Monday, December 22, 2003

The tub drain in our Castleton house refuses to be tamed. Sometime in about 1948 someone got the idea that the house needed indoor plumbing. The kitchen was moved to the basement, and as a part of this renovation, a small addition was built for a bathroom. Problem is, this little separate room has to withstand the elements without much help from the main house. Then, in the 1970s or early 1980s, it suffered the indignity of a car driving down the hill, and crashing into its side. The collision knocked the tub across the room. Maybe as a part of the repair, the old clawfoot tub was replaced by a more modern variety. So now the second problem is, the tub has an under the floor trap and drain, which often freezes.

The tub had heat tape around that difficult pipe when we moved in, which we promptly removed for safety reasons. The bathroom has been extensively renovated in the years we have lived here, and even the tub drain pipe has been replaced, but the under the floor design is the same. We've insulated, fixed cracks, replaced windows, and added new heat. It is better, but still, any time it gets below 10 degrees or so the risk of freezing is there.

Generally, we get one freeze per winter -- then we never forget to leave the fawcet dripping in the tub any time the temperature drops. It is a wasteful solution, that works. On our long to do list, is replacing the tub with one of the antique clawfoot variety (which we have in Samsonville, and we might get new there and use that one). But there are quite a few projects ahead of that one.

We've been lucky this year, for although there has been plenty of snow, the temperature has not been too bad, and there have been no freezes. Unfortunately, we learned this morning that a bit warmer than 10 degrees will freeze it, if a few days pass without the tub being used. We spent Saturday night in Samsonville, and so there were no Sunday showers in Castleton. Bob informed me of the situation this morning, as he left for work. "Will you unfreeze it today?" he asked, for he was probably already late.

I protested. Couldn't it wait until evening, and we could both work on it? "Did you bail the bathtub?" I woke up enough to ask. "No," he said. Ugh. So if I wanted to take a shower, I'd have to bail that water first, or defrost the drain. "I thought maybe the warm water would melt the ice in the trap," he offered on his way out.

I dragged myself down to the bathroom after he left, took the ceramic cube heater from the closet, set it up in the bathroom, and (though I knew it was futile) hoped that would do the trick. After two hours of the cube on full blast in the bathroom, sort of pointed at the tub drain area, the room was like an oven (because it is not all that cold outside today) but it did nothing to the tub ice jam, and the foot of water in there now was ice cold. Even though it was above freezing outside, it needs to be really warm to unfreeze the drain once it has frozen.

Unfreezing the drain involves putting the ceramic cube heater in the crawl space under the bathroom. There is a small door to the crawl space in the foundation, on the other side of the fenced area. I debated my options over coffee. If I waited until evening, it would be dark, and colder outside. So, I hunted, cursed, and finally found (actually with less difficulty than usual, as we have gotten fairly organized) and gathered all the needed elements, suited up, and went out there. Discovered that the gate is snowed shut and cursed some more. Considered going down the stairs near the garden and getting there from the other side - discovered a mountain of waist-deep snow all down the stairs. Cursed some more. Then I chopped the gate out with the snow shovel and got over to the crawl space door.

I opened the crawl space. It wasn't that bad - I mean there were a lot of awful looking dead spiders (and I even saw one live one), there were a few tiny mouse turds in the insulation, but not that much evidence of rodents etc. and it was dry, and not too dark, improved even more by a flashlight. The pipes themselves looked fine. I really couldn't get very far into the crawl space - there is too much snow to kneel in it for very long, laying down was out of the question, and I am not all that limber any more -- although I couldn't remember how far I used to go in, maybe not that far? Anyway, I set it all up, went inside, and fifteen minutes later the tub drained. When I was retrieving all the junk from outside, the phone rang. Why does that always happen? It was Bob, wondering if the warm water in the tub had melted the ice jam? Umm, no.

So I hosed off the dead bugs from my hair, and ran the hot water in the tub for a while, and we're back in business. And I learned that we will absolutely have to shovel the gate at least a little after future snowstorms, also remember to leave the fawcet dripping when we will be away overnight in the winter - even if it isn't that cold. Maybe the tub project should move up a few notches on the to do list?

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