Nobody Told Us: Frozen Waste Pipes


We are accustomed to cold winters. We lived for almost 28 years in the higher elevations of Arizona. Temperatures could dip into the single digits in the winter and we would get snow. But we never had a waste pipe freeze. We never had to do anything special to keep them from freezing. Didn’t even know that was a thing.

Here in Wyoming, it’s different. And no one told us.

Most of our waste pipes are well within the house. But the one that serves the kitchen sink and the clothes washer runs along an outside wall. And unfortunately, that wall is on the north side of the house.

So one morning while attempting to do the breakfast dishes, I got a nasty surprise. And I mean nasty.

The water that backed up into both sinks was smelly and full of black tarry looking stuff.

We are careful about what goes down the drain. We keep strainers in both sides of the kitchen sink and food bits get emptied into the trash can. Very little goes into the garbage disposal. We developed this habit in our previous house because we had a septic tank.

We also use paper towels to wipe out anything oily. And when I wash anything even a little bit oily, I am careful to run some very hot water afterward.

We’ve only been in this house for about two years and I’m going to guess that the previous occupants were not nearly as careful as we are. Hence the black, slimy, smelly, sludgy stuff.

Oh, did I mention it was the day before Christmas Eve?

Bernd tried snaking the drain first. At that point, we didn’t know it was frozen. We thought maybe it was just clogged. The snake would only go about three feet and then Bernd said it was like it hit a wall. That was when we started thinking about ice. Several times we put some very hot, just off the boil, water down the drain, but it didn’t help.

We’d been having some insane overnight temperatures of like -32. And we have insulators on our outside hose bibs. But we never thought about our interior pipes.

When we couldn’t unblock it, we called our plumber, Service Plumbing and Heating. Our plumber said they don’t do anything more than what we did and suggested we call Schooner Sanitation. Service Plumbing said that drains are all that Schooner does. So we called them.

Schooner called us back that day and we got an appointment for 9:00 a.m. Christmas Eve day. We were amazed he was willing to work. We thought for sure we’d be washing dishes in the bathroom sink until sometime about the middle of the next week.

He didn’t make it until 10:00. We’d had a lot of snow and his van is rear well drive and he didn’t have chains. But we didn’t care when he got to us. We were just glad he was coming at all.

He did try snaking it first. His snake was way more powerful than our little hand-cranked thing. But he hit the same wall.

So he hooked up some tubing to the hot water under the sink and fed the hose as far as it would go and started running hot water directly on the ice. It took a while and quite a few buckets full of water to be emptied into the toilet, but finally, he broke through the ice.

So, we wondered, what do you do to keep that from happening?

One, we have to keep the doors to the laundry closet downstairs open all the time so the heated air can circulate and warm the wall behind the washer and dryer. Two, we have to keep the cabinet doors under the kitchen sink open overnight. Three, we have to let the cold water tap trickle water all night. Running water won’t freeze. Or so we are told. Also, first thing in the morning when we get up, we run very hot water down the kitchen drain for a minute or so. And four, we have a space heater on a thermostat in the laundry closet just in case it gets a little too cold down there.

I looked into other recommendations. Some folks say to be mindful of the temperature of your garage. We already do that. The downstairs baseboard heating zone extends into the garage. But we also have an oil-filled radiant heater out there just in case. We’ve done that the last couple of winters because we store canned food and other food items (like apples and onions and potatoes) in the garage and don’t want that stuff to freeze.

And we are careful not to leave the big garage doors open for too long. And we don’t open a big garage door at the same time as the people door so that cold air doesn’t wash through the garage.  I don’t know that we could do anything more.

It hasn’t frozen again. Yet. And I’m grateful for that. But couldn’t someone have warned us?

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Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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