Frozen Water Pipes!

Water source
“Yeah, we have running water. It’s Kevin running back and forth to the stream with a bucket.”

It’s no doubt that it can be difficult to relate to the lifestyle we live here in our middle meadow. Composting toilets and graywater management systems are not often found in the typical homes that form the frame of reference for those wondering about our homestead here (not to mention the diminutive size of our house – 150 sq ft). One of the questions we’re often asked is whether or not we have running water, to which Marion has become fond of the “Kevin running back and forth to the stream” explanation.

A peat bog just up the hill from our house forms the headwaters of a stream that flows through our land. Four smaller tributaries connect with that main stem as it makes its way along the southeastern edge of our three meadows. Our water is drawn directly from the stream, a couple hundred feet from our door. (Those who followed my previous blog, Building Gypsy Rose, know that the house was fully equipped with indoor plumbing, but we’ve never found the need to use it. Instead, a five-gallon container sits on the countertop alongside the sink, providing all our indoor water needs. Much can be said about the benefits of its simplicity.)

During a recent cold snap, a friend mentioned that his water pipes had frozen – not uncommon here in Vermont. The consequences can be pretty severe. If a pipe bursts, the home’s interior can quickly flood, causing lots of damage.

Our “water pipes,” however, freeze on a regular basis during the winter months with little more than a footnote regarding how cold the temperature is outside our door. There’s no potential for damage to the home. It just means that the trip to the stream for another 5 gallons of water is complicated by the need to carry along a pickaxe.

Frozen water pipes
Our water hole is set up with two rock dams, about six feet apart. The first dam causes the water to fall about a foot down into a pool that is created by the second dam. The water dropping into the pool causes enough turbulence and bubbling to prevent the surface of the water hole from freezing during most cold winter nights. When the nighttime lows dip well below zero, though, a skim of ice will form and the pickaxe becomes necessary (or, depending on the thickness of the ice, a couple of hard stomps from a size 12 boot).

Clear, cool water
Clear, cool water.