Superblow Weekend

Southern Arizona was stuck in a deep freeze last week like everybody else—the difference here is we’re not prepared. Many of us have exposed pipes, washing machines outside or in sheds, and plumbing either impossible to get to or we’re clueless as to how. There are no basements here. The house we live in, like many around here, is built from recycled parts, slabs of unidentifiable crumbly brown crud, and duct tape. The drawer and cabinet pulls in our kitchen are made from old spools of thread painted white, I wouldn’t lie.

For three days I couldn’t do laundry as we “had no water.” Many residents around town reported “having no water” in their houses, we were lucky it was just our shed. Hah. We had water alright, it was just in solid form. Friday morning from the kitchen window I saw steam rising—with a heavy heart I went to look. Our water had returned to liquid and was bubbling freely from a semi-exposed pipe coming from the laundry shed. Hot water. I’m embarrassed to say my first reaction was to go find the camera but it seemed imprudent—water is precious, hot water even more so. We shut the main water valve off and stood around glowering at the pipe for a while. It ran underneath a cement sidewalk, but naturally not deep enough to avoid freezing, because, ya know, it’s Arizona. After much cursing, Jimmy got the pickax and starting hacking away at the sidewalk as I cleared the debris. The pipe had burst in two places.

Pipe burst at both ends under sidewalk

We drive to Home Depot in Sierra Vista. The store appeared empty until we neared the plumbing aisle—there, crowded around now nearly empty tubs of plumbing parts, stood about a hundred bedraggled citizens whose original plans for the day had become meaningless, and we fit right in. The thaw had come with the price of burst pipes everywhere within a 100 mile radius. Many of us could not purchase basic parts we needed because they had already sold out. We were one of thousands who desperately needed a ¾” female adapter. We traded torrid tales of unflushed toilets and ruined walls. We grabbed some PVC and some elbows and some bonding stuff and headed to Ace Hardware.

We hacksawed the old metal pipe off and installed the new elbows and PVC pipe. It was beautiful. We patted ourselves on the backs for a job well done and turned the water back on.

Sidewalk hacked up but pipe repaired

We go to check the faucets and saw the floor was flooded on one end, then heard a funny noise in the wall…yep. The pipe had burst in another place. More creative cursing as we start ripping out soggy dank wall panels.

Burst pipe number 3

Third pipe repaired

With visions of steamy showers we turn the water back on, then creep cautiously around the shed as if quietness would help. It didn’t. Water was puddling at the back wall. Funny how the swearing stops when resignation sets in. Jimmy goes to look for the sawzall. We find two more jagged breaks but now it’s getting dark. We shut the main water off again and start planning the next day’s fun.

Getting to pipes 4 & 5. We had no idea there were old wood walls underneath the outer wall.

Saturday, and two more trips to Ace Hardware. We need a half-inch double-threaded adapter. They’re out. I beg an employee to take pity and look harder. He starts going through tubs of plumbing parts and finds one where it shouldn’t be. I coulda kissed him—thoughts of running water will do that to a girl.

I bring the parts home and we spend the rest of the day dicking around with hacksaws and hammers and wrenches and wet towels and sodden ancient slabs of god knows what.

Leaks 4 & 5 repaired. He wasn't sure where to cut so the wall is now hacked to pieces, in the back of the truck, headed for the dump.

Success! Hot and cold running water. If there are more leaks they are not yet apparent. Anything’s possible. Tomorrow we go help neighbors. Next year I’ll pay attention to the weather and turn the faucets on drip if it freezes, though many people said it didn’t work.

Homemade faucets

The gang of five

11 responses to “Superblow Weekend

  1. I’ve been there before, even in the cold northeast where construction is supposed to prevent these situations this stuff happens. Funny how the pipes always burst in the hardest locations to uncover. And the elbows always seem to burst on the bend. There must be more pressure from ice at these spots.

    On the other hand, when you are finished, you have the memory of knowing that you can face these situations and overcome them. Oh yeah, the creative cursing, for some strange reason that seems to be universal, especially amongst many men. I laughed aout loud at that one.

    Glad you are all well, if not a little bedraggled.

    • One house I had in CT had a crawlspace and after a winter of frozen pipes we wrapped that heated wire coil around them. I hate working in crawlspaces but it was worth it.

      Have you ever noticed that horrid repair jobs are always referred to in female curse terms?!

      BTW, are you off the grid? Many people in rural areas here on solar.

  2. This is a bad result of freezing temperatures. I hope you do not have to go through that again. But if the cold come back be sure to leave the water running a trickle, running water will prevent ice from forming and bursting the pipes. Insulating the pipes with some kind of foam sleeve or spray foam will help too.

  3. Thank God (s) for Home Depot an Ace Hardware. I can’t help but snicker at your story. Have a friend who escapes to southern Texas to avoid our Canadian winter. Last report was – his door to outside world is iced over and pipes frozen. Ah poor Baby!

  4. Whoah! Good on you guys for managing to get everything fixed yourselves. Looks like you did a fantastic job too. Wonder if the plastic pipes will be less liable to crack than the metal ones. Hopefully they are more flexible.
    Gotta say that weather’s been a bit weird here too – we’ve had more rain this year than any in recorded history. Nothing threatening yet, but also no sign of it letting up.

    • I had the same question about PVC vs. metal…I guess it doesn’t matter when it comes to ice expansion, it will destroy anything trying to contain it. At least the PVC is sort of flexible to work with. All my outdoor water bowls exploded last week too, glass, metal, and plastic, and they’re not even closed containers!

      I just looked at Windhoek weather, it said warm and sunny today but I see the humidity is high. Crazy weather all over this year.

  5. Hi D,

    I hope you have recovered from the cold spell. It was kind of cold here where I am…got down to 18 degrees for two nights running, setting a couple of new low records. Day time was in the high 30’s to low 40’s, Not really that cold for people used to mid-western and eastern weather I guess…darn cold for me though. 🙂

    We were lucky in that no pipes busted on us and we didn’t have to tear things apart.

    I’m working on my darkroom this week, moving things around trying to make more efficient work-flow.

    Here’s hoping you have no more trauma in your life…you know; no more pipes busted, no crazy emails, etc.


  6. Today I saw a couple of businesses in the Safeway plaza shut down. Looked in the windows and saw carpeting torn up and giant blowers set up. Water company trucks are out and about everywhere. Oh well, at least it wasn’t just us dummies who didn’t take precautions! It really took everybody by surprise.

    Hope we get to see some pictures inspired by your efficient new darkroom!

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