Ice Ice Baby
So, th’ winter of ’13-’14 has been a mite chilly here in beautiful downtown Michigan... all of it! But the last couple of days have been something special. Monday morning, 5:35 a.m., I got into my little Chevy Sonic and the temperature displayed, in the garage, was minus one degree Fahrenheit. Two miles later it was minus eleven degrees. The official Detroit (Metro Airport) temperature was minus nine, a record. During the day the temperature rose to plus four. Tuesday night was a minus two night at the airport, but probably minus five at the house. And that’s when the trouble started.
About ten o’clock Tuesday night I went to get ready for bed, flipped up the faucet handle and... nuthin’! Zilch! Zip! Nada! No Water! I headed for the basement. We had an apartment built down there early on, and the bathroom is built so the water line comes in at one end of it. Next to that is a closet built over a grinder pump pit followed by the tub and shower. Running along the top of the wall at the rear of the closet and shower was a small soffit a couple inches high and about six inches deep. After a quick glance to see where the water line disappeared into the wall I figured the line was lying in the soffit and isolated from the heat.
I gathered up a heater, a hammer, a short step-stool and a utility knife and began my assault upon the frozen line, for there was no doubt I’d fallen victim to the sheer laziness of mankind. The line ran behind sheetrock, with a block foundation wall topped by a sole plate upon which sat a two-by-ten plank just inches away. Worse, the wall was uninsulated, and the plank was, as I discovered later, only partially insulated. But from what I could see at the time, I decided my best bet would be to break into the soffit and expose the water line to the room’s temperature, which I boosted by use of the heater (and cranking up the thermostat).
I climbed into the closet with the hammer and smacked the soffit. The soffit said, “Bonk.”
Bonk? Bonk? What bonk? Wallboard, sheetrock, gypsum board or whatever it’s called in your neck of the woods doesn’t say, “Bonk.” Especially it doesn’t say, “Bonk,” when it’s formed into a long rectangular hollow space.
Y’know what does say, “Bonk?” Wood says, “Bonk;” that’s what says “Bonk.” My little soffit wasn’t a soffit at all... it was a freakin’ two-by-six!
I gave up. I put the heater in the little space where the water came in, cut away some wallboard, pulled some insulation and left it for morning. Upstairs I opened the bathroom faucet. It was nearly two o’clock Wednesday morning when I got to bed.
The alarm was way too early, but right on time. Seven forty-five and time to get up, so I kicked myself into the bathroom and... no water. Ah-h-h-h... t’heck with it. I set the alarm for another hour and went back to bed.
After another hour’s sleep I got up and got ready for a conference call, on which I announced I would be taking the day off to unfreeze the pipes. Once the call was over, I got a chisel and a saw and headed downstairs. I cut a starter hole in the ceiling over the tub, preparatory to using the saw to cut a long slot about two inches wide, through which I intended to blow heat. Yeah, mebbe not. Looking into my starter hole, I discovered two things. First, I had found the water pipe headed ninety degrees from the run along the wall. Second, it was on the wrong side of a two-by-ten! I had found one of the floor joists, and they were running the wrong way. There would be no two-inch slot. Every sixteen inches there would be another joist running perpendicular to the direction I wanted to cut that slot.
A Ruined Shower Ceiling Water Pipe Inna Hole
So I cut a series of shorter slots, fired up the heater and got a blow drier. I directed the blow drier to the downstream portion of the pipe. The ice farthest down the pipe has to be melted first. If it isn’t, ice farther “upstream” will burst the pipes as it thaws because water expands as it becomes ice, and again as it melts. If the farthest downstream ice is melted first, it expands into the water ahead of it, and if the faucet is turned on, the expansion simply forces a little water out of the tap.
After about an hour of general heating, with intermittent blow drier heat directed to the far end of the pipe, I realized that the place where the pipe went from cold to frigid had moved significantly. I shut off the blow drier, carried it over to the counter by the sink... and heard the water start to move. The freeze point seems to have been the elbow where the pipe turned ninety degrees to go into the house. So far, I have found no leaks.
Now all I have to do is get the tub ceiling removed, insulate or heat trace the water pipe and replace and paint the ceiling. That may wait a while.