Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cold-Hard-Fact # 3

Anything that can freeze, will freeze...regardless of sunlight.

Could that be Murphy's Law of the Arctic?  

If it's not, I think it should be.

The sun has returned with amazing swiftness and magnitude.  In spite of quite a few blizzardy days, we have seen more blue sky in the last week or so than we've seen since fall.  There is every reason to believe that tomorrow's Vernal Equinox will arrive as a white, eye-squinting splash across the snow-covered tundra, though warmth probably won't be a part of the equation.

In spite of increasing sunlight, temperatures have remained in the negative twenties to forties for, well, weeks and weeks.  And that has presented some problems in the housing department.  It comes as no great surprise to anyone, I'm sure, that plumbing and prolonged cold just don't mix well.

Last night, unfortunately, the system froze up again.  Ugh!

This is the second winter that this particular section of pipe has frozen and last night, for the second time this winter, we were faced with it again.  Needless to say, this pipe is developing a rather nasty reputation.  After all, having your own sewer back up into your house is bad enough, but having other people's sewer overflow your toilet and gurgle up into your bathtub?

That kicks the disgust factor up a notch!  Don't you think?

Now, these pipes are not regular, run-of-the-mill sewer pipes.  They are a part of a specialized system that works on a vacuum controlled by a station centrally located in the village.  The pipes are completely encased in about six inches of heavy foam insulation and have electrical heat traces running through them to prevent ice from forming.  They're designed for the challenging conditions of this region and most of the time they work very well (insert Tim-the-Toolman's grunt of approval here).

(These are the components of the vacuum system that can be seen from outside our building.  The monitor indicates whether or not the heat trace is working properly, etc.)

It's something of a mystery that this particular section of pipe continues to freeze and it's a mystery that will not be solved until summer when the snow is gone, allowing maintenance workers to gain access beneath the building.   

Until then, we try to prevent ice from building up by using hot water and not sparingly so.  Hot water is used for washing all clothes and we are encouraged to wash often to keep a flow of warmth in the system.  I even use hot water when brushing my teeth which probably doesn't make much difference, but I'm not taking any chances!  

Thankfully, we have a great maintenance crew that knows how to handle this recurring problem.  Yes, the coffee creamer can is standard equipment 
(I asked).

They work in collaboration with maintenance guys from the city and use a nifty little machine that snakes down the pipes and shoots hot water into the plugged area, clearing the ice.  

Let me tell you, after breathing the aroma of sewer for a day or two... 

...maintenance guys are my heroes!


Floridacracker said...

Whew! I can imagine how bad that was, especially if you can't just open a window for fresh air!

Kimberlee said...

You're absolutely correct. I did actually open the window some, but everything was getting wet (melting snow, etc), so I had to keep that down to a minimum.

Lindsay lives across the hall from me and her experience was slightly different in that her bathtub filled up with water from another tenant's washing machine. The water was blue-ish and smelled like detergent. As you can see from the photo, I wasn't that lucky!


Hi, Kimberlee-

Your reference to the Vernal Equinox prompts this about the four Cross-Quarters:

Imbolc Cross Quarter
Cross Quarter Moving Graphic


Kimberlee said...

Thanks for the links. That graphic is great! Can't wait to explore the site a little more. Happy Spring!

Bonnieupnorth said... your husky photo! currently working in Gjoa Haven and indeed the days are getting longer but still remains consistently -30oC ocassionally with a wind chill, but find my 20 min walk in the morning to the clinic very mind clearing!

Ah frozen pipes and sewage backup problems...something southerners don't understand...hope all is settled now..we have the truck delivery system but understand well the tales!

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Bonnie!

I like the cold air, too. It smells great, even if it does sting. :)

The outer areas of the village are still on water delivery and those homes do have an advantage over those on the community sewer/water system. Being completely self-contained, the chances of anything freezing is much lower.

Thanks for mentioning that!

Steve said...

Wow. Anomalystic sewer events can't be fun. Thanks for the educating post. I think I'll go take a shower, now.