Still Learning, Part 1

This is SO not how I saw this morning going.

I woke up around 6:30 am to get ready for work.  And noticed the smell I’d caught a whiff of the night before was stronger.  It was a kind of smoky smell, which I’d first dismissed as dirty laundry (occasionally I find myself in a smoky bar or two, so had just assumed I’d forgotten to throw a t-shirt in the giant laundry pile and had instead peeled it off in my closet… which is unlike me, but still possible).  So, I started investigating.

If it wasn’t coming from my master bedroom closet, where could it be coming from?  The master bath?  The room has been sitting pretty much like this for months:

Just sitting, waiting for me to finish up other projects in the house.  My Dad and his friend Tony (who has often worked on my house over the last few years) ripped out the old toilet and vanity months ago as a way to “just get it done” while I was busy working on other projects.  I knew eventually I’d come back to it (I would be using the same tile from the guest bath anyway), but for now, it wasn’t a priority.  But if there was a smell, then more than likely, it would be coming from the hole in the floor where the toilet should be (and my nose isn’t the best at identifying types of smells; I often confuse cigarettes and coffee).  We’d jammed an old rag in there to keep sewer gas from finding its way into the house, and hadn’t had an issue.  But, if Charlie had maybe snuck into the room and dislodged the rag, it was possible the gas was now finding its way in (though I’ve been pretty vigilant about blocking her access to the room entirely with a giant box of old closet hangers I’ve been meaning to donate to the thrift store).  I walked in the room and turned on the light.

Much to my half-asleep dread, the valve that is supposed to connect the (currently non-existent) sink to the hot water supply was dripping. Slightly.  For how long, I’m not sure, but a wet circle had formed on the cement board below the valve.  Considering that the room had been vacant for months and I’d just been in there a week ago looking for something and there had been no drip, it was clearly a new problem (and it’s directly above the laundry room, which as you know, I’ve been working on lately – so it’s not possible to have missed this).  It explained the recent, faint smell (and now found myself thinking it was a “musty” odor – my nose sucks).

But if this was a new problem, it could mean only one thing:  the recent freezing temps.  Georgia is not a place where freezing pipes are much of an issue, even during the winter.  Even when we get snow, the ground is hardly ever cold enough to actually let it accumulate; it melts as soon as it touches the pavement.  But in the last week, the temps had been doing somersaults: 45 high, 18 low; then 19 high, 5 low; then back up to 48 the following day.  Crazy weather fluctuations.  But could this mean that my pipes actually froze?  The pipe that runs behind the master bath does run directly over the garage… which isn’t insulated…

Fuck.

I walked over to the valve to turn and tighten it to stop the drip.  AND THE GODDAMN THING EXPLODED ON ME.  For your comedic pleasure, I’ve hastily drawn this crude little number for you:

water pipe explosion

For sure, I was now wide awake, completely drenched in cold water in under five seconds.  The only word that came to mind was “shit, shit, SHIT, SHIT!” as I struggled to push the valve back onto the pipe.  Water was gushing out and I had no tools around me to help tighten the valve back on; I was fucked.  Utterly screwed.  Where the hell was the water shutoff for the house?  How is it that I can’t remember?  We just replaced the kitchen faucet… how could I NOT REMEMBER where the water shutoff was for the entire house?  SHIT!

With all of my might in my tiny arm muscles, I shoved the valve back onto the pipe.  The valve popped off again a few more times, gushing more and more water out, which was now rapidly heating up (since it was the hot water line).  By the sheer grace of God, the valve finally stuck back onto the pipe, with only a steady drip leaking out.  I ran into the guest bath and grabbed the trash can, a couple beach towels, and placed them all underneath the leaking valve to temporarily hold the leak at bay.

I immediately called my Dad, who couldn’t remember where the shutoff valve was either.  I knew I had one in the house and went downstairs to the garage.  I flipped on the light and immediately saw this near the garage door:

This would be the area where I suspected the master bath to have pipes above the garage.  Fears confirmed.  I probably had a frozen, busted pipe.  Shit.  I looked around my hot water heater for the water shutoff to the house.  I identified the shutoff for the cold water (which wouldn’t really help the situation) and the shutoff for the gas line (which was again useless in this situation).  I called and left a voicemail for my uncle, who had installed my kitchen faucet while I was in class last fall and no doubt was asleep at this time of the morning (he’s also in another time zone, so he wouldn’t be up for another couple of hours).  Then I Googled for a plumber (having only family members work on the plumbing in the house so far, I didn’t have one in my phone already, which made me feel incredibly stupid at this point).

Roto-rooter was the first to pop up on my search, and also open 24/7, so I called them and found myself on hold for a few minutes with a recorded message explaining their higher-than-normal wait times thanks to many homeowners with frozen pipes.  Eventually, I got a hold of a very friendly rep, who listened to my story.  I thought I had a frozen pipe over my garage, and a subsequent valve popping off in the bathroom.  And I didn’t know where my shutoff for the entire house was.  She calmly explained that their plumbers were working nonstop thanks to the weather, and in all likelihood would not be available to get to my house immediately.  Probably the next day, sometime in the evening.  But in the meantime, I could call the local fire department and have them shut off the water from the street or have them help find the connection in the house.  I gave her my info and thanked her for the information, but knew that I wouldn’t be able to wait nearly 48 hours for a plumber to come by.

I called the fire department and had them at the house in the next 30 minutes (which gave me enough time to change out of my soaked pajamas, but I still resembled a scared, wet cat).  A big-ass fire truck sat in front of my house, which felt oh-so-embarrassing.  They had a tough time figuring out the shutoff as well, so they first turned the water off from the street.  They even had trouble doing that because of this:

That’s the access point in my front yard.  With a lot of dirt surrounding the line.  See where the arrow is pointing?  It was tough for them to get tools around it to shut the water off thanks to the dirt (to turn it off, you have to get the two ends poking out to line up completely – it’s hard to see in this photo and close-ups wouldn’t have made much sense if I’d zoomed in).  After a few minutes of struggling, they got the water shut off and then walked back into the garage to look around again.

THAT, my friends, is apparently what I should have identified as my water line.  I felt like an idiot.  I had been mistaking that the whole time as the gas line (the red handle, the tag, and the location going directly behind the kitchen wall where the gas connects to my stove had all conspired against my common sense).  So, they turned the water off there too.  I was so embarrassed.  One of the guys even went back up to the valve upstairs and checked things out, wrapped a towel around the pipe, and then informed me that I’d need to get someone to the house before the evening temps dropped again; I’d have more frozen pipes to deal with if I didn’t.

I started calling around, not finding many people available.  I left voicemails and waited.  I called my boss and let him know I wouldn’t be coming into work.  I tried a few more.  Just when I thought I’d be screwed for two whole days of waiting, the phone answered on the second ring.

- “This is Greg.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was trying to reach (looking up on my phone again)… ___ Plumbing and Home Repair”

- “Yeah, this is Greg.”

I was so surprised, I stammered a little before I was able to explain.  He was very friendly and informed me that like the other plumbers in the area, he’d been very busy and was struggling to get to everyone fast enough.  But (after some pausing), he thought he’d be able to get to me that day.  I explained further about the morning I’d had and thanked him profusely; he mumbled a little bit more (“maybe… I could… well there’s this guy in that area too…”).  Then he said, “how’s 9:30 sound?”

“9:30… at night?”

- “No, 9:30 this morning.  It will be (gave me a quote).  That amount is for both labor and materials, just to let you know.”

“YES!  That sounds excellent!  Thank you so much.  I will be here waiting.”  I was shocked at my luck.  He’d be at my house in just an hour or two.  I called Roto-rooter to let them know I’d found someone and they didn’t need to come by after all (the only thing worse than having no one come by the house is all of the people you called, and all of them charging you for the visit).

There’s a lot more to this story, but it’s very long.  Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!

Comments

  1. says

    Oh dear. I mean, I’m not sympathetic to your temperatures at all- but I am feeling you on the frozen pipes thing- when it was -40 up here last week (mother of god) a lot of our neighborhood lost power- we were lucky enough not to but man, there have been a LOT of plumbers in our neighborhood since then!

  2. GG says

    Gah!! Poor thing!! Sounds like me when my roof started pouring water into my living room onto the couch I was sitting on at the time. Get a small space heater and blast it on any pipes that are likely to freeze (along external walls or the garage). Good luck!!

  3. says

    Oh no! What an awful morning!!! We just discovered some water seeping along our baseboard (there’s a drippy faucet on the outside of the house directly on the other side of the wall) so we’re waiting for a plumber to come out and tell us the damage… It was probably that same stupid cold weather – we just usually don’t have to deal with that here in Texas! Grr. I feel your pain!

  4. says

    I live in Northern GA and a ton of friends & neighbors had the same issue.

    I miraculously avoided it because a few years ago I had the dumb luck of insulating the garage door (mainly so the garage wouldn’t act like a solar cooker in the summer) and that somehow kept the garage warm enough to not freeze. It was 150 bucks for a two car garage door kit, went up in about four or five hours, and dropped the ac bill down a lot in the summer. After this winter, I would do it to any house I lived in for the heartache it saved.

    I hope fixing the ceiling wasn’t too much of a pain. M

  5. says

    I feel your pain! We’ve got a shower on an exterior wall and the elbow is also at the intersection of 3 different roof pitches. *sigh* Our pipes froze for about 36 hours during that last cold front over New Year’s in Boston, but space heaters and patience win out for us and luckily nothing burst. We have been wondering how the southern states and places that aren’t used to these temps and don’t have houses built for them are fairing. So sorry to hear about the mishap! I hope it didn’t cost you too much and you get it fixed pretty easily!

  6. Laura says

    Oh man that sucks!! I’m so sorry for your troubles! I think I know where my shut off is…this has prompted me to make sure. My pipes almost froze last week up here in Raleigh. I woke up to a slow trickle on the hot water side of every faucet or no hot water at all. Thankfully I caught it time and stuck a space heater up in my attic for three days and it only took about an hour to get hot water going again. This winter is crazy!

  7. says

    OK…how can I keep this short!?? I was intensely reading and busted when you dropped the F bomb. (Why I luv ya”!). Now, is there any other word besides SHIT over and over that would do the trick? NO!!!! Because last year when I came home to a busted water pipe (redoing bath and turned off at sink and main, but house old and decided to just break through shut-off) and thought I had entered the Amazon jungle near a heavy flowing waterfall, I said the same thing! I ran around like a crazy woman, yelling the same obscenities, couldn’t find the main shut off anywhere, grabbing towels, in a hot pouring mess of water. Next story…years ago lived on top of a mtn. Came home from a family vacation to WDW and 11 hours on the road with two young ones, to have my husband hit the garage door opener and as we pull in find…our garage ceiling on the roof. The pipes that we let “drip” (as told to do) in our above garage quarters had burst and the ceiling to one bay was on the floor. Finally, the crazy cold temps. last week (here in MO -20 to -35 windchill with a high of 0 one day) caused water mains to break throughout the city area. Our neighborhood experienced a break after two days of warm/normal temps last Thursday and Friday. From midnight until 1pm on fri. no water. Luckily, all is good now and no personal damage. Yes, this weather has caused ALOT of breaks in homes and main lines. The site for the co. said they were fixing 30-60 a day in the St. Louis area. I can’t WAIT to hear about the rest of the story and I am so sorry this all happened. Just remember years later what a great cluster story you will have to tell. And now of course!

      • says

        Of course it’s nutty when you consider I said our garage ceiling was on the roof! I meant the floor. The garage ceiling was on the floor of our garage. I did go and nap after this comment. Obviously not thinking clear but yeah, we have had our share of poo.

        • says

          Haha, well I’m also glad you had a laugh at my obvious freak-out. Sometimes you just gotta drop an F-bomb, no doubt.

  8. Kim A says

    I sympathize with you. I live in southern Lousiana and though the temps did not get as low as yours (we stayed below freezing – mid to upper 20′s at night, 32 or less during the day – for 3 nights and 2 days) the way I deal with it is to leave the water running in the last faucet furtherest from the water cutoff. We have a water well, not city water, and if the pump does not cut on enough, it can freeze from ground to tank. This has happened to us in the past and is not fun.

  9. Southern Gal says

    omg… cant wait for the rest… what a day you have had!

    living in the northeast after growing up in south Louisiana these last weeks have been another chapter in the ongoing “WTF Weather in the North” annals.

    good luck with recuperating! (hoping the saga is over by tonight!)

  10. Sarah R says

    Sarah, I really enjoy your blog and have been lurking for quite a while!! (I’m also a Sarah, who is single, and bought a little fixer-upper in south GA a few years back that I’m slowly renovating on a small budget.) The pipe thing totally sucks! Glad you were able to find a plumber so quickly. I wanted to give a bit of advice about your toilet flange. I’m an engineer and have the misfortune of watching videos of sewers from time to time (yuck!!). I seriously recommend wrapping the flange in something plastic and wrapping a few rubber bands around it until you get to it. There are lots of creepy crawlies in those lines that run under the street and connect to your house (i.e. very healthy and happy roaches), and without a toilet over that hole there’s no plug of water (in the S-trap) to keep them out. I guess sewer gas is also scary…but it won’t haunt your dreams like sewer critters. Best of luck with the plumbing!

    • says

      Great advice. I’ll get on that asap. And EW. Ha. I do regularly spray down things for pest control, but no sense giving them an easy entrance!

  11. anna says

    I also have a bathroom under construction (for the last couple of years) with no toilet. I purchased a plastic part at HD or Lowes that seals the toilet flange. It fits right on there so you wouldn’t have to worry about Charlie. If this was my house I would be assessing the total damage and, depending on the cost, possibly contacting my homeowner’s insurance agent. That garage ceiling needs to be torn out ASAP and dehumidifiers placed throughout wet areas of the house to avoid mold. I really feel for you woman.

  12. says

    Oh, man. I’m so sorry. My sister lives in North Georgia, and at the same time you were going through this, she was dealing with an upstairs tub leaking down into her living room and kitchen. She’s got half the downstairs ceilings demolished looking for and repairing the leak, and now they’ve got to get all the drywall replaced. What a huge headache. You’re going to need a beer. Or four. I hope damage is minimal and repairs relatively simple.

  13. Maura says

    …and then Greg showed up on time and was super competent (not to mention jaw-droppingly handsome) and fixed everything perfectly and gave you a killer discount. Then he volunteered to fix the garage ceiling on his own time, so he could get to know you better. And it turns out, he just finished his MBA (what a coincidence!) and he got his dream job and makes zillions of dollars now, so this was his last plumbing job, except for, you know, helping out the people he loves, hint hint…

    That didn’t happen? I’m going to pretend that happened, just for today.

    So, so, sorry about the whole mess. :(

  14. Eric says

    Wow, that sucks. I almost hate to say I had the A/C on today. :)

    Now, you are going to have to learn plumbing. I borrowed a torch and have replaced a couple of valves in my place. Honestly, one of the easier things to learn in home renovation.

  15. says

    Oh, that sucks. That’s one of my worst homeowning nightmares. Our water shutoff is on a line like that on our hot water heater too, and I assumed it was a gas line before my dad pointed it out to me, too.

    I second the advice to call your insurance, this looks like it could get expensive.

  16. says

    Killer story so far. Holy crap, that had to suck.I second the comment about calling your homeowners insurance. We did it after a toilet feed line burst a few years back. They sent a cleanup crew that did the tear-out, clean up, and drying. You don’t want to mess with mold. I’m pretty sure the damage may be beyond your deductible at this point and you may be able to apply what you’ve already spent on plumbing. Good luck.

  17. says

    Oh god that sucks. That’s my nightmare. I have a weekend house in upstate NY and I’m in constant fear of my pipes freezing!

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