A Felon, Plumbing, and Risk Management

Risk and management

In my pre-retirement life, I spent a number of years as a project manager.  One of the key functions of project management is risk management. Project manager or not, risk management is an uncomfortable activity that starts off with denial.  However, denial is not a viable risk management strategy. Project managers and regular people benefit from risk analysis and planning. Risk analysis means identifying risks and assessing how bad they can be. After analysis, you determine the strategy to use.

The risk management strategies include:

Avoidance – avoid the risk so that it does impact you. Example: not going to the park when thunderstorms are predicted.

Mitigation – minimize the potential for risk impact.  Example: using a licensed plumber to install a new water softener rather than DIY.

Transfer – hand off the risk to another entity who can absorb it. Example: homeowners insurance for fire, storms, and liability.

Acceptance – accept the risk and whatever damage it does.  Example: not insuring your old car for collision.

A cabin

I have a friend who owns a vacation cabin in northern Minnesota. Every year they winterize it and as part of that process they drain the water and put anti-freeze in the drain traps of the sinks, toilets, and tubs.  This way there is no water in the pipes or fixtures to freeze, expand, and cause plumbing leaks.

The felon

Several years ago, around the end of December, we had a local felon try to commit suicide by running his car into an electric pole at high speed.  He lived, only minor injuries, but we had our power and heat go out for several hours while the power technicians completed repairs. No heat in Minnesota means that eventually your house will be cold. Potentially cold enough to freeze water, and your pipes.

Fortunately, in this case, we ended up getting power back before it got too cold.

Risk assessment

The winter power outage shook me out of my denial and I analyzed my risk of water pipes freezing. The probability of risk happening was low. The impact of the risk happening would be high, as we would not have water and when it warmed up again, we could have leaks in the walls and damaged porcelain.

We had already transferred the risk with homeowners insurance. But, was that enough? No, because if we froze there was the potential that a lot of our neighbors would freeze also.  That would cause a huge demand for plumbers and fixtures as the heat came back on, so we could end up with leaks, broken fixtures, and a long wait for a fix, even if insurance would pay for the damage.

We decided that we needed the additional strategy of mitigation.  We could not avoid the risk as we have no control over the weather and no control over power outages.


If we mitigated the risk, we might be able to manage the problem with only a minor inconvenience. 

I looked at the plumbing and planned what we would drain if freezing was imminent.  Turn off the water at the meter, then open faucets and flush toilets from upper to lower floors. Drain the hot water heater. We have a floor drain in the basement.

After watching my friend winterize the cabin, I followed his plan and purchased 4 gallons of RV antifreeze to put in the drains (sinks, tubs, showers) and toilets (tank and bowl). He puts in about 2 cups per drain.

I would then turn off the water softener and switch off the water to it.  I would pack the city water connection in blankets to insulate it as long as possible.

Expected result

While I hope that no one would be damaged in a case like this, I would expect to be able to turn the water back on when the power is back with no issues.  At worst, I would have a relatively small repair at the city connection.

Because a lot of people would not have mitigated their plumbing, we would not be in competition for fixtures, pipes, or plumbers and so be back up and ‘running’ quickly after the event.

Good news

The RV antifreeze has been sitting on the garage shelf for a couple of years now, so we have not had to worry.  But we’re ready.

Share, please.

Please share your risk handling tips in the comments!

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