Friday, February 16, 2007


Sorry I haven't posted lately but I have been sliding on my back through a freaking crawl space in a failed attempt to thaw out our frozen pipes. Do I sound bitter? I hope so, because I am. Well, not really bitter per se. But I also can't say I'm thrilled-over-the-moon happy about it.

We had already made it through several weeks of frigid weather. Below zero every single day, wind chills into the negative double digits. Cold. Really, really, really cold. And our pipes had emerged unscathed. Maybe we got cocky and good ol' Karma came around to kick us in the butts. Maybe it was just too danged cold for too danged long. Whatever the case, we came home last week to frozen pipes. Nuts.

Most of our pipes run through the cellar. Some of them run through an unheated crawl space. The pipes themselves are insulated, but you probably know (as we did) that insulation alone isn't going to keep a pipe from freezing in -10 degrees. So we piled bales of straw around our foundation in an attempt to provide a little extra insulation. I honestly thought that'd do the trick. Apparently I thought wrong. We discovered the big freeze on Wednesday evening. Thursday I decided to stay home and try to thaw them out. First I tried heat in the crawl space. It was like trying to heat the outdoors. No go. Then, I tried going into our laundry area, the most suspect area I could think of in terms of the probable location of the freeze, and directing heat at the pipes as they came out from the floor. I figured that since copper conducts heat, eventually the heat would make its way down the pipe and thaw it out. Nope. So then I was faced with the not-enviable task of crawling under the house with said space heater. Let me tell you how NOT warm the ground in an uninsulated crawl space is. I put down plastic so I wouldn't have to scoot on my back through God-knows-what, but it did not protect against that cccccooooollllllldddd ground. I pulled the insulation off, tried to thaw the pipes out directly. No luck. I think they were freezing as fast as I could get one area thawed.

At that point I gave up on the idea of thawing them out manually, and resigned myself to waiting them out. But wait!, I thought, I can at least protect them so this doesn't happen again. Off I went in search of heat tape. It would seem as though everyone in our metropolitan area had the same wondrous idea. I went to no fewer than 15 hardware stores, from the big-box places all the way to the mom-and-pop places, and every single store was completely out of heat tape! I'm actually on a wait list for it, if you can believe it. If anyone would have ever told me I would be on a wait list for flipping heat tape I would have laughed. Not laughing now--no sir!

Maybe my next post can be about something from which I emerge victorious. I sure hope so.


This Old Erie House said...

I hadn't heard of heat tape. I'm right here in Erie, PA which is having the same or worse weather like you. But then, I'm a CA transplant to the area. We have an add-on 1/2 bath that once or twice a year the pipes freeze when it gets this cold. I leave a space heater on now to keep the pipes from freezing (but mainly to keep the seat warm). I looked up that heat tape and it sounds like a great idea and more practical than leaving a heater on all the time and I'd sleep better at night not leaving a heater on. Thanks for the heat tape info and lets hope we finally get a break in this weather.

Christina said...

We have a frozen pipe problem, so I definitely understand the frustration and aggravation involved. One easy way to prevent your pipes from freezins is to leave both the cold and hot water running a slight dribble. Even with that, I sometimes mess up by only running the cold or hot. Whenever it is consistently below 15 degrees, we do that.

Mark said...

Not sure of the lay of your land but 2 thoughts that come to mind as solutions are....... If you can vapor barrier off the area in direct proximety to the pipes then heat that area. Seems to me the heat loss will be mostly due to draftiness. Otherwise a heat canon that they use on construction sites may thaw things out. They output a load of BTU's that may be able to warm an airy space. Good luck. I just put a space heater in my basement as the ambient temperature was around 40 degrees. We don't heat our basement. We just use a gas fireplace that does a great job heating "UP" not down.

Cheryl said...

Just found your site via a blog buddy. Love the house pic! Sorry about the cold. It was 29 degrees here in Houston yesterday and we dared to complain.

cjh said...

Wow, I've never heard of heat tape either. But like Cheryl said, we don't often need help like that in south Texas. However, since my pipes are above-ground I may check it out a bit more. Once again, good luck! And keep warm.