The Winter Blahs… And Frozen Pipes!

Ordinarily, I do a con summary the weekend following a convention, but I’m not up to it tonight. Farpoint was a great success, a very well-run con this year. Our show, “The Maltese Vulcan” went off without a hitch on Friday night, and Tim Russ was, of course, brilliant in the lead role. But things happened that have left me very drained, and not just the hard work of running a con. I may (or may not) talk about those things in this space down the road.

And coming home was exhausting. Monday morning, we were going to have an early breakfast, then make the sad journey to the vet to help my old friend Taz (dog-child of my big sister in fandom, Sandy Zier-Teitler) pass from this life. Well, I didn’t even get breakfast. My son, who was home, called to say that our shower had only hot water. Which I knew meant a frozen pipe somewhere. I ran home to make sure that we didn’t have a burst pipe. We did not. I set up heat against the exterior wall through which the pipes run, then it was time for the vet.

We said a tearful farewell to Taz. He was almost 19, and in pain. It was time. But it was still very hard, especially for one of the youngest members of his family, Aaron.

We stopped on the way back to get electric pipe wrap. Turns out I couldn’t get to a big enough section of the pipe to use it, though. Most of the pipes are in the crawl space, and I really didn’t want to A) get 20 feet into the 140-year-old crawlspace, which is less than 18 inches high, or B) have something electrical running that far back in the 140-year-old crawlspace. My neighbor recommended a bullet heater, safer, since it can force air through the entrance and not be way back in there. But Home Depot had *no* heaters last night. So I went with my friend Jim’s logic that the whole crawlspace is about 400 cubic feet, and a regular space heater would work. God knows how much of a fire hazard that is, even right inside the door. But I cleared all flammables, used a heavy duty cord and kept a close eye on it.

We got cold water back in the upstairs bathroom yesterday afternoon. But the kitchen sink still had neither hot nor cold. Around midnight I gave up, turned off the heat, and went to bed. I got up early and attacked it again, this time adding a layer of insulation over the crawlspace door (just cracked so the cord could go in) and sealing up an old dryer vent I’d forgotten about to keep cold air out. And then I spent most of the day constantly pouring boiling water down the drain, hoping that the drain pipe would act as radiant heat. The cold water in the kitchen came back around noon. Still no hot water. I had a plumber on standby, in case a pipe burst, and frantically located the external cut off to my water (using a metal detector, since it was under snow) in case I had to call the County if for some reason my very old main cutoff failed.

Finally, the hot water faucet sputtered to life around four today. Victory.

When things are warmer and premium rates don’t apply, I’m going to have that plumbing inspected, make sure it’s wrapped, and get a quote to put radiant heat in my kitchen, preferably in the floor itself. In addition to pipes freezing in the crawlspace, that floor is COLD in the Winter! The kitchen is in a part of the house that used to be an apartment. The previous owners took out the radiators and put in electric baseboard, I assume to avoid having to do maintenance on the tenants’ radiators, and to avoid sharing utility costs. It’s the only thing I don’t like about my house, that four of its rooms don’t have radiant heat. I love radiators. I know a lot of people don’t, but mine were installed very well.

Anyway, that’s my lousy excuse for not having a con review this week. Hope some others can benefit from my experiences. On the upside, while it’s wasteful, the sound of all the faucets tricking so they don’t refreeze tonight is kinda therapeutic!

Oh, and here’s some excellent tips prepared by my colleagues at the Howard County Bureau of Facilities on keeping pipes from freezing:

Everybody stay warm!


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