18 January 2009

22 Below Zero

On this past Thursday it reached 22 below zero just before dawn. Our high that day was 4 below zero. While not quite a record, it was pretty damn cold. We spent the day doing two of Minnesota's favorite things - remarking on how cold it gets and congratulating ourselves on how well we do when it gets that cold.

Friday was when it all hit the fan, though...

Friday evening after work Abelisto & I stopped by the shoe store where I purchased a pair of Timberline hiking boots since my Asolo boots don't fit since the foot surgery - well, it's not so much that they don't fit, but rather that the tongue of the boot presses right on the scar on the top of my foot, making it really uncomfortable to wear them. I am saving them to see if someday the scar will be less tender and I can wear them again. The Asolos are a really heavy pair of hiking boots and I would love to wear them again in the future. Anyway, after shoe shopping (always a taxing event since I have a hard time finding shoes that fit) we went out to dinner stopping on the way home at a new recycled clothing store here in Winona.

When we got home we discovered that the washer was not working. We have one of those computerized front loading LG washers that control water and wash time based on how much you put in the washer. It has a LED display that tells you what the problem is if there is something keeping the washer from working. The panel was flashing a code I had never seen before and instead of looking it up on the handy guide (which is conveniently magnetically attached to the side of the washer) I simply popped the door open. Out poured around 20 gallons of soapy water - right onto my new boots.

This was how I discovered that waterproof Timberlines are, in fact, waterproof.

I quickly shut the washer door, but actually at this point the water was below the door level and wasn't going to pour out any more. We found the shop vac and cleaned up the water mess and decided that since it had been warmer that day we would let it go until morning and see if it would thaw out. We also discovered that the waterline to the dishwasher was frozen too.

During the night Abelisto woke up smelling smoke. He got up and went over the house from top to bottom, and not finding any reason to be smelling smoke, tried to get some more sleep - but never managed to fully get back to sleep.

When we got up Saturday morning there was still some strange water issue in the kitchen and laundry room. Before I had much time to think about it the telephone in the front room rang. It was the land line phone - all our friends usually call us on our cell phones, so I figured that it was the usual telemarketer and didn't make a serious attempt to get to it before the voicemail answered it.

As I got to the phone I heard the head of the maintenance department at work leaving a message telling me that a waterline in my building had burst overnight and the office was affected. He also mentioned two other people whose areas are in the part of our offices that are across a rather wide hallway. I thought he probably was just calling everyone in the office, but that the damage was really in the offices across the hall. Besides that, I had water issues at home to deal with.

We went to Menards and picked up two ceramic space heaters. We put the insulation that one of the cats had torn down back up in the basement window, plugged the pipe heater back in (neither of us remembered unplugging it), and placed a space heater in the basement room with the pipes and in the laundry room.

All of a sudden we smelled smoke again. I was fairly certain it wasn't the space heaters, but we went on a search of the first floor of the house and the basement.

We found a gruesome sight. Sometime during the bitter cold of the week, a starling had come down in the chimney vent for the water heater. It must have been drawn to the warmth. It found itself in a bad situation, though, when the water heater turned on and hot gas fire exhaust came rushing up the chimney. The bird's struggles had lifted the chimney duct pipe off of the water heater - it almost escaped death, but not quite.

It actually was good that we found this - having the chimney vent almost knocked off could have given us carbon monoxide poisoning.

A bit later it seemed that the water lines were thawed. I had tried turning on the washer and it immediately started pouring water into the washing compartment. This washer has water saving controls and it never just pours water in. Even when I turned it off the water still came in. Abelisto and I pushed the washer sideways a bit so that we could reach the water valves and turned them off. By the time we got that done, water was pouring out onto the floor again so I got the shop vac and sucked it all up as well as sucking out as much of the water in the washer as I could.

At this point I figured that the washer's inlet valves had been frozen and were likely toasted. So I packed up all the wet soggy clothing and towels, and all the rest of the unwashed laundry and headed off to a Laundromat. Since I was out and about I drove by the university to check out the burst pipe scenario and discovered that my desk was part of the flooded area, but my coworkers were taking care of it, which was a good thing since it only took a few minutes of being in the room to trigger an asthma episode. The dissolving ceiling tile, or the debris or something was off-gassing some chemical that had my airways tight in no time. The water had splashed all over my laptop and new, 22" auxiliary monitor, but they both seemed to work alright.

I left my coworkers cleaning things up and went to do the laundry.

When I got home Abelisto mentioned that the furnace did not kick on during the entire time I was gone. We usually have our thermostat set around 60 degrees to save energy, but we had turned it all the way up earlier in hopes of helping to thaw out the frozen lines. At this point the temperature in the house was around 45 degrees so I went down and tested the fuses. None were blown so we called a service company.

Three and a half hours later we had heat. We also had $600.00 less in our checking account. It turned out it was mostly our own fault - if you don't change your furnace filters regularly it causes the blower motor to run harder which overheats the circuit board which will, in time, fry the furnace's computer.

While waiting for the service man to get the furnace fixed we decided to run the dishwasher and do some cleaning up. I was filling the sink and washing counter tops. Abelisto loaded and ran the dishwasher. I noticed that the sink drain bubbled up when the dishwasher kicked into rinse, but did not think much about it.

We stopped to make supper and I worked on the mosaic and finished cutting the tile order into sample-sized sheets of tile. Abelisto worked on his lecture for Monday and did some grading while I played with cutting glass tiles and building a jig for cutting better triangles from the 3/4 inch glass tiles.

At some point I went back in the kitchen and discovered that there was water pouring out of the washer AGAIN. Once more we got the shop vac and sucked it all up. I could not figure it out. We had turned off the water valves. I thought perhaps they weren't closing all the way, but that did not seem right since we didn't hear water coming in. I thought perhaps it was just trickling in.

I decided to open up the drain trap on the washer to completely drain any water that was in it. This, of course, made another mess which we sucked up again. This time, I was lazy and poured it down the sink instead of taking it outside and dumping it out.

I was sucking up the water on the kitchen floor (I did not do the best job lifting up the shop vac and some of the water missed the sink) when I realized that water was coming out of the washer drain trap again. Suddenly I knew what our problem was. Frozen drain.

I went downstairs to trace the drain pipe. I found a place where one of the cats (it was Finn) had pulled down the insulation from a window in the basement. This window was missing a pane and last summer when Finn decided he simply must be an outside cat we had half-heartedly covered it up with a board and leaned an old door over it to keep Finn from pulling down the board (the basement walls are old sandstone and mortar, no way to nail anything up to hold in the board). I had meant to fix it, really, but it slipped my mind. I don't go in the basement much - it makes me have to use my inhaler too much.

Anyway, the door leaning against this botched repair job was channeling frigid air right down the wall and onto the drain pipe. It took ten minutes to insulate the window, secure it with several layers of cardboard pressed into the window framing (another half-assed repair, I know, but I need some concrete anchors and a masonry bit to fix it right and I don't have any right now), and move the space heaters to where they would blow right on the pipe.

Three hours later the pipe thawed and the sink drained.

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