Editor's Views: Frozen pipes are frustrating but temporary inconvenience

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Scott Angus
Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's a good thing my house was closed up tight Tuesday night to keep out the winter cold.

If it hadn't been, my neighbors surely would have heard the nasty words that erupted from my mouth when I turned on the kitchen faucet.

We had no water. Again. I was soooooo frustrated.

Yes, my wife and I are among the unfortunate folks dealing with the unprecedented fallout of one of the nastiest winters on record. Twice in the last two weeks, a pipe between the water main in the street and our house has frozen.

What a pain. You don't realize the importance of running water until you don't have it.

It started the last week of January, when Gail and I met friends in Florida for a much-needed getaway. To our glee at the time, the trip corresponded with some of the coldest weather of this frigid season.

We arrived home at 2 a.m. on a Saturday after a long travel day. The house looked fine, and we were getting ready to lay our exhausted bodies down when my wife turned on a faucet. No water. I freaked. I scrambled around checking pipes and looking for leaks and found nothing. We did research online and decided that a pipe was frozen either in our house or between the house and the main.

I called the city hotline at 8 a.m., and a worker was at the house by 9. He quickly established that the problem was outside, and he said a crew would come by later to thaw the line. We weren't the first with the problem, and we wouldn't be the last.

The crew showed up a little after noon. The process involves hooking up welding equipment to heat the pipe with electricity. It often takes only a few minutes. Our pipe was stubborn, and the frustrated look on the workers' faces made me uneasy.

They heated the pipe, and we all stared at the kitchen faucet. Eventually, we saw a trickle. They applied heat again, and we all stared again. The trickle got bigger. After another blast and about an hour total, the water began to flow normally, and we all let out sighs of relief.

Through it all, the city guys were great. They responded quickly, and they were friendly and reassuring. They wouldn't stop until we had water at normal pressure, they said. And they didn't.

 Before leaving, they advised us to keep water running in a stream about the size of a pencil until spring. That's right, continuously until spring. We were taken aback, but we followed the instructions and left a faucet open in a basement bathroom. We hope the city will cut us a break on the cost.

While unsettled, we were happy that our water woes were behind us. Until Tuesday, which was 10 days later. We finished the dishes about 8 p.m. I watched TV and got up to wash an apple. In less than an hour, even with water running downstairs, our pipe had frozen again. That's when the obscenities flew.

The city workers were back at the house by midafternoon the next day and—after another struggle—got our water flowing again. This time, they advised us to run even more water. Now, we have at least two faucets running good-sized streams at all times. The 24/7 sound of water is disconcerting, but it's a small price if we and the city don't have to deal with another frozen pipe.

Why us? At least partly, it's because we were gone for eight days and ran no water during an extremely cold stretch. Also, we live on a cul-de-sac, and that's not good for water flow. Plus, only two of us live in the house, and we don't use a lot of water.

It didn't take long for me to put our relatively minor and temporary issue into perspective. I ran to the store Tuesday night to buy bottled water to tide us over. I bumped into a woman who, with her husband, became a friend when our children played sports together years ago. She told me her husband was in the hospital after double-bypass heart surgery and that his diagnosis of congestive heart failure meant their lives likely would never be the same.

My water was flowing again the next day, and my life was back to normal. It was another lesson learned about not sweating—and not swearing about—the relatively small issues in life.

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.

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