Basement The Victorian House

Our Pipes Burst

The good news is that the pipe in the ceiling of the laundry room burst while we were awake and right above it in the kitchen. If we had been asleep, or even just upstairs, it would have been much worse.

We woke up on Monday to a cold house with the pipes frozen from the laundry room, up through the kitchen and on to the second floor. The bathrooms all had running water though, so we consulted with a plumber, made do, and hoped for the best. We also located the main shut-off valve for the whole house. Just in case. The previous owners said that the pipes had frozen once before, years ago, but that they thawed without incident. It had never been so cold before though, they added!

We had left the faucets on so that we could tell when water started to flow again, so when Brandon heard the water running last night, he assumed it was from the utility sink. I went down to check on it, and water was pouring out of the ceiling. I swore loudly, Brandon ran downstairs, and we sprinted over to shut off the water to the house completely.

We’re working with the plumber that the previous owners had used for the house, which we’re grateful for because as they put it “he knows this house.” He’s downstairs right now and has been for a few hours, working to cut out the damaged copper pipes and replace them with new. Because it turns out that not only did one pipe burst, a second one did too, right above it. Fun!

Burst Copper Pipes in the Ceiling

Burst Copper Pipes

He said that there isn’t really anything we could have done to prevent this from happening. It was just too cold, and copper doesn’t hold up to being frozen for a few days like the old cast iron pipes do. (Thankfully those are fine.) We are wrapping the pipes in insulation, and we have some people coming out tomorrow to look at the heating system. It’s a balmy 60° downstairs right now, but that’s in the dining room where the thermostat is located. On the other side of the house, you know, where the pipes burst? There’s a tomato on the counter that has frozen solid, and the 12-pack of pop on the floor froze and burst open too. Eh, we’ll get it sorted.

This is really only tangentially related, but I couldn’t resist.

*Update* In case this information is helpful to anyone, it took three hours and cost $250 to have the two pipes replaced and wrapped with insulation. Also, the house is up to 65° and rising! It’s 10° out now, so the heat can finally catch up.

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  • katie
    January 8, 2014 at 10:39 am

    that sucks.. stay warm!

  • Christa
    January 8, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing for you if you aren’t already. We are old house people too. Our first house was a 1914 bungalow in Oklahoma City and was drafty and had lots of quirks. Our first winter was a learning curve. We just renovated and moved into a 1930 house that was terribly neglected for many years. We knew the winter would bring new surprises but we had no idea that snow would regularly appear in our front entry from a drafty front door, nor did we ever deal with freezing pipes at our last house. We put in all new plastic lines which don’t burst thankfully but waking up to no running water in your kitchen can really dampen your day (example: no coffee). We also had an incident of 66 gallons of water pouring from our master bathtub into the living room below the first time we used it. All amusing now but irritating at the time. Your house is amazing and the character/history is worth every stupid dollar spent on keeping her in good shape. Hope it isn’t too costly and easy fixes will make next winter a little less frantic.

  • Kayla aka Kilo Bravo
    January 8, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Sorry about the pipes – but I’m cracking up at the Cabin Boy reference! I say that (too often) and no one ever gets it. Thank you!!!

  • Amanda
    January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Making me think of that movie, The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. Hilarious by itself and even more so to anyone who has ever owned an old home.

  • Laura @ Rather Square
    January 8, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Oh no! Sorry this happened and glad you were able to get a plumber so quickly. In this weather, they can be hard to find.

  • Laurie
    January 8, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Holy cow! So glad you were there and could jump all over this when it happened.

  • HR
    January 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

    My folks live in a home built in the 20’s in Missouri. While they aren’t in your neighborhood they do seem to be getting the same type of weather. We were up visiting from Texas last week and their pipes froze in the only bathroom that has a shower/tub. 6 people in one house for the week with frozen pipes is not fun. We felt your pain and I hope the costs aren’t too crazy for you all. Good luck and stay warm!

  • Tania @ Run To Radiance
    January 8, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Oh no! That’s the worst. Our main plumbing overflowed from our toilet and tub at the same time (fun!!) and flooded our hall bath. Luckily my husband heard the splashing from bed and ran in to turn it all off…so gross. ughhhh.

  • carrie @ brick city love
    January 8, 2014 at 11:29 am

    I think this is just one of those ‘welllllll fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…..’ times. So. Good luck. Glad you were home, awake, & able to catch it!

    Several years ago, Kit (DIY Diva) came home to frozen pipes ( Could be worse.

  • thelady
    January 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

    my kitchen sink faces a window and the pipe there is frozen so no sink water. So far it has not burst. I’ve been running a portable heater near it and have opened all the cabinet doors to help warm air get back there. 24 hours later, still no water but no bursting. Today it will be high 30 degrees and tomorrow low 40s. Hopefully the pipes can survive until then. I walk to work and noticed several row homes near me had pipe burst from the frozen large pulls of water in front of the homes.

    • thelady
      January 8, 2014 at 11:37 am

      forgot to mention I have plastic PVC pipes so that might be why they didn’t burst

  • Heidi
    January 8, 2014 at 11:46 am

    So sorry! Our front yard outside pipe burst this past weekend. It’s our fault, we didn’t properly drain the pipe and shut off the water to that valve. Thankfully it was outside and didn’t cause any indoor damage. The irony is the pipe was just replaced over the summer because it burst before we bought our house! Hopefully while we’re having our kitchen renovated we can have the plummer hope outside and fix that as well.

  • Helen
    January 8, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Wow! You got a good price for that work. My friends were quoted triple that just for a pipe that was frozen, but not yet burst.

    I wonder if you could add one of those wall mounted ductless heating/ac units in the parts of the house that are the coldest? Like the ones you see in old hotels in Europe – not the prettiest, but you can only add so much insulation in an old house right? We’re thinking about adding a couple in our first old house that we now rent.

    I’m so glad you guys knew where your shutoff was!

  • Meghan
    January 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Oh no! I live in an old house, too (1920)… the past two nights it has been -41 and -36 here (so cold!). I’ve been told that you can prevent pipes freezing by 1. turning your furnace up a bit overnight on the crazy cold nights 2. leaving a tap on trickle overnight (which hurts my enviro-minded heart!) and 3. leaving cabinet doors open that have pipes in them. I don’t know if it would help in your house, but it doesn’t hurt to try! We’ve been doing those tricks this week for sure.

  • M @ The Sequin Notebook
    January 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Oh no – sorry to hear about this, especially given the frigid temps! Luckily you were able to get it fixed pretty quickly (and for not too much expense!) As a new homeowner, I definitely feel your pain and even though I’m loving life in a house, I do miss apartment life from time to time when I was able to just call my super to get something fixed!

  • Suzanne J Dean
    January 8, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I am sooo feeling your pain right now…we had a pipe burst in our laundry room too this morning. I came downstairs to inches of water in laundry room and came thru the ceiling in downstairs guest suite. My only consolation is I realized what was happening within 10 mins but its still a disaster area. This cold weather is the WORST…I hate it and such a pain to deal with flooded areas. Wishing you all the best & hope your house warms up quickly. Not the way to start the New Year huh?

  • jody
    January 8, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    this is exactly what i remember about living in OPRF during the winter. The equivalent of summers threat of “bike being stolen” is winters threat of “pipes freezing/bursting”…glad you were able to minimize the catastrophe.

  • Nichole Hoppe
    January 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I work at an insurance agency in Forest Park. We have had so many people with pipes that burst. We came up with this post about what to do. It is not fun, but at least you noticed that it happened before it became a disaster.

    • Marcee ... ILLINOIS
      January 8, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Great advice. Wrote it all down. Just in case.

  • Julie.
    January 8, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    omg omg! This is one of those fears I have (living in Michigan). Thanks you so much for sharing and letting me see that this is survivable. I love your attitude = “eh, we’ll get it sorted” !! I need to do that more! I am a total worry wart freak out person.

  • Josephine
    January 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Full on! Glad you were able to get things sorted! The frozen tomato on the kitchen counter kinda blew my mind!

  • Sarah
    January 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Oh man! That sucks, but it sounds like it could have been way waaay worse. Old, or new, every house has it’s issues it seems.

  • Marcee ... ILLINOIS
    January 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Yiyiyi. Jeez. Very sorry Nicole. I sure feel for you & the family. Got to keep everyone warm and safe in these situations.

    Even though 40 degree temps are expected in the next several days, not sure if this will be a good thing. Typical for us, they hit so abrupt & quickly. Think positive tho. So many folks are suffering. We sure need this improvement. Our big ole house remains drafty and ….. c.o.l.d. I have so many clothes on, it’s difficult to move around. Our poochies are always covered with warmed blankies.

  • Penny
    January 8, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    That’s a great price. Would you mind sharing the name of the plumber for those of us in the Chicago area?

  • Tia
    January 8, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    The polar vortex killed my furnace! Iold houses can be rough

  • Mommy G
    January 8, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Shame about the pipes… But you do have a great attitude and fighting spirit!

  • Tammy Saltmarsh
    January 9, 2014 at 10:12 am

    I live in a 100+ year old loft in Arkansas, and mine froze this week too :( It’s awful!! Luckily, they thawed after 2 days within incident. My loft replaced all the copper piping with plastic because it’s less likely to burst. Good luck girl!!!

  • Alicia M
    January 9, 2014 at 11:35 am

    That totally sucks! I own a small business in a northwest Iowa town in a building that was built built no later than 1900. On Monday when it was -20 with a -48 degree wind chill, the pipes in my building froze at the meter. Thankfully the city replaced the meter, free of charge. Iowa winters can be frigid. I currently have my dad “mr fixit” looking into “heat tape” that you wrap around your pipes to keep them thawed. You should ask your plumber if it’s something that would work for you guys!

  • Ally B
    January 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    So sorry that happened! At least your outdoor sprinklers didn’t burst like ours did and flood your basement! Yep, it ran down into our house from the outside. New house too. So I feel your pain. We live where it’s supposed to be 50 plus degrees all winter too! Well, Hopefully you got it all sorted out by now and it’s all fixed. I still love your blog! Followed it since you began. It’s amazing all the great ideas you come up with!

  • Ryan Hart
    January 9, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. I think this illustrates why it’s important to know your house inside and out. If you didn’t know where the water shut off valve was you could have had a big mess on your hands!

  • John @ RatherSquare
    January 9, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Glad you were able to get it taken care of rather speedily and that the temps are now starting to raise again. Our furnace was having trouble keeping up with how cold it was with the windchill. Gotta love these drafty houses. :)

    One thing I noticed in the photos you posted is the electrical conduit crossing over the copper pipes. Have you wrapped over that area? It is wise to keep metals of different make from touching as they can cause corrosion and a weak point where they cross. Stay warm!

  • Shelley
    January 9, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    We live in a 1910 victorian farmhouse in Texas. I can’t imagine dealing with cold a lot of the country is going through. Glad it wasn’t too bad. Love your house!

  • Christine E-E
    January 10, 2014 at 12:05 am

    That price sounds like a deal. We had to have our water heater replaced (housed outside our condo) & it was a whopping $725. w labor. I was surprised. Urggh.

  • Alisa
    January 10, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    I spent the greater part of the last week worrying about frozen pipes (Long Island) but *knock wood* I think we’re in the clear. Darn near everyone I know had something freeze or burst, though. Ugh. Sorry you had to deal with that, but you have a maddeningly cool attitude about it, so that’s great. (Me, I’d be in a corner crying and muttering to myself somewhere)

    Someone above mentioned a ductless unit. We have a Mitsubishi Mr. Slim ductless air conditioner/heat pump in our kitchen–had it put in a couple years ago. I AM IN LOVE WITH IT. LOVE, I tell you. It is absolutely SILENT and–even though it’s only supposed to cool the kitchen–cools my ENTIRE FIRST FLOOR on all but the hottest of days. The heat pump is also the BEST in the wintertime, provided it doesn’t get too cold (it doesn’t work at extremely cold temperatures). Because it’s so good at supplementing with heat, my need for oil has gone down dramatically.

    The best part is that running the thing darn near non-stop has barely made a dent in my electrical bill. If I could afford more, I’d get them in a heartbeat! Ductless rules!

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