December 2009


Trouble with the plumbing.

In case you didn’t know, last weekend Germany was cold—very cold.

Cold enough that the hot water tap in my kitchen froze Friday night and Saturday night the cold water tap in my kitchen froze.

I chalk it up to a combination of the -16C/3F temperatures and what is likely poor insulation in the walls where the water pipes run—in particular the part of the wall hiding the pipes from the head of my bathtub through to the kitchen. I never had problems with water in my bathtub or in my bathroom sink.

Needless to say, this was a concern and quite frankly one that I wasn’t really certain how to deal with. I remembered that in my childhood that we left the taps on all night to ensure that the water was running.

Put your end here.

Put your end here.

This was especially true for the tiny bathroom in my parents house—the one where if you had simultaneous diarrhea and vomiting urges, you could at least comfortably sit and not have any of the outwardly bound bodily fluids go anywhere difficult to clean-up. This particular room, in addition to being tiny, was located on the north-side of my parents house, located in Denver—a city not known for it’s winter warmth and since the room lacked any heating devices, until flat paneled wall heaters that could be hung were invented, it was especially prone to having pipes freeze.

That was the extent of my freezing pipes memories, and I’m pretty sure that the wall heater was bought relatively early in my childhood—and most of the memories are buried. Today when I visit my parents during cold months, I actually turn off the wall heater while using the facilities for fear of roasting while sitting in this room smaller than my wardrobe in Germany.

(On a side note, as I write this I am pondering all the toilets I’ve encountered in my life and I cannot think of one that’s been in a smaller room, with the possible exception of a dive-bar in Bloomington, the name of which escapes me at this moment, but it was the kind of toilet that if you walked forward into, you had to back out of; and vice-versa.)

So I was a bit worried over night—the hours I was sleeping, especially when I woke up early Sunday morning, around 3 am, and thought to try my kitchen’s cold water tap (remember the hot was already frozen), only to discover it had frozen during my intervening sleep.

Maybe what my pipes looked like...

Maybe what my pipes looked like...

I was not relaxed. I was a bit tense and worried—but given that temperatures were going to remain well below freezing, I figured nothing was going to happen to thaw the pipes at an inauspicious moment.

Thankfully I saw that the Cynical Queer was online Sunday evening and I chatted with him. Ever since he remodeled that house in Conservative Hell, I’ve come to appreciate that he is Mr. Fix-It, and that he might have some good advice.

Which he did.

He suggested I turn off the water since if the pipes had burst while frozen, I wouldn’t want my neighbors to experience a waterfall while I was sleeping through the event.

So I did.

Monday morning I woke up and gingerly listened—I couldn’t hear the sounds of any water in the walls—and, happily, I now had water in my kitchen. I can’t begin to describe my relief at realizing everything was ok. I immediately filled the tub, took a bath, and felt pretty good.

After getting out of the tub, I got partially dressed: t-shirt and underwear, and I started filling the dishwasher because I had dirty dishes that had accumulated during my frozen period. It was in the middle of this that my interior doorbell rung and, without really thinking to pull on a pair of blue jeans or sweatpants, I trotted down the stairs to answer the door, only to find it was my downstairs neighbor talking rapid fire German.

I caught some key words: “Küche”, “Decke”, “Nässe”, and, I think, “vor drei Jarhen”—before I was able to slow her down and convey the fact that machine-gun German was not going to get her anywhere. She slowed down and showed me the problem: in her kitchen, the ceiling had a wet spot. (And, I think, this was the third year the problem existed.)

After looking at the spot, and thinking about where it was relative to my bathroom, I came to the quick conclusion that the spot wasn’t under my frozen pipes, which relieved me.

But that wasn’t sufficient.

She told me she’d call the landlord, then she told me the landlord wanted me to call, and then eventually I had an appointment with “der Klempner” who was going to come in that rather specific time period of “late afternoon”.


So I worked at home, and turned off the water as I was instructed to do by der Klempner—although I cheated a tiny bit: I let the dishwasher finish running (by this point only 10 minutes more) and I turned on the water to get water for making tea and for flushing my toilet.

Happily the plumber showed up bang-on “late afternoon”—or 3 o’clock, and after turning my water back on he examined the dials carefully—something I hadn’t though to do. There was no movement in the dials of the meter and he decided that there wasn’t a problem—but I asked him to speak with the downstairs neighbor, who took him into her apartment and then spoke at him in rapid fire German for about three minutes. I’m not exactly certain what was said, but I’m under the impression that she said this was the third winter her ceiling got wet. I would also say that the wet spot on her ceiling was significantly smaller at 3pm than it was at 8am.

The plumber then came up, asked some questions and asked if he could come back today and look behind the kitchen (and that I would have to empty out my pantry).

I couldn’t really object.

However I suspect that the problem is that the hot water pipe in my building is not insulated as much as it could be and that in cold weather water condenses onto the pipe and then travels down the pipe and makes her ceiling wet. My casual evidence supporting this: when I turn it on, the hot water in my apartment sometimes takes a minute or two to get hot.

Looking behind my kitchen accomplished nothing but forcing me to clean the pantry out—something I probably needed to do anyway.

6 comments to Trouble with the plumbing.

  • I’m glad to hear that your plumbing issues may be less problematic than first appeared. It’s also good that your pantry is now free of cobwebs.

  • disenchanted

    When I was first married, The Coach and I lived in a housetrailer that wasn’t what one would call well-insulated. The first winter after we bought it, the pipes under the place froze up. Fortunately, we lived in a small town — the kind where everyone knows everyone else. We called the former owners to ask for advice and Leo (I think that was his name) came out with a fancy heater and got everything working again. I don’t really remember if we actually did anything to insulate after that — I think my father-in-law might have wrapped the pipes for us …

    We were worried last year when we were sans power for a week during our ice storm. We left the kitchen faucet dripping and took hot showers (yay, gas water heater) to keep the upstairs pipes from freezing. \

  • Prashanth

    so, is it done finally?

  • Ahh, the joys of plumbing. I hope der Klempner’s second visit will prove all is well….at least, for your apartment.

  • Cynical Queer – Strangely dust doesn’t seem to collect in the pantry, unlike under the dining room table, which I think I could vacuum 24/7 and still find more dust.

    disenchanted – My flat really isn’t well insulated, as I’ve come to realize. A lot of that might be the fact that I’m in the attic.

    Prashanth – all is “fixed”, in away. I’m annoyed with the whole sch-bang though.

    starman1695 – he was in my apartment for about 5 minutes, only 1 or 2 of those minutes was spent looking through the hole in the pantry wall behind the kitchen. He never really crawled into the space to see what was going on.

  • […] you all do (if you’ve made it this far into this thing), I had trouble back in December when my downstairs neighbor reported a wet ceiling. The plumber came, decided there wasn’t a problem (with zero evidence of a water leak from inside […]