The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 13, 2014

Letting winter faucets trickle was just a drop in the bucket

By Jim Raykie
Herald Executive Editor

AN EDITOR'S NOTES — I LEARNED a good lesson from my grandfather as a kid growing up in a rowhouse on Emerson Avenue in Farrell during the cold of winters, but I didn’t put it to very good use last week.

The old two-story house was typical of some old homes in Farrell in the 1960s. In our house, if it was insulated at all, it was at a bare minimum.

An outside wall felt like the door to the refrigerator in the winters, and having “storm windows” of the day was like having none at all. Things were pretty drafty, and the coziest place was on the floor in front of the furnace registers, dirty coal-furnace heat and all.

We must have been a lot tougher in those days, because things like mold, which we hear so much about today, was a common sight on the damp, old cement block foundations in the dark, musty cellars in old houses like ours.

During the most frigid days of winter, like we experienced last week with sub-zero temperatures, I remember my grandfather going to every faucet in the house, and turning them on to trickle a little to prevent the uninsulated pipes from freezing, especially the ones within outside walls.

I remember naively asking him one day if all that wasn’t a waste of money, and he said that the cost of the water would be far less than the expenses and headaches associated with pipes that had frozen and burst.

Uncharacteristic of me last week with the sub-zero forecast, I forgot that lesson about pipes for the upstairs bathroom sink with only about two feet of copper pipe in an outside wall.

And when I got up Tuesday morning to brush my teeth, I was dismayed to turn on the cold water to find nothing – not a drop.

At that point, I remembered the frigid days on Emerson Avenue and realized that I had blown it.

 

Unlike my grandfather, who used a propane torch to thaw frosted pipes, leaving hints of charred joists and wall studs along the way, I refrained from applying heat with today’s safer, recommended method, a hair dryer, and decided to wait it out and keep my fingers crossed that the problem would solve itself. Thoughts of hearing water dripping inside the walls was too much to bear.

 

Hours later, I was sitting at the computer Googling “frozen pipes” and decided to go upstairs and turn on the faucet, just for the heck of it.

To my surprise, out came the cold water. I shut it off for a minute, and put my ear against the wall, and checked out the basement for any dripping water.

Very fortunate to find not a drop, I returned to the suspect faucet, and turned it on, and let it run for the rest of the frigid night with a steady trickle. Grandpa would have been proud.

I could hear him grumbling, “Jimbo, I thought I taught you better!”

We live in an incredibly high-tech world, in which with a few keystrokes at Google, one can find out most everything about dealing with frozen pipes.

But some oldies are still goodies: If you let your faucet drip, it might cost you a few bucks, but you probably won’t need a plumber or Google.

Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.