We ferried to Haines on Friday, crossed the bay, stepped through our cabin door, and have been managing crises ever since.
It’s my fault, really. Before we left, Michelle wanted to shut the “homestead” down as we used to when we first owned it. We lived in Juneau, and visited the land. When the time came to leave, we would shut off the water, drain the system, and empty the wood-fired heater. This time consuming process would have been a wise precaution, but I reasoned that it ate up time and created considerable tension on a day when we had to get across the bay ahead of the tide.
I assumed that the cabin would hold enough heat that nothing would freeze. I assumed wrong.
The inside temperature stood at 25° when we arrived. Outside temperatures had been below freezing for about a week. We found our water filter pitchers frozen. The water heater had frozen solid, and expanding ice had ripped the top off of it like a tin can.The 5-gallon water jug I’d filled before we left, against just such a contingency, had become a big ice cube. Oddly, a glass jug, less than a quarter full of water, sat on the floor, unfrozen. But, all the water in the pipes had solidified.
We got right to work. We disconnected the water heater and hauled it outside. I started a tiny fire in the wood stove. It’s cast iron, so starting a fast, big fire in it could have destroyed it. I patiently warmed it up before building to a blaze large enough to warm the house.
We stayed bundled up in our warmest coats, knowing that it would take hours to warm the log walls. We went to bed in our 45° bedroom, after banking the fire for the night. By midmorning Saturday, the room had warmed to 56°.
Once the room had warmed, the pipes inside began to thaw, revealing ruptures in the copper pipe plumbing. I wrapped patch tape over the splits to stop the leaks, we banked the fire again, and went to town to get Spice, our cat, from the sitter.
We also took a diagram of our water system to a hardware store, and purchased a replacement system.
Back when we began to work on the next hot water heater, we speculated that pex pipe could replace our tangle of copper pipes. With the freezing and ruptures, we had an opportunity to execute that idea.
When we came home in the evening, we chopped icicles off the seeps in the hillside to melt into hot water on the wood stove. Then we dumped it down the drain.
The man who built our cabin ran the drainpipe alongside the water intake hose, and encased them both in insulation. If the intake hose freezes, pouring hot water down the drain thaws it in short order. As it did this time.
The next step is to rip out our plumbing and replace it with the new system, and install the hot water that has been waiting in the wings for a year now (see Time to Change the Water Heater).
Meanwhile, the cold flattened our fully-charged battery bank. We’ve had some sun, but not much, and no wind to speak of, or forecasted before Monday or Tuesday. That has kept us offline almost completely. Not that we have much time for it anyway.
The wine came through just fine! I’d made a blanket nest for the working jugs, and they stayed liquid. As soon as the cabin warmed, they began fermenting again. That’s a relief.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the Chinese character for “crisis” combines the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity.” Since returning home, I can see why they might combine those two concepts.
Anyway, time to get back at it. We’ve got a plumbing system to rebuild!