by Charlene Burgi
The water pipes are wrapped. Minimum/maximum temperature controls are installed on heaters in the outbuilding that contains a water source. The wellhouse down the road is double-covered with heat lamps. Water trough heaters are installed so the donkeys can get water to drink despite the below-freezing temperatures we’ve experienced week after week.
Despite the planning and preparations, all was not well. Last Thursday night I was cleaning up after dinner and noted a reduction in water pressure coming from the faucet. We had water, but not with the same output (pressure) we normally have. With this news, Jack donned his heavy coat, hat and boots to head out into the single-digit weather to look for a break in the line. He returned shortly to say we were in luck. The pipe in the barn bathroom split from the cold, and although the unfinished room was flooded he was able to turn off the water feeding the break. We still can’t figure out why the heater failed to protect the insulated bathroom from freezing temperatures, but the experience provided a valuable lesson to share with you.
First of all, broken water pipes could happen to you if you have not prepared your outdoor pipes for a freeze. And yes, trust me on this, it happens in Marin! First, wrap all exposed pipes and faucets with pipe insulation, which can be found at the local hardware store or purchased online. Tape the seams closed. If the stores are sold out, you can always use old towels and blankets and wrap them with plastic to keep the material dry. Backflow devices have special insulated blankets designed to be placed over them to protect the exposed pipes. Turn off your irrigation system at the isolation valve to eliminate potential breaks in the lines that might be exposed to the cold.
Some of you might ask what isolation valves are. That is the lesson to be shared. Always install or have someone install a shutoff or isolation valve at the point of connect whenever you tee* off the main line to the house. That teed-in line might be used to carry water for irrigation, pools, spas, ponds, outbuildings or outdoor faucets that stand away from the house. The isolation valve can eliminate a lot of water waste if there is ever a break in the line and can eliminate the need to turn off the water at the meter if you need to work on the auxiliary system. Some people call this device a gate valve or shutoff device. Great job if you have them installed at each point of connection already and even greater if you have a landscape contractor that automatically installs them while working on your property. If you do not have this bit of insurance on your pipes, consider getting the job done soon.
One other note of concern: Do not cut corners if you have broken pipes or are thinking of adding any system to the property. Class 200 pipe is very inexpensive as it has very thin walls that crack and break easily. Time is money and you or a maintenance repair service will be digging up and repairing this kind of pipe time after time. Please use Schedule 40 pipe or better when installing any pipe on the property. It is money well spent.
I am certain that money and time well spent was what Jack was thinking as he hung up his overcoat last Thursday night. His plan for potential problems paid off as he easily shut off the water source to the barn bathroom with the isolation valve he installed during construction. Even though the Schedule 40 pipe froze, the pressure in the house was back to normal and the broken pipe could wait until daylight to be repaired. The emergency was avoided because of this cheap insurance.
*A tee is created by cutting into the main line going from the meter to the house and installing a T-shaped fitting for another main line pipe going to another area of the property. (If you need to do work on the main line, call the water district to turn off your water at the meter.)