I learnt the importance of waterproof-leakproof tape and the necessity of a gas stove over the last two weeks.
It started with a warning. Houston, along with much of Texas, would experience below normal freezing temperatures for a week. Please cover your pipes and gardens and lets hope for the best. So, the company covered the outdoor pipes, and we brought out our winter sweaters and quilts. After all, I grew up in Canada and knew how to deal with below freezing temperatures. In Alberta, I would snowshoe in the Rocky Mountains and winter camp in a tent. I loved it. Houston was different.
While a winter tent has minimal insulation, it does not have water pipes. Our Houston house has water pipes, but limited insulation. No biggie, we will keep all the cupboard doors open to provide the pipes in the kitchen walls with heat. We were okay at first. We still had running water. The power was still on, and so we had heat. But then, on the coldest night, the cold water pipe in the kitchen froze.
We were still okay. We had heat, power; we had to turn the water off, but we had tubs full of water to deal with the emergency. We invited friends to stay with us since they had none of the above for the last 24 hours. The eight humans, two cats, and the dog celebrated warmth at nine pm after we finished making up guest rooms for everyone. The beauty of the air mattresses is that any room can become a bedroom. We celebrated in the kitchen, wearing our winter hats, (most of us had not showered yet and the hats had duel purpose of hiding greasy hair while keeping us warm), and waiting for the first person to admit they were tired. After all, we had our heat turned down to conserve energy, as suggested by Harris County. Then the power went out.
I think it was a troublesome time for our friends. They had their own house without heat, water, or power. Why stay with us? But they stayed for the night because at least, at that point, our house was warmer. So we all called it a night and went to bed. The power turned on again, along with the furnace, at 2:30 am, but then turned off again at 5: am. So three humans and the dog retreated to their own house.
We are fortunate to have a gas stove. So breakfast was pancakes for all! Warm food after a chilly night’s sleep feels decedent. We also boiled water for coffee and tea so the meal was complete. Carbohydrates to insulate ourselves against the cold and caffeine to remind us the day had just begun.
Our remaining guests stayed through lunch for a second hot meal before they headed home. We played games in front of the fireplace and created a mountain of blankets to read from. We had splendid company, entertainment; it wasn’t so bad! Uno was the favoured game, but they played many others. I snuck away to read and drink coffee. I knew if the power did not comeback on, I would have no light, so I prioritized reading for a couple of hours:) Then our remaining guests left and we were back down to three humans and two cats. We prepared an early dinner; we didn’t want to cook with head lamps. As we love backcountry camping, we have all the supplies; so we repurposed the headlamps to deal with the dark. Then the power came back on!
The heat was welcome. Even more important that the lights and internet. Well, to me. Our daughter celebrated when the internet kicked back on. With the heat came an additional side effect. The pipe burst in the kitchen.
Behold! The frozen pipe after we took off the wall boards. At first, we knew the cold froze the pipe when the water stopped running. Fortunately, I was in my office next door when I heard the rumble of water escaping the pipe. I yelled for my husband as I reached the kitchen and found a wave of water pushing out from beneath the kitchen counters. He turned off the water while I started the towel trench, followed by mopping.
Even with the pipes warmed, we were waterless. And so grateful for the pool. Eight people use the toilet over three people. That is just a fact of life. There is only so much water in a shallow tub. I redirected our recycle bins to focus on water containment. One per toilet. Refilling involved a jaunt outside the house. I needed the exercise as I switched to hibernation mode under the covers.
Wild cats taking over the backyard and having a party
This is where we spent all of our waking time while the power was out.
By the end of the week, temperatures warmed up outside. Most of Texas had power again, and a lot of us were looking for more permanent solutions for fixing our busted pipes. Once again, we were the lucky ones. I was in the next room over when the water pipe blew inside. We contained it right away. So far, we limited the damage to the kitchen wall and under the cabinets.
In the first house we bought, we had a ceiling fall in. The roof had passed inspection, but the water worked its way. One day I was sitting in my dining room, looked up and noticed the ceiling was bulging. In the past year, I had dealt with many leaks in my work building and the remediation that took place after it. I knew what I was looking at. A big bill. To mitigate the size of the bill, I pulled the garbage can under the bulge and stabbed the ceiling directly above it. Water sprayed out, much like in the top picture in this blog post. I stabbed several more holes before the water switched to pouring instead of spraying me and the room. I brought in another garbage can. The storm rages outside for a week and I spent four days alternating garbage cans and dumping them out the back door until the storm ended. I saved the floor. But the roof, ceiling, and wall all needed to replacement. I wasn’t going through that again.
But then my husband inspected the outside of the house and found the lovely shower from the irrigation pipe. He contained it with self-fusing repair tape as well. We were now out of tape. But, as far as we know, the leaks were temporarily contained. This week we finally found a plumber available to fix up the house. The plumber repaired the kitchen pipe, including a new, stylish, insulative jacket. As does the irrigation pipe. Unfortunately, the large metal piece was not replaced as Houston is experiencing a shortage of plumbing supplies. But the house has water and boy was my first shower in a week amazing.
My lessons from the last few weeks:
- Always keep a roll of self-fusing repair tape that is waterproof and airtight in the toolbox; duct tape can’t fix anything (this was new to me as a Canadian)
- Wrapping a pipe in an insulated jacket is not enough
- Teenagers feel the worse part of power loss of the loss of the internet
- Always have a secondary means of grinding coffee beans not requiring power
- A gas stove means warm food, water drinks, and the ability to boil contaminated water
- Camping supplies are just as fun to use inside the house
- I prefer camping outside to roughing it in the house. At least then, I am expecting the conditions.
We were lucky in so many ways. I also learned to appreciate that infrastructure has different weaknesses depending where I am dwelling. The best news is that I now have justification for upgrading some of my camping gear before camping season begins.
Have you experienced a local natural disaster? What learnings did you gain?