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Michael Perry: That time of year when a dripping faucet helps you sleep at night

Michael Perry: That time of year when a dripping faucet helps you sleep at night

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Last week, in a rare demonstration of foresight and follow-through — having noted a little more light than usual leaking around and through the tattered insulation covering one of our cracked glass block basement windows and with 10 days of subzero incoming — I masked up and hit the home improvement store, purchased a single batt of unfaced fiberglass, returned home, and tucked it in and amongst the gaps.

Our basement is damp and dungeon-y in the warm months, dry and dungeon-y in the frozen months. Composed of cobwebs and crawl spaces, it has never been and never will be a “man-cave” basement. It is simply a “cave” basement.

The plumbing is a reflection of the house itself, which originated as a log cabin in the 1880s and was then appended and remodeled by folks who knew how to make things solid but neither level nor square.

Accordingly, water circulates through our house via a mix of old pipes, old copper tubing, new copper tubing (where the old copper tubing failed and the plumber replaced it), and contemporary flexible tubing. The plan has long been to build a new house, so we’ve never gone in for a total re-plumb.

For a number of reasons, the “new house” plan has been annually tabled for numerous consecutive annums, so when I see a long run of negative numbers in the forecast, I always get a little nervous about the pipes. Thirteen years we’ve lived here and we’ve not burst one yet, but time is not on our side.

How good it felt, then, to tuck that fresh insulation in and around the window frame and poke a little here and there in the cracks where the cool air was flowing in fast enough to ruffle my knuckle hair, then step back and look at the work well done. And how ironic then, when I went to fill the chicken water bucket in the laundry room the next day only to turn on the faucet and get … nothing.

Thirteen years without a freeze-up and then, within 24 hours of deploying a few ounces of prevention, up it froze. In all our years here we’ve had far deeper freezes and far longer freezes. I hustled downstairs dreading the sound of spraying water, but thankfully there was no burst, just ice cube blockage.

There followed some creative extension cord routing and space heater hang-and-aim rigging. I also plucked some of the fresh insulation from around the old pipes. What a relief then, an hour later, to hear water gushing from the faucet.

Apparently my insulation job rerouted some mini-jet stream that had been flowing harmlessly for years, somehow dropping the temperature where it had not been dropped before.

If the prognosticators have it right, we have another six nights of subzero to go. Before retiring each evening we set the laundry room and bathroom faucets at a drippy trickle to keep the water in motion, a trick with which anyone who has spent time in old drafty accommodations is well familiar. And the space heaters are in place should it come to that.

It is my fervent prayer that when next we convene, I will have communed with no plumber.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at


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