The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership

A frozen drain pipe flooded our basement and led to an emergency DIY repair as the sun set on a sub-zero winter’s day. Oh, the boundless joy of being a New England homeowner in winter!

They don’t teach what it means to be a homeowner in school. Perhaps they should.

I went down to the basement yesterday morning and turned right at the foot of the stairs to go to the storage room. I had a small box in my hand that needed to be placed inside a bigger box that was stored there. Since I was just down there to put a small box in a big box, I didn’t turn on the lights. There was enough light coming from a small bulb near the oil tank for me to see, and I was familiar with the way. I placed the box where it belonged and mentally patted myself on the back. I normally don’t put things back like that – a fact that has infuriated Handan to no end over the years. But yesterday, I did. I’ve been trying to be a better, more organized person lately. It not only helps me when I forget things (an unwelcome side-effect of middle age), but it makes my wife happy. And when Handan is happy, the universe shines.

As I left the storage room and started back for the stairs, I noticed the glint of a footprint on the floor, reflecting back light from the small bulb over the oil tank. Not dirt, then; dirt doesn’t reflect. Water. But I hadn’t been outside in the snow, so I couldn’t have tracked it down there. That meant one thing: flood. But it hadn’t rained – in fact, it was 0 degrees outside. No water could have come in from the outside. I looked down at the floor.

Water everywhere.

What the hell?





I ran and flicked on the lights so I could survey the damage and pinpoint the cause.

There! By the furnace.

Water poured from the humidifier attachment and from the condensation pump. It didn’t take long to figure out why. The temperatures had been hovering near zero for the last few days, so the discharge line that runs under the deck must have frozen. The old line came out of the house and ran almost straight down into the ground. It never froze, despite stretches of sub-zero temps. But when we had our deck rebuilt this summer, we asked our contractor, Rich, not only to extend that line all the way under the deck, but also the discharge line from our water softener. Each day, the softener cycles and discharges several gallons of water. Our old discharge pipe had broken, and the water used to flood out each day. In the winter, it caused our patio bricks to heave up, and in the summer it kept things wet. So when Rich built the deck, we asked him to extend those pipes to drain farther away from the house and the patio.

Staring down at the pond in my basement and the overflowing discharge pump, I began to see the error of my ways. I ran and grabbed a stepladder so I could turn off the water valve feeding the humidifier. With the bleeding staunched, I found my wet/dry vac, pulled off the air filter and started sucking up the floodwaters.

This was bad. The house was dry even with that stupid humidifier. I couldn’t imagine how bad it would get without it.

Actually, I could.

Before we closed on this house, I did a walkthrough with a home inspector. I remember when we were looking at the furnace, he pointed out the humidifier attachment and told me what a bad idea they were, because they can leave moisture in the ducts. The moisture promotes the rampant growth of mold spores, which are then blown to the four corners of the house, infecting all who breathe the air and leading to all manner of maladies including (but not limited to) Zombification, Vampirism, Crusty Butt Syndrome, and The Black Snot.

I was young and naive in matters of the home, so I nodded my head, narrowed my eyes and said, “Mmmmmm,” in a knowing and conspiratorial manner.

That winter, I wisely left the humidifier out of the HVAC loop. I wouldn’t see my family turned to black-snot-encrusted zombies!

That winter, the relative humidity in our house fell to 11% as measured by the hygrometer I keep next to the kitchen sink.


For reference, the Sahara Desert has an average relative humidity of 25%.

Our hardwood floorboards shrank, and great gaps appeared, revealing the ugly sub-floor below. Our noses dried out and [censored – you don’t want to know]. Nosebleeds became commonplace. I think I once saw a tribe of Bedouin walking their camels through our living room searching for watering holes, but my eyes were dried and crusty, so I can’t be sure.

Yep, it sure was dry that winter. Anyway, I learned my lesson. Figuring the home inspector must be a shill for Pond’s or Cetaphil or Oil of Olay, I turned on the humidifier the next year, and we all breathed easier.

So as I hoovered up the mini Great Lake on my basement floor, I considered my options.

  1. Admit defeat and call a professional.
  2. Admit nothing. Tell no one.
  3. Admit defeat, disable the humidifier and buy a stand-alone whole-house humidifier.
  4. Acknowledge the setback and tackle the problem by thawing the frozen line under the deck and insulating it.

I discarded option 1 immediately. The thought of paying someone to come out to diagnose and fix a problem I already understood on a Holiday weekend was abhorrent to me. I wouldn’t stand for it. Option 2. Hehehehe…they’ll never know! Except they would, eventually. And then Handan would kill me.  Option 3 was appealing, and I decided to run with it until Handan shot me down for not thinking it through. Those whole-house humidifiers are big, ugly and noisy. Option 4 became the front-runner, and I intended to do the job myself. Only I was going to do it the next day with Barish’s help.

Handan was having none of it. She said that I couldn’t fit under the deck. She said it had to be her that did the job.

And she said she was going to do it right then, with the sun about to set.

It was 0 degrees out and the wind was gusting.

Trying to talk her out of it would have been futile.

We put on our warmest layers, and I gathered supplies: pipe insulation, scissors, tape, hair dryer, rope and an extension cord.

The plan was for her to worm her way under the deck, carrying only the extension cord and one end of a large loop of rope. Once she reached the house, I’d tied the rest of the gear onto the rope, and we would use the loop like a pulley system. Easy in, easy out. Right?

We headed outside as the sun nestled into the horizon – the perfect hour to start an outdoor project in the dead of winter in a cramped and inaccessible place!

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Handan needed to be here:

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

What I mean is that she needed to be under there.

Here’s another shot of where she needed to be under.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

If you look at it from this angle, there doesn’t seem to be a way under.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Oh wait – I remember! We put a little door on the side of the deck. Way. Down. There.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

It was a beautiful evening, despite the bone-shattering cold.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

I set up a powerful flashlight by the opening, 35 feet away from the house. It would be Handan’s only source of light.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

She entered the hole, and belly-crawled along the frozen stones.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Once she reached the house, I sent her the tools, and she began thawing the pipe with the hair dryer.

There she is. Can you see her?

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

How about how? I think she’s smiling!

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Apparently the hair dryer warmed up the space for her, so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.

I wish the same could be said for me! I stood out in the wind and waited and talked to her and made sure she was okay. Meanwhile, I lost feeling in my toes. Poor me.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Just as Handan was finishing up her work, the flashlight died. With these batteries, there is no period of slowly waning light. It goes full bore, and then it just quits.

Handan was in the dark.

While I panicked for her, she called back, “It’s okay my babes! I’m coming!”

What a woman.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

She kinda looked like something out of a horror movie as she crawled out of the dark hole.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

But then it was all smiles again.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

My feet were lifeless ice cubes, and my face stung, but hey, we had time for a selfie!

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

Inside, I set about reclaiming my toes.

The Boundless Joy of Winter Homeownership |

When feeling had returned, I went downstairs to plug in the condensation pump…

…and it worked!

It drained like a champ!

Until this morning.

Handan and I went down mid-morning to do some cleaning. I had been down there at 5am to jump-start the furnace (that’s a whole different joyous winter homeownership story), and everything was fine. Between then and 9:30, the pipe froze again, and the basement was even more flooded than last time.

Oh joy.

Time to suck some more water.

This time, I have a new plan. I’m tired of running waste pipes to drain into my yard. I want all of my waste water to drain into my septic system…under my yard. When this holiday is over, I’ll be calling a plumber to run both the condensation overflow line and the water softener drain line into our waste pipe. Problem solved for good!

Now, about that furnace…

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  1. You two are amazeing , no matter what you just keep going and fix the problem .,you better get them pipes sorted before next Winter.Thanks for entertaining us mere mortals with your blog .Have a Happy New Year.

  2. omg i cannot even imagine going outside let alone climbing under the deck in zero degree weather, i freeze in the house with the heat on 70 lol you are fearless handan, i used to be years ago, and greg you need to slim down your chunky monkey body so you can be the man and do this kinda stuff lmao , y’all be safe with this nasty cold we have right now even here in tn. it is colder than a clam diggers arse at high tide xx

  3. Reminds me of my water in the basement nightmare! I was naked, yep, naked. I turned on the shower with the water coming out of the tub spout, so that I could feel the just right temperature to shower in, and no hot water. So I put on my robe, headed down 2 flights of stairs, thinking to myself, “now I have to hit the reset button and wait till the water heats up.” Ah ha ha ha ha! As I neared the last couple of steps to the basement, I let out a scream that I’m sure they heard a mile away. My basement had flooded to the tune of about 8 inches of water covering the entire basement and… I could hear water running! Back upstairs to find water proof winter boots, and tie up my floor length robe so it wouldn’t get wet, and headed over to the water tank. That’s when I saw a HUGE humongous hole on the side of the tank… it had rusted out, and the water line just kept pumping water into the tank and out onto the floor. Thank heavens for the water shut off valve, which I reached up to turn off, which then made my rolled up robe fall down to my ankles, and for which it proceeded to wick up water, and make me shiver till my… well you know.. till they got cold! Since I have oil hot water and a oil furnace, I called the oil company up and heard what I did not want to hear… with labor and a new tank… almost $800!! For a stinking shower! I was so mad that I could have heated the dang water up in the tub, if I’d had the notion too climb into very cold cold water! I had to wait a day for the oil company folks to come out, so that gave me time to open up the floor drains and use my wet vac. My biggest fear is that it’s going to happen again! I won’t give up my oil hot water, no way! I can shower for more than an hour and never run out of hot water, that is unless it’s pouring all over the basement floor! Oh gosh darn it… now I’m thinking about that nightmare all over again… especially since that nightmare happened in 1990… 27 years ago… and the oil company folks said that new tank would last at least 30 years. Ohhhhh crap!

    1. Wow, that story has mine beat, Mary! Thank you so much for sharing – it certainly made me feel better about our situation, lol! Happy New Year!

  4. You are an amazing couple, and your adventures are always entertaining, and informative! We are sitting here right now waiting for the furnace repairman, with water spraying everywhere. Wish we could handle the situation like you two did! Happy New Year

    1. Oh no, Geri, I hope he gets there soon! It always happens at the worst time on the coldest day! Good luck to you, and a very Happy New Year!

  5. let the damn pipes freeze. you’ve got your love”s” to keep you warm. the photo of your mutual smiles and embrace was the sweetest……may 2018 find you with your water pipes wrapped in insulation.

  6. Thank you for “entertainment” before the New Year! Just hope you & Handan have better projects to work on in 2018 🙂 Water in the basement is a mess, but even worst is water from outside with dirt – it continues to show-up for years!! ~~ Humidifier water can go in the septic, but water conditioner residue is not good for the septic. Check it out – you will need a separate drywell. ~~ Happiest of New Years! Jeannette (friend of Mom)

    1. Hi Jeanette, thank you for the tip about the water softener – I had no idea it would be bad for my septic system. I will at least get the humidifier line rerouted though. Happy New Year!

  7. wow – you guys are brave!! Reminds me of a house show I saw, of a house in Phoenix that had a water feature in the front hall – the home owner said, “I love waking up and hearing water running down the hall.” My reaction: I live in a 200-year old house, I have nightmares about waking up to the sound of water running down the hall!!!

  8. SO next time, call you bud down the street. I have a real good space heater small enough to blow hot air on that pipe. We could have left it plugged in for a couple of days. I think I’m small enough to fit under there (gulp), but Handan never ceases to amaze us.