Friday 10 February 2012

And the freeze goes on

Charnizay dans 'Le grand Froid'
Looked at the calendar today and saw that we've been having these sub-zero temperatures since 31st January. Every day it has been -2C or lower and several times now our night-time temperatures have fallen below -10C. We've been on orange alert for extreme cold since Wednesday, and 'Le Grand Froid' continues to be headline news on the 8pm bulletin.

Having lived through winters in Toronto and Oslo where the sidewalks disappear in November and only re-emerge in April, this cold spell is no big deal. Except that nothing here is geared to that type of weather. Houses often have thin walls, no central heating and tiled floors. Not a problem for the odd cold snap of a day or so; but definitely not good right now.

view down the Aigronne valley
We are lucky. Our house is an old stone built farmhouse, so the walls are thick, which helps in this very cold spell. Some of our windows are, however, single glazed which is less cozy; and the odd eddy of freezing air curls round an ankle or neck. Still, a hermetically sealed house is not healthy either. We have shutters, the newer windows and the double door in the kitchen are double glazed. In addition, our roof is well insulated.

So, thankfully, we are comfortable and the heating does its job well. The wood burning stove in the living room belts out the heat and, as it is so cold, the central heating is on in a number of rooms as well.

our chemin looking towards the direction of the village
However, several days ago we suddenly found we had no water in the downstairs shower-room which also houses the washing machine. The bathroom upstairs and kitchen remained unaffected so it was a case of 'hunt the frozen bit of pipe'.

We have two sources of hot water:- a combi boiler in the kitchen which provides the CH, hot water in the kitchen and the guest bathroom upstairs. However, as this is a longere [literally 'long house'] we have an immersion heater in the barn which supplies our en-suite and the shower-room downstairs; a 50/50 arrangement so to speak.

So off into the barn we went armed with flashlight, hairdryer, small fan heater and bubble wrap. 90% of the pipes are safely tucked up in black foam lagging but here and there there are some gaps. The problem was we had no idea which bits might have frozen--we are not DIY people, a fact we readily acknowledge. Deciding to operate on simple logic we tackled one bit of exposed pipe at a time and then carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap, which makes excellent insulating material.

busy cat 'superhighway'
All this took a while, with trips back and forth to see if our efforts were having any effect on the shower-room. Finally we had a result, a tiny trickle out of the tap. Another hour later the water was flowing freely again. Just to be thorough we also treated the other exposed bits.

It looks like we have been very fortunate. We don't seem to have a leak and no pipes have re-frozen.


Diane said...

Glad you have managed to sort out the frozen bit of pipe you do not need burst pipes!! We are also single glazed with the odd windy bit that finds it was through:( It is certainly warmer once the shutters are closed but we cannot leave them shut all day! We have a fantastic wood burner in the lounge while kitchen, bathroom, and spare room are oil heated. The main bedroom is electric. I have never worked out which is the cheapest! Keep warm and take care. Diane

The Broad said...

Well done on finding a way to solve the problem -- burst pipes are a real big pain! As a New England girl I have lived through many a cold winter and as you say western Europeans generally have a very mild time of it! I'm one for getting out the woolly scarves and hats and warm gloves, fur lined boots etc. etc. and don't mess around or care much how it looks! Our French house like yours has very thick stone walls and also very low ceilings -- so it is very easy to heat and gets warm very quickly. We have two electric heaters in the living room and they are sometimes used along with the fireplace, which is very efficient. The small bedrooms heat up very quickly and stay warm. In the 14 years we have owned the house we have only been for two weeks one February when there was a cold spell -- the house was like a tomb when we arrived, but within an hour or two was surprisingly warm and cozy. Which is what I hope you are right now!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - we've never bothered with the shutters until this cold spell. Now they get shut every night--very French :-)
As France has the cheapest electricity in Europe [so I've been told] I suspect it's the next cheapest after the woodburner.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - exactly! we just pile on the layers and I am greateful for our LLBean cold weather gear.

wcs said...

Whew! That sounds like a narrow escape. Glad you hunted it down. Stay warm!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Walt - fingers crossed! You too!

GaynorB said...

Glad you found the frozen bit of pipe without too much trouble.

We've just had an email from Martin and Denise who 'look after' our house. They report that the toilets have frozen even though we put an old tennis ball in each one. They will go back, once the thaw starts, to check out any other effects of the big freeze... :o(

Perpetua said...

Oh, it does look cold in the photos! We've never stayed in our French house in very cold weather, but it's pretty chilly here in Mid-Wales at the moment. We certainly know all about defrosting pipes with the hairdryer and wrapping them in bubble-wrap! Hope there are no leaks when the thaw comes.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you just sick of this damn snow now? I certainly am!

Keep warm, SP

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - so do we!! As all water is now back on in the shower-room and we can't find any leaks we're hoping we've been very lucky....

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Sp - don't mind the snow, in fact I quite like it: it's dry cold, mostly sunny and makes everything far lighter.
It's just we aren't geared up for this weather in the Loire and that's what can make it a pain.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - finges crossed that your toilets defrost without any leakages! The thaw is supposed to start Monday/Tuesday.

the fly in the web said...

Mr. Fly, used to Belgian winters, had lagged everything so we never froze up in our time in France...but a month of sub zero temperatures finally penetrated even the one metre thick stone walls!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - think you'd need Scandinavian build quality to withstand 1 month of sub-zero properly.
Happily after a night of -13C or there abouts all loos & taps are flowing. Vive le bubble wrap :-)

Tim said...

We've just turned off the water supply into the longere [nothing flowing in the hot side = pipe out frozen... probably also the ones INSIDE the walls...... urk!
Will be turned on slowly once thawed, au naturel, and flow meter checked as we do so. Will charge up the batteries for the walkie-talkies before we attempt this.

WV is too approp "disect"... I just hope there isn't any to do... we have NO idea how the pipes run inside the walls... :-(

Niall & Antoinette said...

Oh not nice! Hope you do not find leaks springing up.

This is what we were/are worried about. NO idea how the pipes run except for those in the barn supplying the new immersion heater.
We don't have walkie-talkies so there's been a fair bit of shouting to and fro :-)