February 17, 2020
Compendium of Disaster
BLACK WATER ADVENTURES PLUS. Third time is charmed, I hope. I’ve tried two other times to recount mine and Summer’s adventures with frozen sewer lines. We, also, had and still have frozen fresh water lines. The hot water in the hand sink bath downstairs is working and as long as I leave the water heater off I can brush my teeth.
Day 1 The commode downstairs will not fill so I’m melting snow in order to supply flushing water. The shower does not work at all so we are showering at Summer’s significant other’s house, as necessary. All of the water is working in the upstairs half bath. The sewer lines are currently draining but I’m holding my breath.
Day 2 Our first indication of sewer problems was when the kitchen sink backed up. I was busy with other projects so Summer purchased 3 heat tapes. She attached one to the offending sewer line and re-insulated it. We were happy as could be that the sink drained. Little did we know at the time that a bigger problem was lurking in the sewer pipes upstream from the heat tape she had just installed.
Day 3 The upstairs commode would not drain. Since it had a history of clogging I took a plunger and a bucket of water and began plunging with great force and speed. I kept adding water as the water fell slowly during the plunging. I was sure that I was clearing the recalcitrant clog. So I got another 5 gallons of water from downstairs and then another. All the time cursing the clog and plunging mightily. After about a half hour, I surrendered. The clog had beaten me. Once downstairs, i proceeded to my bedroom which led me past the downstairs bath. The odor was stifling. I stepped into the bathroom, flipped on a light and observed, my to my horror, that the commode and the hand sink had overflowed and were filled to the brim with stinky brown solids and water. If that weren’t bad enough the bath tub had 2 inches of stinky brown solids and water in it. This is when the light bulb popped over my head and I realized that the lines under the downstairs bathroom were, also, frozen. As bad as this was there was worse on down the pike.
Day 4 I had my coffee, listened to Rush and waited for the temperature to rise above 10. About noon I crawled under the house and found that one of the heat tapes had, somehow, become unplugged. ((Just so you understand, going outside and staying outside in 10 degree weather entails putting on layers of clothing. 3-4 layers above the waist. Below the waist, insulated under garments are covered in a pair of jeans, a pair of insulated snow pants, two pairs of socks and insulated brogans. Gloves are worn to the repair site but then must be jettisoned to effect any repair. Anyway, I was elated to find that a heat tape was unplugged. Seeing this obvious problem, I did not investigate further. In the short twenty minutes of this excursion, I’d had quite enough of the fine dust kicked up by my belly crawling and simply breathing toward the ground. It gets worse. By late afternoon, I became fully aware that the unplugged heat tape was not the problem. I texted Summer to repurchase the two heat tapes she had just returned that morning. I was taking no chances.
Day 5 I am really, really aggravated. I crawl back under the house and find that the unplugged heat tape is working. I am surprised and happy at the discovery until I realize that the pipes under the downstairs bath are the culprits. I crawled out and looked at the plug in point for these tapes and find that the little lights in the plugs are lighted. Getting to these heat tapes requires a professional contortionist or someone with little sense and a high pain tolerance like myself. Under I go again, crawling about 20 feet on hands and knees then 20 feet with my face inches above the talcum powder like dust. I rip off some insulation to find cold pipes. The lights were on but no heat was being produced by either of the two tapes. I started parting the insulation so as to install a new tape. I got this part of the project done just as it was getting dark. BTW the insulation was wrapped in duct tape which proved to be very difficult to cut. Even with a freshly sharpened knife it was 20 feet of a hacking job instead of a cutting job. Exhausted, filthy and my nostrils full of dirt, I crawled the 40 feet back to the great outdoors where the temperature had dropped to 2 degrees.
Day 6 Began the same as all of the previous days i.e. coffee, Rush except it was a wait until the temp got above zero. Crawled back under the house and checked the two new heat tapes and duct taped all of the used insulation back on. There were a few bare spots but nothing a 27′ heat tape wrapped upon 10 feet of pipe couldn’t overcome. 20 feet of pipe now wrapped with heat tape and snugly tucked back into the insulation . What could be better. I was through. If I was lucky I’d never have to crawl back into that dusty, claustrophobic hell hole again.
Day 7 I ain’t even close to lucky. The pipes that should have thawed and drained overnight didn’t. I drank coffee and half listened to Rush’s show featuring the undocumented guest host, Mark Steyn. I was fuming over having to crawl back under the floor again. The temp got up to about 8 degrees and I suited up for a return engagement with the bathroom piping. The inspection found that one of the new heat tapes was not heating. Again I cut off the insulation, which by now was in shards, and removed the offending heat tape. Another belly crawl to the great outdoors and back into the warm house. All of this crawling had my outerwear filthy and for some reason i had not yet washed my outerwear. It was just disgusting to have to put them on every time. When I’d take them off, I’d step outside and shake off a pound or two of dirt and debris. Anyway, heat tape and packaging in hand, I visited my local Ulmer’s ACE Hardware in Homer, where the tape had been purchased. They refused to replace it and one of the managers told me that he’d plugged it in and it had melted the snow around it. (They couldn’t have replaced it anyway because they had none. I did want my money back.) I knew he was full of crap and left very angry. However, just in case I was wrong, I plugged it in and dropped it into a pile of snow. 14 hours later no melted snow. I, accidentally, left it plugged in for almost 3 days because with everything going on, I forgot about it. No melted snow.
Day 8 Still no flow. Drove 160 mile round trip on snowy, icy roads to Kenai and Soldatna to find another heat tape. Bought the last one that the Trust Hardware in Soldotna had and paid way too much. Home Depot and everyone else were out of stock or did not stock heat tapes. Seems we weren’t the only ones with problems. Got home at near sunset. Temp had fallen to 6 degrees from 14 earlier.
Day 9 I’m crawling back under the house with the heat tape I brought back from Soldotna. Also took new insulation with me on the entrance into sewer pipe hell. With much bleeding, cursing and contortion I got the new tape and insulation installed. Figured since I was already in hell I might as well make good use of he time and re-insulated the working heat tape. Crawled out with my fingers near frozen for the, who knows how many times in the past.
Day 10 The spice flows (a Dune reference) out of the sewage pipes. The water drains from the sink, bathtub and commode leaving a disgusting residue but empty of the foul smelling water. I cleaned the commode and the hand sink, using snow melt, so that they would be usable again. I ran a connection from the hand sink hot water line to the commode and it fills properly. This entailed a plastic line and a couple of fittings that I had on hand. No more melting snow for flushing water. Now, if I just had the fresh water running in the bath tub, I could clean up that terrible mess