I thought folks would want to know that this was NOT a usual Ithaca winter. We definitely had some snow and low temperatures, but it dipped below zero only a couple of times. The really crazy thing, frustrating especially for the kids, was that we’d get snow, but then a few days later the temperature soared into the balmy range of high 30â€™s, 40â€™s, even 50â€™s F, and the snow would melt.
This didnâ€™t stop some of our households from facing frozen pipes back in February. The group email started early one morning when folks at #9 reported that their water trickled and then stopped. Then the same report from #7 and #11.
All houses that were on the same water system, with a well house that was barely completed just as the temperatures started to drop back in the fall. Hmmm…
If pipes were frozen that was going to be a boondoggle, and an expensive one at that. The pipes run about half a mile from the wells down closer to the main road, up the hill to the village circle. If some part of that pipe wasnâ€™t buried deeply enough so that it froze, how in the heck were we going to find it without digging up all the pipe.
Photo: White Hawk residents, Steve and Aelita, laying pipe in the trench for the water system, back in 2014.
Okay, breathe. No need to panic.
Three members, Greg, Steve and John, walked down to the pump house to see if it could be sleuthed out more easily.
Thankfully the problem ended up not being frozen buried pipe, but that the below zero temperature one night froze one of the pipes within the pumphouse itself, which has a small 220V heater and insulation, but not enough to deal with the extremely cold temperatures.
The problem was solved by Steve and Greg, who used a heat lamp and then a hair dryer, both plugged into a small power unit, to thaw the frozen pipes. John then purchased a small propane heater which was used for the second and third nights of near zero temperatures.
Photo: The new well, with some of the housing still ‘in progress’.
The propane heater only provides heat for six hours on the low setting, but John had the idea of facing the heating toward the masonry steps in the pump house, so they would heat up and then continue to radiate heat even after the heater ran out.
The heater, plus village households leaving their water on a trickle, did the trick and we didnâ€™t have any frozen pipes after that.
This was a great reminder for us all- although our homes are extremely well-insulated and efficient, the well pump house is not, and leaving water on a trickle isnâ€™t needed for the household pipes, but for further up the water system.
Whatâ€™s inspiring is the spirit of adventure and collaboration in solving the problem. No plumber or outside expert was called. We faced the challenge and thankfully could solve it ourselves.
Photo: Kids enjoying the better part of winter.
Often benefits of living in an ecovillage like White Hawk are the more attractive ones: picking apples off the trees, kids running free on the land, enjoying your neighbors.
What isnâ€™t often as visible, but can be a deeply satisfying part of this kind of life, is facing challenges and solving them, together. Thereâ€™s a spirit of shared knowledge and shared labor that is profoundly and sometimes surprisingly satisfying.
Big thanks to Steve, Greg and John for doing the work on this one!
In case youâ€™re wondering, a more permanent solution for that well house will be put in place before next winter, including better insulation, among other things.
With big gratitude,
– Mark Silver, whose familyâ€™s home, #13, is nearing completion, and canâ€™t wait to be living on site so he can join in these kinds of efforts.
Does this sound like the kind of place youâ€™d like to live? Weâ€™re only about one third full, with around 20 home sites are still available! We invite you to reach out to us and arrange a tour if youâ€™re nearby, or just a phone call (or walking Skype video tour ðŸ˜ƒ ) if youâ€™re out of the area. Click here to reach out.