Showing My Love by Fixing a Broken Water Pipe


| 2/14/2011 9:21:51 AM


Tags: plumbing, home repair, do-it-yourself, self-sufficiency, Cam Mather,

Ever lay in bed worrying that one of your water pipes might burst? And if it did, what you’d do about it? I do. Guess I’m just a worrier. But the upside to this is that I have a backup plan when it does happen. I believe that being prepared for this potentiality in fact decreases the likelihood of it happening.

That said, a water pipe burst here last night. I love our house. It was built in 1888 and I believe it will be around centuries longer than the houses that were built after World War II when energy was really cheap and we needed lots of houses, fast. Our house isn’t perfect, but it’s solid. One of the weaker areas is the plumbing, which has been cobbled together over the years. There’s even a pipe that I’ve been meaning to replace that is located flush against an outside wall. Really! It is right next to the concrete and it freezes anytime the temperature goes below -25°C. Now come on, what sort of plumber does that? It’s a copper pipe, against concrete exposed to the outside, in Canada!

I used to think that worrying about water was a country thing. Over the years more country folk have come to my renewable energy workshops than city folk because rural-dwellers know that when the power goes out the water stops flowing. Global climate change is bringing this reality home to more city people as tens of thousands of people in Ireland were without water for extended periods of time during a recent uncharacteristically cold spell. And thousands of people in the southern U.S. have been in the same boat as utilities in warmer climates that never had to deal with freezing temperatures are now experiencing them as carbon plays havoc with our atmosphere and our weather patterns.

Living off the grid, our water pump is a major draw on the system and so I am very aware of our water situation. We have two pressure tanks and when the pump comes on it runs for about 4 minutes to charge them up. On an average day when Michelle and I are here alone, the pump will come on about once a day. I often turn the pump off at night and then turn it on during the day when the sun is out although this isn’t necessary. Just part of my energy obsessiveness.

Last night I had just gone to bed when I noticed that the hot water tank in our bedroom was making funny noises. Yes, we have a hot water tank in the bedroom, but that’s a whole other blog. First I thought a cat was hiding in the closest, but after a quick inspection I confirmed that there were no cats in our room. So I had just fallen asleep when the water tank made its bubbling, gurgling, "Jabba-the-hut in need of Imodium" sound it makes when the pressure tanks have lost pressure. If I’d had the pump turned on it would have switched on when the pressure was low enough and I wouldn’t have noticed. But the tanks shouldn’t have lost pressure because it had been an hour since any water had been used. And I’d actually noticed that the pump had run at noon and the system should have been good until the next morning.

So up I got to investigate. The pump down our dug well comes into the old cistern which is under the kitchen, so I had to open the trap door and climb down. Everything there looked fine. There was no water leaking anywhere and no water running anywhere that I could see. So I climbed back out and went into the basement where I noticed that half of the concrete floor was wet - not a good sign. I traced it back to some PEX pipe near the washtubs that was leaking. I hate PEX pipe. Our basement isn’t insulated so it’s been cold down there. I think the pipe had frozen during a cold spell and now, since it had warmed up outside the pipe had thawed and the pressure split the pipe.




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