Wednesday, January 8, 2014

CATASTROPHY

What - an entry about something other than wildlife and the outdoors?  Yep.  This has been a rough week so far.  I went to the bathroom sink last night about 10 PM to get a glass of water and when I turned the water handle nothing came out.  I just stood there and stared into the empty sink for ten seconds.  Then I looked into the mirror and said, "why me" out loud.  The minus 6 degree temperatures over the past two days and nights froze up some hidden pipe buried deep in the bowels of the house and the girls and I had no water.  I thought that all the piping went through the crawl space in the basement and surely if I would heat that area up the offending frozen pipe would thaw.  I got the trusty propane driven torpedo heater, that I haven't used in 4 years, from the shed and strategically placed it inside the crawl space and rushed off to get a tank of propane from Tractor Supply where I later found out didn't sell propane gas.  They only sell the empty tanks.  I got into a heated discussion with the store clerk about why in the world anyone would want to buy an empty propane tank.  He just kept telling me "I just work here."  I insinuated, tactfully, that he ought to point out to his superiors that an empty propane tank would sell better if it was full.  He replied, "I don't know I just work here."  I asked him, "why."  No reply.  So off I went to  Lowe's.

The lady was nice and I paid to exchange my empty tank for a full one and we went outside to get my purchase.  She inserted the key in the lock on the tank cage and she couldn't get it open.  "Locks frozen", she said.  I said hit it with a hammer.  Of course there wasn't a hammer anywhere close so I picked up a brick I saw laying on the ground and commenced to beat the tar out of the lock.  Wouldn't work.  She gave me a refund and off I went to the Co op store close to where I live.  Should have tried there first.  They didn't do exchanges but they did refill my tank.  I should have known this operation wasn't going to go smoothly right then and there.  Once home, I put the heat to the crawl space and patiently waited for the water to come pouring from the open spigots.  I waited and waited.  I waited some more until the propane tank was empty.  I knew I'd need another tank so I took off to get another refill.  When I returned I re evaluated the situation and saw no benefit to continue pouring heat into the crawl space.
This was an effort in futility.  Three hours of forced heat in this room would accomplish nothing.  I had to look elseware.  I located the on/off valve on the inlet pipe but could not see where it entered the house.  It was evident that the outside water entered into the valve from the top (above) and a water line went to the right to feed the washer and the outside hose valve on the outside of the house.  Another line went out the left side of the valve to feed the entire upstairs.  I immediately thought the problem was in the pipes that lay against the basement wall (the foundation) and decided to tear open the sheet rock to allow heat to reach the pipes.  With hammer and knife I attacked the wall and opened it in sections that exposed the pipe.  Ah ha - this will get it.
That washroom wall was perfect and beautiful and I hated cutting into it and destroying the perfect finish.  I figured this would get it thawed.  Two hours later and another trip to the Co Op for a propane refill and I was no further ahead than when I started.  It was time to tear the wall apart that covered the water inlet from the outside.  
The above shot shows the valve that shuts the water off from the house.  I followed it up until I lost it.  I had to remove more wall board and destroy more wall.  That pipe has to be the one that was frozen.  It was heading toward the crawl space so I went back in there to look for it.  There was a wall separating the crawl space from the laundry room and the pipe had to take a ninety degree turn toward the outside on the laundry room side of the wall.  Probably should make some more exploratory holes in the wall.
The inlet pipe goes straight up from that "T" valve and goes to the left along the top of the header (ceiling) and disappears.  I figured it had to exit the house near the edge of the front porch.  It did.  Notice the black square area to the right of the porch steps just before the first window on the right.
There was a pipe, well hidden, sticking straight up out of the ground and going through the cement blocks to the washroom and the control valve.  
I looked into the black square hole and there it was.  That's the water inlet pipe for the house.  That pipe should be underground.  Instead, the hurry, rush builders left it exposed to the elements (cold), wrapped insulation around it and left it in the condition you see it in.  Old soggy insulation was wrapped around it which has long since lost its ability to ward off the cold.  That pipe, I can guarantee is the frozen pipe.   It stands out of the sun under the front porch and will take forever to thaw.  I will thaw it out in the morning as I'm beat and worn out after searching this culprit out.  I'd like to get my hands on the plumber who left that pipe exposed to the elements.  It wouldn't be pretty.  That guy cost me two days off work and a total destruction of my basement walls searching for a frozen pipe simply because he was lazy and no count.  Now, if I can thaw it out without breaking it.   And, this problem is only one reason why I'm not, nor ever was a domestic person, and still am not.....

Today, after another night of no water, I cut the old soggy insulation off the exposed water pipe and wrapped insulation foam all around it two layers thick.  I tried to purchase heat tape but there is not any to be had in any store near here.  Sold out.  Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes and three hardware stores are sold out.  I tried to buy it of the internet tonight and the four companies I tried to order from were sold out.  I need to put the heat tape around the pipe and then cover everything with insulation foam.  I will remove that pipe in the spring and run it to the left along the foundation an through the cement blocks to the laundry room where the water control valve is located.  But for the rest of the winter I will insulate and box it in tight with batting insulation packed tightly around the pipe.  There's talk of more extreme cold on the way.