Our Wretched Little (Not) Hot Water Adventure

If you’ve spent any time reading about our move to the farm, you know we are focused on resiliency. We don’t need a lot of space, and we don’t need a lot of gadgets, but we want to make sure we and those we love can stay warm, dry, and well-fed whatever happens. And by and large, it’s working.

That’s why it was such a rude awakening, such an unwelcome event, when I turned on the hot water faucet Sunday about 4:00 am and got nothing. Not a sputter, not a rush of unheated water. Nothing. It was the coldest day yet of the season, about 21 degrees F, so I figured it must have something to do with the low temperature. My first thought – panic, really – was a fear that we had no water at all, that a water line from the well had frozen. But no, the cold water was running fine.

Deciding that I had more to gain than to lose by getting back under the covers, I returned to bed and thought. As I felt my body warming again, I analyzed the flow of hot water. Where did it diverge from the cold water, and where might it be freezing? I had a low level concern that the interior of the shop might be below freezing, so when I got up a few minutes later I fired up the kerosene heater in the shop just to make sure.

Then it occurred to me. We hope to install, but haven’t yet installed, a batch solar water heater just south of the barn. In preparation for that installation, our plumber Tim Ledbetter installed a loop from the main water line out to that point south of the barn, then back again to the tankless water heater. The idea is that someday soon we hope to build a solar “pre-heater” that would warm the water before it ever makes it to the tankless water heater. Right now, though, that loop is just sitting there.

Hmmm. I went outside. Sure enough, there in the pre-dawn chill was the Pex loop, coming out of the ground and back under ground. The total exposed pipe was probably 6-8 inches long. I felt it, and it had no give at all. There was my culprit, a solid block of ice where water should be flowing.

I plugged in my dual halogen work lights (I remembered from the summer how much heat they put out) and trained them on the exposed loop. Then I went inside, turned the hot water on in the bathroom, and sat down to work. About 15 minutes later, I heard a trickle, then a rush, as the hot water began to flow. About 30 minutes later the sun began to rise, so I was glad to turn off the work lights.

By the time my bride was up, she had plenty of hot water. Later that afternoon, after church, lunch with Amanda’s Mom, and shopping in Montgomery, I dug up the garden around the exposed loop and buried it under about six inches of soil. In Alabama, I think that’s all we’ll need.

The hot water has been flowing fine since then.

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