We got heat in the nick of time, since it got really cold in early January in much of the country. In Chicago, the low of -16° on January 6th beat records. The second floor stayed nice and cozy, thanks to our new boiler and radiators as well as the attic insulation. The rest of the house didn’t fair as well, and we had frozen pipes in the basement, a frozen washing machine, and frozen condensate line and intake on our hot water heater. Fortunately our hot water heater is fancy enough to detect the problem and shut down, as well as display the problem on the screen, making that part easy enough to fix.

Heater in the basement

Heater in the basement

The frozen pipes, on the other hand, required a bit more work. I never put pipe insulation on because we haven’t had our rough plumbing inspection yet, since I’m waiting until we complete rough plumbing on the first floor. That decision proved short sighted. We had relocated our electric heaters to the first floor and basement in an attempt to keep things above freezing, but it’s so drafty there wasn’t much hope. We wound up thawing things out with a heat gun to get the water flowing, and fortunately didn’t have any pipes burst. I don’t know if that’s because the water filter is able to absorb the increase in pressure or just dumb luck. In any case I added not only pipe insulation but pipe heating cable, which wraps around the pipes and uses about 60 watts, compared to the ineffective electric radiators that use about 1,500 watts each. It has a built in thermostat to kick on only when the temperature is below 38°.

Pipe heating cable

Pipe heating cable

However, before we were able to get the insulation installed everywhere, and because they were sold out of the longer lengths of heating cable, not everything was wrapped, so we wound up having a second pipe freeze despite our efforts. The washing machine was another casualty. Since we neglected to turn off the water and drain the hoses, the water inlet valve froze and split apart. When we got back from our vacation I took the thing apart, found the problem, and we bought a new one and and got it installed. We’ve been catching up on laundry the last couple of days and disconnecting the hoses at night when the forecast calls for sub-zero temperatures. We also put a thermometer in the basement to keep track of the how cold it is down there. The good news is it’s staying above freezing in the basement when it’s 5° outside. I’ll try and determine what the danger point is, though there’s obviously a time factor in addition to outside temperature.



Meanwhile we haven’t made much progress on other projects. Between the freezing, a nice vacation to Cancun, and being sick after we got back, January hasn’t been nearly as productive as I had hoped. Instead of working on subfloor I’ve been taking out the old steam pipes, since I need to get them out before I can finish the subfloor anyway. I may do a post about it, but I haven’t taken any pictures yet.

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2 Responses to Frozen Over

  1. Kate H. says:

    Saw your link on Houseblogging.com on Facebook. I live in SW PA, but I was in Chicago on the 6th and experienced that wonderful (!) cold weather first hand. Then had my car overheat on I-80 in Indiana just past the blocked-off entrance to I-65. What fun. Took 3 days to drive a one-day route home, but no frozen pipes when I got here, thank God.

    That’s a great idea with the heating tape. So much more energy-efficient and a lot more effective. Hope all the frozen plumbing problems get fixed soon. I look forward to exploring the rest of your blog, and seeing what you’re working on.

  2. Matt says:

    Wow, sorry to hear you got stuck in that traffic mess. I saw the pictures; it was crazy! I hadn’t heard of the pipe heating cable before, otherwise I might have thought to install it sooner. It definitely seems to work better. With the most recent bout of cold we trickled the bathroom faucet overnight and nothing froze, and we’ve been keeping the washer hoses disconnected when we’re not doing laundry. It’s been fine so far.

    I’m glad you like the blog and thanks for taking time to comment.

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