electric goes off or the pump freezes, etc, at least we can have a cup of coffee and make a bottle for the baby! Glad to hear you have water again. No water is one of our biggest fears, but it seems to happen at least once a year.

  10. I, too, live in Alaska. Heat tape is probably the best solution, especially because it is something that you can control yourselves…turn it on only when you need it. I know it’s available at Home Depot or Lowe’s, but I also found it on amazon…http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Heat-AHB-019-Weather-Heating/dp/B00002N6MB/ref=cm_syf_dtl_top_3

    Hope you find a solution that works for you – and yay for new plumbing!

  11. Mantra for no using the potty: if its yellow, let it mellow. if its brown, flush it down! Thats our drought mantra.

  12. That is just quite a story. I will be right over with a big pot of chili and corn chips and a couple of chocolate cakes. Go ahead, everybody! Put your feet up and let us serve you dinner!

  13. Thanks hotstuff – you’re an easy boss to work for 😉

  14. You people never let anything get you down. How does one stay so calm through all the vomit, cold, dirty dishes, and laundry? It helps to have such a skillful, tenacious plumber I presume. Good thing he’s taken a fancy to you.

  15. Oh, Kim, you made me laugh out loud!! It’s a good thing you’ve got that hot plumber around, and it sounds like he’s a pretty nice guy, to boot!
    My hubby can fix anything, too, and I have no idea how people afford repairs like this when they don’t have “handy husbands”. Seriously. And we are sick around here, too, with round two of ….whatever. It runs the gamut from the vomiting end to the other end, and then back again. Spring is beginning to sound uber-sweet. But just think: tonight, here in Illinois where I live, our low, overnight temp is supposed to be minus 8 degrees with who knows how cold for the wind chill. Texas, even if it’s cold for there, sounds infinitely better than this!! Anyway, you’re a ray of laughter and light in my long cold winter days. Hang in there, sister! 🙂

  16. As a fellow South Texan who had frozen water hoses and pipes too, let me just say that insulating supplies down here are not the same quality as what you Northerners or Alaskans have access to! I’m not even sure if they have heat tape down here!

    We too, made a tent out of a tarp and then used a space heater and blow dryer on the pipe between our water tank and our water boost pump to defrost our pipes. Perry and Callan must think alike ; ) Or was that your idea, Kim?

    We then had running water to our cabin, Praise the Lord for His mercies are new every morning! But not the trailer. We went 3 days w/o water to the trailer…..meaning no showers for that long……..but I didn’t care. There was no way I was getting out of the multiple layers I had on for a 2 minute sailor’s shower and then freezing upon getting out!

    Maybe these memories of cold weather will help us to make it through the hot weather which is coming right around the corner ; )


  17. Oh dear. Sick and no water? Ack. Not good.

    I cannot even imagine how much money that would have cost if your husband did not know plumbing. We had to do a little plumbing here too and I was really glad my husband could take care of it.

    Love the tub getting an enema. Awesome. 🙂

  18. You had me laughing at 6:30 a.m. which is quite an accomplishment. Our family of 10 has been sicker than a pack of dogs over here since October…so I could feel SOME of your pain…and it was a relief to laugh and relate a bit. : ) I love funny people. Thanks for a great post with a happy ending!

  19. Gabrielle says:

    We have faucet covers outside. I’m not sure about the differences in plumbing, (that is *not* my forte!), but we put the covers over the faucets outside during the winter and that keeps our pipes from freezing up. I wouldn’t imagine that they cost much at all, but I wouldn’t know.

  20. I agree, get some heat tape. Up here in Alaska thats the only way to live. I don’t know how much it will cost. But I think it would be worth it in the long run.

  21. Wow, that stinks!! It sounds like you guys are awesome plumbers. Our pipes when I was growing up did come close to freezing here in Mass, but never did.

    I remember you mentioned last year that you were thinking of putting Christmas lights around the pipes. Did you try it? Did it help? It sounded like a neat idea.

    Hope your pipes don’t freeze again!!!

  22. Get heat tape. We have the worst water system under this house. Those tapes are the only reason we still have functional water. They seem pricey, until a pipe bursts.

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