Monday, February 16, 2015

9 degrees of pipe separation

9°F (-12°C)

That's how cold it got in Baltimore Sunday night. Even in Kansas we'd be calling that pretty cold. Here that's an 80 year low. The cold didn't really bother me. The radiators may have run a bit more than normal, but I'm comfortable. And keenly aware of how lucky I am to live somewhere and with the kind of lifestyle where I don't have to worry about the bitterest of cold weather.

My renters aren't so lucky. And at about 10:30 Sunday night I got pulled into their world. That's when one of them showed up at my door telling me that their pipe had broken. It took me a few minutes to realize that it was a renter. I just thought a desperate neighbor was coming to me for help. I mean, I'm happy to help anyone who has a burst pipe. I just need to know which house.

The pipe ran through the basement wall and out the front. I thought it was a spigot at first. No worries. Just turn off this valve by the meter and we're all set. All set, and then we wait for all the water in the house to drain. Uuuhhhh... there's something more going on. I looked under all the blankets they had wrapped around the pipe. Oh, shit, that's a valve. That's not a pipe going out to a spigot. That's water coming in from the city. And the PVC pipe is split on both sides of the valve. Turning it off only stops half the spray.

Call the city. HELPMEINEEDTHEWATERTURNEDOFFATTHISADDRESS! Please press 1 in the case of a city utility emergency. ONEDAMMITONE! We're sorry. Our offices are closed. Please wait while we redirect your call to the Baltimore City 311 etc etc. ... If this is an emergency please press...

I should note that at this point my phone is showing off how waterproof it is. The damn thing should have died by now if it were any other phone. Still, the touch screen isn't as responsive as one might like. Possibly because my fingers and ears were wet. Eventually, I got someone on the phone who had the voice of a shy two year old with laryngitis. I thought it was my phone and the water, but no. It was 11:30 and I was talking to the night shift.

Eventually, I managed to get the rental house on the queue of places that needed their water turned off. But the best they could do was say they'd be along sometime in the next 24 hours. TWENTY FOUR HOURS!!! Sure, there were pipes breaking all over the city, but that shit ain't cool!

And the whole time that I'm on the phone to my contractors, to the city, to whoever, the renters stopped hauling off buckets of water to dump down the sink. I'm trying to save YOUR stuff! Make a fucking effort! It's bad enough that your water was off all day and you didn't say anything. We could have done something about this when the hardware stores were still open. The moment this pipe is fixed we're getting heating tape secured to it for next time.

I want to give credit to my coat. It's a jacket designed for use and sold exclusively in stores meant for the military. It's fairly hydrophobic and pretty warm. Most water and stain drop right off. But it can't save you from a direct spray if you decides to stand in the spray. My coat got wet, but it still kept the water off of me. I LOVE this coat. It made sure that I didn't know just how wet it was. We'll get back to this point.

I went out front with a pair of the cheapest channel locks (these) that I've ever seen. A smallish manhole labeled "water" was in the sidewalk and was secured by a five sided bolt. The city doesn't want you getting in without their special tool. But the channel locks and I managed to get it open anyway. Then I had to pop home to get my massive, awesome channel locks to turn the cutoff. While at home I decided to change to my heavier coat. That's when I found out that my Army coat had frozen into a shell that I had to break my way out of.

I got the water turned off a bit after midnight and went home. Called the city and cancelled the guy coming out to turn off the water. He was needed elsewhere. And finalized who was coming out in the morning to fix the pipes.

The next morning I found out the heat was out as well as the water. That's weird. One valve for both? Nope, one of the indoor cutoffs I switched was for the gas. Ooops. I set them up with space heaters until we could get things running again.

After we (plumber and I) got the blankets off the pipe we found a second shutoff valve about a foot below the cracked one. I should have been able to solve everything and head home in 5 minutes the night before. Sigh.

We got the furnace and oven running, again, and headed out to Home Depot. There we joined the mob in the plumbing aisle. A couple dozen people needing to fix their pipes. They had the essential stuff, but they were totally cleaned out on heating tape. Instead of trying another one, or Lowes, we went to the plumbing supply store figuring fewer people would go there. We found what I wanted, but had to get 16' or up since the shorter lengths were sold out.

Once we had the parts, the repair took five minutes. But the water still wouldn't run. There was another frozen blockage. It took longer to get the heat tape installed and insulated. Then ten to fifteen minutes to thaw the blockage. It released with a hiss, spray, gurgle, slurp, and then the noise took off down the pipe.

The renters weren't concerned with the wet carpet. Apparently, the front porch used to leak enough that there was lots of flooding and the carpet routinely got wet. It's fixed, but they're used to using a carpet shampooer to deal with wet carpet. I'm not arguing, because it'll be a huge pain in the ass to get the furniture out to replace the carpet. But the moment they're gone the carpet will be, too.


Unknown said...

Yikes! That seems to be quite a terrible situation – to think that it all happened in the middle of the night makes it even worse. It is quite hard to ask for aid in the middle of the night, so it was a good thing that you were able to talk to someone right away. Anyway, I hope this unfortunate situation doesn’t happen again. Thanks for sharing this. Take care!

Traci Romero @ Harris Plumbing

Stevie Calloway said...

That is some cold weather! Broken pipes and running water are never fun things to have to deal with, especially in the middle of the night. And the city not being able to turn off the water for 24 hours. That whole situation was a mess. It makes sense though. When things get that cold, everybody will have problems with their pipes. I remember one time during winter, I had a pipe bust and I went to the hardware store thinking nobody would be there. It was packed and almost sold out of everything. I stock up on those supplies now just in case.

Stevie Calloway @ Infinity Plumbing Services