Monday, January 19, 2009

Freezing Pipes and Heat Tape

So, the last couple of weeks we have been experiencing extremely cold temperatures here in my home state. The other morning I woke up, stumbled downstairs and glanced at my fabulous indoor/outdoor thermometer*, and thought for a brief minute it was broken - then I realized that it wasn't telling me it was 40 degrees out, it was 4.0 degrees. brrrr.... and that doesn't take into account the wind chill!

In truth, I actually like this weather. One of the reasons it has been so bitterly cold is because there hasn't been any clouds, and no clouds means that we actually have sunshine! As I learned in sixth grade science class, clouds help keep the earth warm. When the clouds are gone, the weak winter sun does not have the strength to warm the climate over here, so temperatures drop like a hot penny through snow. Most northerners I know, (myself included,) would rather have 3 degrees and sunshine over 30 degrees and gray, gloomy cloudy weather any day. This is part of the reason that we all get really, really depressed come March. March is usually a whole month of gray, cloudy, nasty weather.

In any case, this weather does hold some dangers, one of which is freezing pipes. You guessed it - the reason I am mentioning it is because of my pipes froze this weekend.

I was very lucky. I was home when it happened. I also am aware that this particular pipe has a penchant for freezing. It is a cold water pipe that runs from the basement to the upstairs bathroom. It is against an outside wall and has been known to freeze before. Because I was home I was able to solve the problem before the worst could happen - when pipes freeze up like this, they can burst, causing all sorts of damage. The pipe breaking isn't so bad in itself, but the water damage can be horrible.

One of the ways to keep your pipes from freezing is to run the cold water faucet at a trickle. I hate doing that though... I swear I can hear my water bill going up with each trickle down the drain. Instead, I have been making sure to run that faucet at least twice a day, and making an effort to use that bathroom more. It had been working... up until Saturday. Saturday I went to flush the toilet and nothing happened. I lifted the lid off the tank, and sure enough, there was no water in there. I checked the sink and the shower, and no luck. The cold water wasn't running.

A friend of mine was over at the time, and we rigged a system where we put my hair dryer on a photographic light stand. We locked the dryer in place with zip ties, aimed it at the pipe and let it run for about a half hour. That did the trick! Soon the water was flowing again!

As I said, I lucked out. I was able to catch it before any damage was done but I can't rely on that. Last night I went out to the hardware store and bought a Heat Tape system. (This isn't the exact one that I bought, but it is close.) Of course, now the temperatures are starting to warm up a bit and I may not have this problem again this winter, but one of my goals for 2009 is to winterize the house from top to bottom. I want to make the house more economical for the next few years that I live there. This system has a thermostat so it only goes on when needed. As a frugal consumer, I like that! I am going to get it installed ASAP to prevent any more problems during any future cold snaps this year and then keep in place to plug in next year.

With the cold weather, this has been a good month for spotting other problems in the house - ways that that cold air can leak into the house. I plan on doing a lot this year to make it more efficient.

Photo by: Digitalpapercuts

* The Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother in law. Thanks guys!! I LOVE it!!


Catie said...

Mine froze too, as they always do when we have several days in a row of single digit temps. I also got away with half an hour of using a hair dryer! I meant to heat tape my pipes before the winter, but forgot and I surely will not be crawling into my crawl space now! I'll put it on my spring to do list.

Bouncing Back said...

We had two days of temps of sub zero at night this weekend. My neighbor did have a burst pipe this weekend. I, luckily, did not have any pipe problems, I had the heat on and the water dripping. Knock on wood.

Dawn said...

Catie - I will make sure and let you know how the heat tape works. It was a touch on the expensive side, so you if you are going to wait until spring anyway, you might want to look for a coupon.

Bouncing - Good for you for being prepared! I thought I was, but I wasn't as much as I should have been. (Story of my life.) I am fixing that problem now though!

Miss M said...

I remember the trickling faucet tip from my childhood in Virginia, our neighbors pipes froze but ours never did. Here in LA we've been running the AC it's been so hot! Stay warm.

Dawn said...

Miss M - Honestly, I can't even hardly imagine! I walk out of my house everyday bundled up in coat, hat, scarves and boots!!