Last year one of our primary goals was to finish the basement before winter. At a minimum we wanted the floor poured because it will have radiant heating. That way we could get the water heater and the washer and dryer into the heated basement. Because of the plumbing delays none of that happened, so everything is still on the unheated first floor. Knowing the risks (from previous year mishaps), we put heating cable on the new water main that runs down the beam in the basement and insulated it. The pipes in the first floor already have heating cable and insulation from previous years.

We’ve been fortunate to have a fairly mild winter this year, but we had a cold snap earlier this month and the first casualty was the water heater. We have a high-efficiency condensing gas water heater that I really like, even if a wall-mounted inline water heater would have been more convenient, given our basement renovations. Unfortunately, the condensing aspect means there is a drain line at the bottom of the exhaust vent. It’s a plastic tube that wraps around the water heater at near-floor level and out a hole in the side of the house. It’s supposed to go to a floor drain, but since the water heater is temporarily on the first floor, it’s draining outside. That drain line froze, so the water backed up and blocked the exhaust vent. When I tried to melt the ice with a heat gun I melted the tube. When I tried to disconnect the tube I broke the connector to the vent and cut up my hand on a sharp sheet metal edge. I managed to replace the connector and the tube and so far it’s been fine.

The second casualty was the washing machine. Two years ago the water inlet and valve assembly in the washing machine froze and cracked and we had to replace it, so since then we’ve been careful to drain the lines when it gets cold. Last year we had some bitterly cold days and managed to get through without issue. This year I thought I was being clever by turning off the water and then starting a fill cycle on the washing machine to drain the lines instead of unscrewing the hoses at the back. As it turns out that wasn’t clever and the assembly froze and cracked again.

The third issue was the next day when we got home from work and the cold water wasn’t working on the second floor. Apparently, even though all the pipes are insulated and heated all the way up to the second floor, the inaccessible area in the second floor wet wall got cold enough to freeze. I used a heat gun in the bathroom and got it flowing again.

This past Saturday, still waiting for the replacement washer part, Sarah got home to discover a torrent of water spraying all over the basement and the front yard! When we got the new water service, we asked the plumbers to install a spigot at the front of the house. When I installed the heating cable and insulation on the main, I skipped over this small branch line. Apparently it froze, but didn’t leak until it melted when the temperatures warmed up. The joint between the spigot and the copper pipe popped free. I had to turn off the water at the meter, run to Home Depot and buy a valve, and install that on the branch line. That way we can at least turn off and drain the branch. Later that day the new washer assembly arrived and I got that installed as well.

We’re hoping the coldest weather is behind us. The latest update on the plumbing is that if they can get the permit by today, they can repair the sewer tap by mid-next week. What that means for the timeline on the re-lining isn’t clear, but I’m guessing we’re looking at the end of February. I still need to clean up the weeping trench in the basement, but there hasn’t been any urgency on that.

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