Day 487: Pipe dream.

Delphine woke me at 6:00 this morning with, “There’s no cold water in the kitchen.”

I had been doing some writing and only gotten to bed around three hours earlier. The implications of her statement took a few seconds to hit home. No cold water? The thermometer was supposed to have dipped down to -5° overnight. (That’s -20° for members of the Centigrade persuasion.)

frozen-pipeIt was perfectly possible that we had frozen pipes. Yikes. I remembered the nasty little mouths in the old copper plumbing in the cellar when we first moved in. The bank that foreclosed the property failed to drain the pipes and after sitting empty for two winters the plumbing was a mess.

A house emergency. I was on. I stumbled out of bed, slipped on some pants on my way down the stairs, and tried the kitchen faucet myself. Sure enough, the hot water ran fine but in the cold position – nothing.

I tried the sink in the pantry. No problem. That was weird. The pantry sink was further down the line from where the water ran into the house. How could the kitchen be frozen but the pantry be fine?

Down into the cellar. The dogs barked their pleasure at seeing me outside their sleeping pen. I let them lick my fingers through the metal gate. They wanted out. Not now, not now.

I looked at a thermometer. 55°. Whatever the temperature was outside, the cellar was warm enough so there shouldn’t have been a problem. My vision was still a bit bleary from only three hours of sleep, but I managed to trace the pipes coming from the water meter at the front end of the house. Up, over, around, through – the pantry sink did indeed appear to be further along the path than the kitchen sink. How could the kitchen be frozen and the pantry not?

Delphine might be pack leader when it comes to caring for the critters, but responsibility for systems in the house was mine. Burst pipes, chimney fires, old wiring – whatever the calamity it was my job to get it under control. That’s the way I wanted it. And that didn’t mean calling someone to fix things. A plumber would charge hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars to replace the pipes. I needed to puzzle this thing out on my own. Or what did self-reliance mean?

Ahh! The cold water supply to the kitchen sink came off a tee connection that ran vertically through the kitchen floor, through the bottom of the sink cabinet, and up to the faucet. The pantry sink was further down the supply line but it had its own tee connection. The problem had to lie with the short vertical pipe going up to the kitchen.

The temperature was well above freezing for all but the three inches between the kitchen floor and the sink cabinet base. Three miserable inches. The house was built nearly a hundred years ago – well before insulation got thought up. There was probably a gap in the granite foundation that let cold air blow into that three inches. At least now I had a theory.

I set up an electric heater in the cellar blowing at the frozen tee connection, set all the faucets in the house to a slow drip, opened the kitchen cabinet doors (to the delight of our cats who always resent us keeping them from exploring the odd shapes and smells of containers under the kitchen counter), tossed a few more chunks into the woodstove, kissed Delphine good bye as she left for her nursing rounds – and went back to bed to finish an especially fascinating dream.

9:00am. Time to get ready for work. There was some kind of problem I was supposed to be worrying about. Or was that a dream?

Oh. Frozen pipes. I went downstairs and found the cold water running in the kitchen sink. Wonderful. Pipes thawed, I checked for leaks. Did the ice split the old copper plumbing? There were no puddles in the cellar. Disaster averted.

I hope.

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