In the end, I chose ... neither option. Instead, I set up a portable propane furnace in the finishing room above the suspect pipe and closed the doors. I cranked the furnace up and soon had it about 90 degrees in that small, enclosed space. I hoped enough heat would seep through the floor to help thaw that pipe. If, indeed, that was the problem.
For Thursday, Thursday night and Friday, I carted water over to the house in a big jug and we practiced tight water conservation. When we washed dishes, we used two large bowls for wash water and rinse water, not the huge farm sink. And when the dishes were done, we dumped the bowls into a toilet tank to be used in the once or twice daily toilet flush. We keep plastic quart milk jugs of ice in our deep freeze. These are added as the food is used up to maintain thermal mass that helps keep the freezer frozen during power outages, and they can be thawed and used as drinking water in an emergency. We also fill emptied soda bottles with water and keep them in the fridge just for normal drinking water. So even while everything was frozen, we did have *some* water. And the coffee maker had been set up the night before, so that sweet elixir of life was still available even Thursday morning.
Friday night, as we were in bed reading before going to sleep, the master-bathroom toilet started making gurgling noises. I really did not expect the line to thaw until Saturday afternoon, when we were supposed to get a daily high temperature of 47. It had been up in the high 20s Friday and was around 19 at that time. Not exactly pipe thawing weather. But, despite the chill in the air, the gurgling continued. We hopped out of bed and began turning on taps. All of them started flowing with water – glorious water! The finishing room-sauna may have done the trick.
It is Saturday morning now. We flushed toilets a couple of times during the night ,and water is still flowing from taps this morning. The temperature outside is 22 degrees, normal winter weather for East Tennessee. The one remaining hurdle – which I will undertake once everyone is up and I can get dressed – will be to go out to the end of the shop and listen at the skirting to see if I can hear the sound of spraying water. If the pipe froze up hard, it will probably have split and repairs will be needed. If it just slushed up enough to stop the flow of water, then God has been merciful and we’ll be OK. I’ll find out soon enough. Either way, we were grateful through this experience that we did have electricity. The well pump functioned and water was available. Having no running water in our house taught us to appreciate that modern convenience more, and to contemplate what life was like a century ago, but this experience was not a severe hardship.
I often think about modern homesteaders who cobble together systems that allow them to exist independently of commercial utilities and supermarkets. We have been without water before. We have been through extended power outages. Each time, I look a little harder at these homesteading systems. Life can be uncertain, the more you can do for yourself, the better of you’ll be.