Power is out! So, how long until my pipes burst?
January 3, 2014 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I have a small weekend cottage. I am currently 2 hours away from said cottage and the power there went out 3.5 hours ago. The temperature there is currently -2 F. Power company estimates return of power around midnight. Are my pipes going to freeze?

More details:
- I've been away a week and left the house temp set at 50 F.
- I did not drain the water nor turn off the pump when last I left.
- The cottage is approx. 1100 square feet and was built in 2009. It is very tightly insulated. The water pipes are PVC.

I could get there around 1am tonight and fire up the wood stove. It would heat the house easily within an hour or so. I do trust the power company; in previous outages, their estimates have been accurate, even conservative.

Help me, hive mind. Should I go?
posted by minervous to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a house in the Adirondacks about 4 hours from where I am, and I would go if only to turn off the pump and drain the pipes as best I could. Of course, this would be after I called the neighbor who lives there full time to ask him to do it.

Do your pipes run in a crawl space below the cabin or are they in a heated and insulated area?

Besides the inconvenience of an unplanned trip, is there any reason not to go?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:44 PM on January 3, 2014

If you trust the power company, then there's no point in going. We had an ice storm two weeks ago, some folks just got their power back on... so, their estimate is just that, an estimate that could be hours/days wrong. And, it's not going to get warmer between now and tomorrow.

If it were my place, I would go fire up the wood stove, drain the pipes and turn off the pump.
posted by HuronBob at 5:46 PM on January 3, 2014

Best case you go, turns out you didn't need to, and it's 4 hours there and back for your troubles. Worst case, you don't go and the pipes burst and you're not there to manage the fallout. I'd go myself.
posted by cecic at 5:48 PM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would go if, for no other reason, than to turn off the pump and drain the pipes because we, after all, are only two weeks into winter and it feels like a cold one. Pipes freezing is an inconvenience. Pipes freezing and busting and then defrosting and leaking water which is still pumping are the true danger and damage causation.
posted by uncaken at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would go. I investigate wet houses all the time from things like this. At the very least you have to go and drain the pipes. You should always do this if you're leaving for an extended period of time. I do this to my own house when i go away for more than a day in the winter.
posted by sanka at 6:07 PM on January 3, 2014

If it truly is well insulated and they actually do get it back up around midnight you, on balance, are probably ok. But it is borderline. and if I was in your shoes I'd go if the roads are at all ok.
posted by edgeways at 6:12 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The power was just out in my old place for an unknown period of time, probably a couple of days, with temps in the 20s. The pipes did not burst.

The house has a Michigan basement which, my dad theorized, probably kept enough heat from the earth at least in the basement to keep them from freezing.

I would go to your cabin though, because it's so much colder, I'm a worry wart, and draining the pipes there sounds like something you're going to have to do anyway. Also, if the power is out, you might want to check for snapped lines and downed branches while you're there.
posted by mibo at 6:36 PM on January 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your answers!

I just got notification that power has been restored. So, it was about 4 hours 15 minutes total without power. Our pipes run inside the house except for the basement, where they run along the ceiling, so I'm feeling pretty sure they didn't freeze.

Still heading up there tonight to be sure, though. And will be draining the pipes and shutting off the well pump for the remainder of my winter absences for sure. Lesson learned.
posted by minervous at 6:46 PM on January 3, 2014

Take some hot chocolate, fire up that woodstove, and enjoy the peaceful winter view!
posted by raisingsand at 7:12 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the winter, you should always turn the water supply to the house off when you leave it unattended for more than a couple days, because lots of simple problems can cause loss of heat. Like uncaken says, the real damage is the thawing after the freeze when the burst pipes become unplugged. If you turn the supply off, you might get a little water leaked, but it won't run for days and days until you happen to go check on the place. Ask me and my hardwood floors how I know this.
posted by fritley at 7:52 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, in addition to turning off the pump and draining the pipes, I turn off the breaker to the hot water heater. No sense heating water that won't be used. I turn it on as soon as I arrive for the weekend and within an hour, I have steaming hot water.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:41 PM on January 3, 2014

Pick up some drain-safe antifreeze for anything with a U-bend in it: sinks and toilets, mainly. It's propylene glycol antifreeze, and it may be marketed towards use in RVs and the like. Ethylene glycol is the toxic stuff used in cars.

If it'll be a while before you return, drain the water heater if you have one- you may need a length of hose for that purpose, as it'll have a spigot at its base that's for the purpose, and is threaded for a standard garden hose. If there's ice in there, the movement of the ice (as more or less water freezes could damage the heating elements.

If you have a fridge, give the contents a once-over: don't worry about the power failures due to cold, but think about items that could burst. If there's a water-line going into the fridge, drain it and disable, as needed, ice-maker, water dispenser, etc. Also check your cabinets for liquids that could freeze. Put them in a trashbag to contain bursts, leaks, etc. You'll probably take them out intact, but...
posted by Sunburnt at 11:06 PM on January 3, 2014

water damage is a bitch.

the problem isn't the pipes freezing, it's the pipes thawing. you could get both close together. the amount of water than will come into your structure and foundation from a busted pipe is large, and if you ignore it, it can cause a lot of unintended problems.

pays to winterize before a cold spell. maybe you should have? after all, it's winter and all.

go. cheap insurance.
posted by FauxScot at 4:08 AM on January 4, 2014

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