When I first started writing this post a few days ago, I was going to talk about how wonderfully forgiving and resilient our house is. How even when it gets really cold, our cottage is cozy, snug, and easy to heat. How our straw bale walls and R40 roof have spoiled me forever. How I will never go back to a less-insulated home.
I was going to write about what a gift it is that we work from home and can admire the flying snow (what little we've had this year) from the comfort of our cozy abode. How magical it is to live here, warmed by fire and lit by candles and lanterns (and regular lights, too). How stunning it is when the moonlight shines through our skylights and illuminates the dark night with a blue glow. Winter at its finest.
And while all of that is still mostly true, there's more to the story now.
After months of mild winter, the temperature suddenly dropped to negative 20 degrees fahrenheit. Even though the cistern shed was in the 60s, and our house was in the 60s, and there's a heated line inside the pipes, the one exposed foot between the house and the shed froze anyway. I guess our Heatline couldn't keep up with the cold. We wrapped the section with a towel, and not a minute later, it thawed and we had running water again. Phew!
Lesson learned: Though the Heatline has kept us with water all winter long, we'll need to insulate the tiny section of exposed pipe for when it gets really cold.
Relieved to be back in business after the brief pipe fiasco, Tyler triumphantly headed to the sink to wash the dishes... and water began spraying everywhere from under our counter where the water heater is! We ended up with a quarter of an inch puddle in the corner of the kitchen.
And thus we learned that the piping in our on-demand hot water heater had frozen and burst. Apparently, since our heater vents to the outdoors, cold air can enter the house from the exhaust port and freeze the pipes. Major design flaw.
Lesson learned: for ultra low temperatures, we need to turn off the hot water and drain the line. Or, perhaps we need to create some sort of barrier we can lower to block cold air from rushing in when we're not using the hot water.
Sometimes I marvel at how we managed to survive dwelling in a camper, building this place, and living in a complete and total disaster of a construction zone for as long as we did, while also working full-time and spending our pathetically small amounts of free time attempting (and failing) to truly capture our goings-on on this website. I honestly don't know how we didn't come completely unhinged under the weight of it all. (We did come unhinged, just not completely).
Even now that we've lived comfortably in our mostly-completed house for the past few months, and our to-do lists are tamed to crazy-but-vaguely-managable levels, and we've regained much of our sanity, I don't like to reflect back on what those "early years" were like. I'm haunted by their awfulness. You could not pay me to go back to that point in time, when we didn't know a thing, when we hadn't built what we have now.
We've worked our asses off to have such miraculous luxuries as hot running water, a table, a nice place to poop, a warming wood stove, a functional kitchen. We've beaten the learning curve. We've carved out a comfortable life. Each improvement gives us a better grasp on what used to be a very tenuous happiness. With such a foundation as we've built for ourselves, our homesteading lives will only get better and easier.
Whenever we're faced with a setback that threatens any of our hard-won victories, we're sucked emotionally back into that dark time before our house was built. It feels overwhelmingly horrible. It's almost unbearable to see the progress for which we fought tooth and nail disappear before our eyes. Giving up ground to entropy and failure might actually be worse than never having gained ground at all. Sometimes I wonder if we have actual PTSD from what we put ourselves through.
The water fiasco was one such setback that sent us into the darkest of moods. Tyler got on a rant about how everything in our house is horrible and how "two morons built it," while I was upset because with the number of mini floods we've had in this house while working out kinks in our water system, "we are systematically ruining the cabinets I built!"
Ah, well. We sighed. We swore. We mustered the wherewithal to tackle the problem. Tyler got the pipes welded, and we ordered another water heater as a backup. Next year we'll be ready.