I hope y’all survived the cold. There were plenty of frozen, broken water pipes here in central South Carolina. You likely saw the national headlines: deaths, power outages, holiday travel delays, or cancelations. Not the best Christmas season in memory.
My family was very fortunate. Up at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois where my kids and grandkids live only a couple inches of snow fell. But the wind and cold provided wind-chills well below zero. They survived without any damage to their plumbing.
It was a bit different here in South Carolina. It was much warmer with a low temperature above 20F, but my plumbing was completely unprepared. Or rather, I was completely unprepared because I didn’t protect my outdoor plumbing.
For those who live in the north, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, where my family and I came from, frozen plumbing generally occurs only under kitchen sinks where the pipe is on an outer wall. If the insulation is insufficient, the cold will travel to the pipe and can cause the water to freeze. Advice up there is often given to keep under-sink cabinet doors open so the warm living-space air can circulate to the pipes. Otherwise, all outside water pipes are buried four feet underground and enter a house in the basement.
Down here there are few basements. Most homes are built on a concrete slab or have an open crawlspace under the floor. Water pipes are often less than 18 inches deep in the ground. And many of us have some outside water pipes above ground. When there are only a few days when the temperature dips below freezing, electrical heating tape wrapped around the pipe is sufficient. But as I said, I was unprepared.
I had heating tape on the primary pipe entering the house, but I had an exposed length about 10 feet long out near my well. It was enclosed in a well house, but when I had work done on a well that was inside the well house, I had to remove the roof and one side for access. So in reality, the pipe was complete exposed to the cold.
I woke up Christmas eve morning only to find there was no water flowing in the house. At least my coffee maker had a water reservoir so I could have my morning brew. When I got outside to assess the damage I was glad to see there were no cracks in the pipes. Expecting problems because of the weather forecast, I had bought a 12 foot length of heater tape, so I was ready to get to work.
Long story short, about six hours of work, three trips to the hardware store, and many muscle aches later, I had everything insulted, heating and ultimately, flowing water.
My wife and I got ready to attend our church’s Christmas eve service. I went out to start the car and warm it up a bit only to hear sssssst from near the small pond in my front yard. An unprotected valve has ruptured and was spraying a find mist of water over a five foot diameter area.
We went to church.
When we got home, I went to bed. There was no way I was about to attempt a fix in the dark. Especially since the main shutoff valve was now below eight inches of frigid water.
I awoke to a miniature wonderland of ice. It was truly beautiful. The first order of business was to take pictures, of course. It was a wonderful reminder that somewhere in the grind of hard work, there can be a bit of beauty.
Stay warm. Stay safe.