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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 primary bedroom closet, where could it be coming from? The primary 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 into 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 primary bath does run directly over the garage… which isn’t insulated…
I walked over to the valve to turn and tighten it to stop the drip. AND THE GODDARN THING EXPLODED ON ME. For your comedic pleasure, I’ve hastily drawn this crude little number for you:
For sure, I was now wide awake, completely drenched in cold water in under five seconds. The only word that came to mind was “$#!%, $#!%, $#!%, $#!%!” 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 done. Utterly screwed. Where the bleep 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? $#!%!
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, and 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 primary bath to have pipes above the garage. Fears confirmed. I probably had a frozen, busted pipe. $#!%. I looked around my 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 lame 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 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 charge you for the visit).
There’s a lot more to this story, but it’s very long. Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow!