The cabin at Two Mile Ranch has water supply lines in both ends of the dog trot. Since it’s built on a post and beam foundation, the crawl space lends itself to the potential for freezing water pipes, especially in a climate where our temps drop below zero and wind chills can be significant.
While I insulated the pipes, I was prepared that they may freeze this first year. The little side cabin has the most exposed pipe, nearly 3 feet. The big side has the least exposure, about 16 inches. When the little side froze during the first cold snap, I put heat tape on it and it worked fine even during our coldest -16 degree days.
The big side was more problematic, in that the heat tape I used was faulty. Once replaced, it has prevented pipe freezes. So during the first winter, I had water on one side or the other always. But the big side, with the least exposure, froze 2 – 3 different times until the heat tape was replaced.
The rules of the game changed two weeks ago. On Thursday, we had 50+ degree temps, on Saturday, the temp dropped to 0 and the little side — the most exposed pipe, stopped running. I discovered this around 5 AM when I flipped the tap and nothing came out.
I was mad. I yelled, I cursed. That day, I bought a longer heat tape and I doubled up the heat tape.
No result. In fact, it got too warm, so I returned to the shorter original tape.
I started pouring hot 200 degree water next to the pipe, and then bailing it when it cooled.
In time, I had dug down nearly 3 – 4 feet, exposing the water supply pipe.
Still, no flowing water.
As the days progressed, I used a 1500 watt space heater, more hot water. Last Saturday, even though I was gone, the tem rose again to the 50′s. I anticiaped that on Sunday, I would be thawed out.
No flowing water. And even fewer friends. My email descriptions of my saga became annoying. Colleagues would turn and walk the other way in the halls if they saw me coming.
And while I had water for drinking and washing in the kitchen….and I use a composting toilet, my biggest loss was no shower. I was slowly running out of ideas and no one I spoke with had anything else to offer in the way of advice.
Monday night, I put a 75 watt light bulb in a “trouble light” down the hole. It ran non stop until today with no result.
How we got to this point. Understand – as background, my water lines are buried 5 feet deep in clay soil. They were installed by a local contractor who installs lines for the water utility. The reason I hired him was he has laid hundreds if not a thousand or more residential lines. He knows the soil and the water lines. He and I chatted by phone several times and he kept suggesting I put more heat on the exposed pipe — that it must be frozen very near where I dug. He also agreed to come bring a back hoe and dig out the line. The lesson here is work local and use local professionals as much as you can.
On Wednesday night, as a last ditch measure, I was able to disconnect a flex hose to the water heater, and I ran a 20 feet copper wire down the water line. All 20 feet went into the line without hitting ice. When I shared the news with the contractor, he knew we were dealing with a very different and non-typical problem.
Tomorrow: what happend during the “big dig” today.