Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Not So Bad-- And Boy Am I Grateful

Fellow named Daniel came out from Public Works yesterday to turn the water on and stick around while I checked for leaks. The stories he told, jeeze. He said that there were broken pipes and flooding all over the place during The Cold, and he was running frantically from house to house turning off water because of busted pipes.

No one right around our place had that problem he said, but it was just crazy for days.

As for our place, when he turned the water on, immediately the meter started going indicating there was a leak or an open faucet somewhere. I checked inside again, and there was no sign at all of leaks in the kitchen or laundry room, no sound of water spraying under the house. When I went to check the bathroom, however, I heard that tell-tale sound, and my heart sunk for a moment. The sound was coming from the toilet, so I checked the tank, and sure enough, the fill valve was split and water was spraying out, even though the tank was full. I turned it off with the valve where the pipe entered the room, and the sound stopped. Went to tell Daniel what I'd found, and said, "Did you turn the water off at the toilet?" I said yeah. "Well, the meter has stopped turning. I think you found the leak."

Really? That simple? "Water isn't running now," he said. "So I think that was probably it."

I just sort of stood there dumbfounded for a minute while he told more tales of what was going on during The Cold. Temps actually got down to -32 he said, and there were at least ten days (rather, nights) with temps at -15 or below. Just brutal. This has never happened in this area before, and even though there was warning it was going to be cold, people weren't prepared for how cold it was going to be. Luckily no one around here lost gas or electricity unlike the unfortunates up north of Santa Fe or down by Alamogordo or Silver City. But pipes were freezing and breaking everywhere. I told him that the previous owner had replaced the house plumbing with PEX; it's not supposed to break in a freeze. But at temperatures that low? Who could say?

What happened was that some of the plastic in fixtures inside the house had split. It wasn't just the fill valve in the toilet. I also found that the spray valve on the kitchen sink had split. We keep the heat on in the house, at a relatively low temperature, 50 degrees or so, when we're not here, but I'm sure it can get colder in the bathroom and kitchen because the heat doesn't circulate all that well. Though our heat is gas fired, it's from a heater in the living room that functions like a big parlor stove. It's warm when you're close to it! But when you get to some of the peripheral rooms, there can be a distinct chill, and I know the pipes -- even the drains -- froze in the kitchen once while I was here and the heat was on. So, what might happen in a Real Cold Snap is anyone's guess.

What did happen may well have saved us a lot of other grief. When the fill valve split in the toilet, the water just ran continuously but safely. It was draining out as fast as it was pouring in. That kept water flowing through all the pipes during The Cold so there was no chance of them freezing. What a wonder.

I'm kind of gobsmacked and very grateful. Simple repairs took part of an afternoon, and that, as they say, was that.



  1. That was definitely a whew! Lucky lucky lucky! I have a place up in the hills, and it can get considerably colder there than where I usually am. It almost always gets down to 20 below once or twice a winter. When I was living there full time, one winter it got down to minus 30 and that scared the shit out of me. That's scary and dangerous cold. Even 20 below is scary. You have to be on top of stuff. I don't know how or why people choose to live in places like Alaska, North Dakota, eastern Montana, northern Minnesota. Not for me! Now, I don't get up there that much in the winter, because I hate the winter driving on icy, snowy highways. So when I leave the place, I turn off the water, drain the pipes as much as possible (remind me again to get a plumber to install a stop and waste valve on the main!), and put RV antifreeze in the toilet bowls and tanks after flushing out as much water as possible. That seems to do the trick. I had a toilet tank freeze and crack one winter before I started doing that.

  2. When we first bought this place, I was literally frantic about the pipes freezing in the winter, and the locals thought I was crazy. They insisted it wasn't A Problem.

    Sure. I turned the water off, drained the pipes, all that stuff just the same. After all, even when I was here, the pipes would sometimes freeze! But there were no leaks. Whew!

    This time was different. We'd last been here in December, and the weather was nice. I'd planned to come back in January, but got sick. Couldn't go anywhere, except to the doctor. The Freeze came in February, when I was in real extremis. No one in New Mexico was really prepared for it. Winter temps in single digits are occasionally encountered. Below zero? Very rarely, almost never. 30below? Unheard of.

    So there was a lot of suffering in the area and for my part a lot of anxiety. But there was nothing I could do.

    So I feel very grateful that what happened in our case had the effect of keeping the house -- and the plumbing -- safe through the worst of it.

    Of course they still say the PEX piping isn't supposed to break when it freezes anyway. But as we've seen, other things can...