Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Frozen Assets

Sorry I was away for a while -- a short trip, and sudden winter shifted my focus from this blog.

Last week was the first hard freeze… that’s when you really find out what you’re up against in the country. I was up against the pump house door at 10pm one night, frantically trying to check on whether the pipe insulation would be sufficient! This is when Jack Frost stops painting little ferns on your window and throws pipe bombs into your plumbing bill.

The “pump house” is actually an extension on the garage. It had been snugged in with six inches of fiberglass when I got here, but the exterminator discovered that this was the Marriott of carpenter ants, and that all got torn out in a hurry. As he commented wryly, “It’s not a good idea to insulate where there‘s lots of moisture.” No, really? A pump house? Who’d’a thunk it? So I had gone back and insulated around the pipes, as soon as I could breathe after he’d sprayed with industrial Raid. But lack of expertise and a need to breathe more deeply kept me from finishing the job -- until the thermometer dropped to 17 degrees.

With a “doorway” that is two feet off the ground on both sides, and “ground” that differs by several inches on either side, the pump house is Terra BananaPeela, meaning that unless I want to break a leg, I have to step very carefully as I’m going in and out. There are about four inches of “pipe-free” ground inside the pump house to stand on, and -- due to the movers helpfully stacking boxes five deep in front of the pump house -- no inches on the outside. I had removed a few layers and was standing on one of the boxes to get in, until it collapsed and threw me sideways into a Jenga-stack of other boxes… I managed to keep from being crushed, but there’s another Trophy bruise on my leg -- something akin to those little German plane-stamps that the Allied pilots stenciled on their nose caps. No matter. With the little flashlight firmly in my mouth, I examined the few inches of pipe that I had failed to cover up (because -- of course -- it was the trickiest part), and tried to see how I could quickly (ie: before my fingertips froze) seal them up enough. The foam pipe insulation had run out, and the bubblewrap had tip-toed off to visit the shipping boxes or somesuch… I was left with wads of newspaper and tape. Even with my “third hand” holding the flashlight, I found myself fumbling and thrashing with the tape and paper -- you can‘t tear the tape with your teeth when you‘re swallowing a flashlight. I couldn’t get paper wads close enough to that little elbow pipe to keep its damn toesies warm all night without getting paper jammed against the motor, which -- I feared -- could catch fire. About halfway through, I recalled what the exterminator had said about the wolf spiders (“Always wear gloves in there”), but I was hoping they were sensibly hibernating in their mini wolf-dens. There was no way I could add gloves to this equation and succeed before my insulation failed and my pipes froze. I cobbled something together, propped the pump house door open, propped the garage door open, and left the studio oil heater on all night… hoping that those warm, lively molecules of heated air would wander out to see what was jumping in the pump house. Had I been twenty years younger, I might have camped out and spent the evening wafting the air through the doorways, but the concept of Adventure transformed somewhat as I hit fifty.

Next step was to do the usual precautions inside the house, since I had no idea how the pipes in the crawlspace were covered. I was stunned to discover that I couldn’t get my kitchen sink faucet to drip! In an old house, that was not a problem I had anticipated. But somehow it’s torqued such that trying to open it just a bit causes it to spring back and stop dripping. Normally I’d be ecstatic about that… but now, as I tried to keep the pipes from freezing, I had to actually leave it running rather than dripping… and that kicks the pump motor on and off, which I’m told can burn out the motor. At that point I gambled that it was too cold in there to burn kerosene, let alone a small motor.

Now the temperatures have warmed up to freezing, and my pipes have survived, and I’ve added three or four to the army of post-it notes on my fridge (the Honey-Do list without any Honey to do them). I still don’t know if all that was truly necessary (how does one find out except the hard way?) but I have my fingers crossed that we have passed the Winter portion of the year (hey - if Summer is only four days, then Winter should be, too!) and we are well into the next phase, which involves the grass growing in the rain, faster and thicker than we have any hope of mowing. That’s Spring in these parts. Or will be, once the snow has melted.

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