Much of the United States shivered through a “Deep Freeze” this week. Temperatures in Richmond, Virginia were in the single digits on Tuesday, and I experienced my first frozen water pipe. Thank goodness I had this . . .

Water meter key/curb key

I got mine from a plumber a few years ago, but Lowe's offers similar tools online:

Offered by Lowe's.

I came home yesterday afternoon ready to edit an interview I had conducted for James River Writers. I put my tea kettle on the stove, turned on my laptop and heard a terrible cracking noise coming from somewhere in the house. I had no idea what it was, so I hurried outside, thinking something was about to explode. A few minutes later, I went back inside and heard the sound of running water. But I couldn’t find a leak. Not in the kitchen. Not in the bathrooms. I went back outside and saw water running down the exterior wall of my house next to the basement door. More water was dripping through an electrical plate on the basement ceiling. I ran to get my meter key and headed to the front lawn to turn off the water main. But I couldn’t find it.

With a rake in one hand and my cell phone in the other, I frantically poked my lawn trying to find the main, but it was hidden under lush green grass. I called my plumber who pulled up a satellite image of my house. He told me where the main should be; I had seen it in the past. How could it disappear? Visions of my house flooding and falling apart filled my head. I told the plumber I would call him back as soon as I found the main. I needed two hands. He said he would send one of his men to help me. I continued to rake and tap the lawn with a shovel when I saw a City of Richmond van drive by. I ran down the street waving my arms, wearing my LL Bean Maine Hunting Boots.

Surely a city employee could help me find the main. The driver stopped and came to my aid. “You don’t usually see such green grass in the winter,” he said, as we looked at the ground together. My irrigation system and lawn care company obviously had done their jobs well. After a few minutes, the very kind City of Richmond employee and I found the main. He used my key to shut off the water.

The plumber arrived later and replaced the pipe.

I now have a hole in my basement ceiling, but the house did not flood or float away.  I have experienced a fallen tree on my house during a hurricane, a broken sewage line backing up in a basement bathroom, and now a broken, frozen pipe. Home ownership can be expensive, frustrating and a lot of work, but I saw a man on a street corner the other day holding a sign. The weather was rainy and very cold. The man had some sort of plastic bags wrapped around his feet. The bags made me want to cry. At least I have a house – a home that is warm – and a good pair of boots. Sometimes our problems really aren’t so bad; they are merely inconveniences compared to the struggles other people have.  

[Note: My pipe froze because it was located near an exterior basement wall that lacked sufficient insulation. Cold temperatures and cold wind combined to cause the damage. Today's New York Times article, "If Winter Takes Aim at the Pipes" by Bob Tedeschi (January 9, 2014, is informative and offers many of the same suggestions my plumber gave to me, including a warning not to leave a hose attached to an outdoor spigot/hose bibb.]


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