Shit Happens… to Mr. Money Mustache’s House

blowhole_beach“Honey! Wake Up!”


“I heard my phone ringing a bunch so I got up and checked my voicemail. Luke says the pipes burst in our house and it flooded.. you probably have to go back.”

These are the words with which Mrs. Money Mustache awakened me from my otherwise-beautiful Hawaiian sleep this morning. She had actually said “call him back”, but through my earplugs I heard “go back”, which I interpreted as, “you’ll have to get the next flight back to the mainland to go deal with our destroyed house”.

This accelerated my heart rate a little, and I went into a calm crisis planning mode as my mind started to race.  I knew that Colorado had just come out of one of the coldest winter blasts in history, with evening lows below -20F. I learned that the furnace in our house had happened to fail right during the intersection of our long vacation and the cold weather, and thus the interior temperature had dropped below freezing in places, damaging some plumbing.

Given this turn of events, was I still happy that I have a $10,000 deductible on the house insurance? Yes, no big deal there, although obviously a $500 deductible would be preferable in such a situation. Was I upset that an undetermined amount of my last 5 years of projects might be destroyed? No thoughts on that yet but I had a feeling I would be pretty bummed. I dialed my friend’s number and got through on the second try.

The seriousness of the situation was immediately taken down a notch when I heard my friend’s calm voice on the line. This guy never worries about anything, and thus it is hard to worry when you are talking to him.

I learned that no, the house had not actually flooded.. only one room had flooded, and only partially. Two of the faucets in the master bathroom had popped their cartridges and started spraying – one into the bathtub, which was harmless, and one into a sink, where it had been overflowing onto the bathroom floor (tile) and out into the master bedroom (carpet). He had found the main water valve and shut it off, so the flow had stopped. He had even vacuumed up the water from the bathroom floor, and his fine wife had spent an hour or more vacuuming water out of the carpet, extracting several gallons – all before even reaching us on the phone.

Fortunately, that bedroom happens to sit over top of the garage, so the water had been soaking through the carpet and the plywood floor beneath, and draining through the drywall of the garage ceiling, then squeezing under the garage door and safely outside. Not my first choice of things to happen during a vacation, but also far from the 32-foot-deep-fishtank-with-floating-couches image that I had awakened to a few minutes earlier. It occured to me that we were infinitely grateful to to have these particular friends on our side, as we have been for years.

But the crisis was still far from resolved. The reason all this had happened is that the furnace had died, and it was still dead. The house interior was at 30 degrees F right now, and only the most sensitive things in the coldest room had been damaged so far. That meant the temperature could continue to drop, and more serious things like the copper pipes inside the walls could soon start cracking. Luke and I talked through some options over the phone, and he decided to try replacing the igniter/flame sensor unit in the furnace while I put in a call to my usual furnace contractor*.

A few hours passed. I spent them cutting out a section of a brick wall and framing an exterior doorway into our vacation suite – the last of the difficult tasks on my work plan. It was a beautiful day in Hawaii and I performed my work in flip-flops and shorts as usual. I was reminded that no matter what happens, life in general will remain wonderful. My worry subsided.

My friend called back. His replacement part did not fix the problem. Shit. The furnace guy called back. He might be able to make it this afternoon, or if not, tomorrow morning. Good.

We activated a contingency plan, where a 1500 watt space heater was placed in the kitchen, so its heat could dissipate throughout the house’s relatively open 2-level floorplan. Calculations indicated that would be enough to keep the house well above freezing (1500 watts is 5118 BTU/hr, so running it constantly is roughly equal to running the 100,000 BTU furnace for about 74 minutes per day. Plenty of heat to maintain 50F or more in my place, or much more if the sun shines).

I went back to work, hanging the door and the trim around it. I added the nice Schlage programmable deadbolt (which I do in all houses – especially rentals) allowing all future guests to have keyless access to the suite. It’s the same simple technology that allowed my friend and my furnace guy to get into my own house without having to share keys – I just gave them the “guest” front door code over the phone.

The furnace guy called back. He had fixed the furnace! It wasn’t the igniter or the flame sensor. It was a little rubber hose that measures the vacuum created by the fume exhaust fan. It had become clogged, so all he had to do was clear it out. My furnace was running, the house was warming up, the remaining water was evaporating rapidly in the ultra-dry Colorado winter air, and the whole episode was on the road to being forgotten. To top it all off, he said his whole bill would only be the minimum service charge – $80.

I am incredibly thankful that this bit of bad luck didn’t turn out all that badly. I can fix or replace my dead faucets once we get home, and repair any drywall or other damage that cropped up at my leisure. But even in this little tale, it seems there were a few hidden life lessons:

Home maintenance skills trump low insurance deductibles:

The typical hands-off homeowner might have said “Ohmygod! A FLOOD!”, and called a flood and disaster recovery contractor. These companies vacuum out the water from your carpets and use blowers and dehumidifiers to dry the house. They will even subcontract out to a plumber and a drywall repair company, and a furnace fixer too. I’ve hired one of these companies for a customer in the past and boy, do they charge a premium for their services. A job like this could be $3000-$5000 or more. The homeowner would then thank goodness for the low $500 deductible on their home insurance plan (for which they pay $500 per year over a $10k plan), and the whole repair would cost them only $500, (plus a $100/year increase in insurance premiums due to the loss of “no-claim discount”).

Friends are worth their weight in gold:

Our friends have helped us out of more binds than we can count, and I hope they feel the same way about us. I have built portions of their last three houses and repaired most of the rest. We pick up each other’s kids from school, and we drive each other to and from the airport when the bus or shuttle schedule doesn’t work out. We share garden tools and meals and many ‘a’ box of wine. Without good reliable friends, life is less fun and more difficult. Do whatever it takes to earn and keep them!

Do the math when taking risks:

I left for this vacation before Mrs. and Junior ‘Stash came. So I gave her a list of house preparations to make before she left: turn down the furnace and water heater, close the insulated shutters, lock the tool shed, and other such things. I debated whether or not to ask her to shut off the main water valve, but decided it wouldn’t be worth the trouble since it’s in an awkward corner of the basement. After all, how likely is the furnace to fail right while we are away and cause a flood?

What I should have said is, “Okay. A furnace usually fails once every 10 years on average. Mine has been trouble-free for at least the six I have lived there, meaning there is a good chance of a part going out in the next 48 months. The house will be empty for one month, meaning there might be a 1-in-48 chance of furnace problems while we are away – and every night falls below freezing during this time of year, so freeze risk without furnace is nearly 100%. I have toured enough houses with winter water damage while shopping for foreclosures that I know that if your house freezes, you almost certainly get a water leak. The cost of a water leak due to frozen pipes is very high ($200 to $20,000), so you could estimate it as a $2000 expected value.

So the expected savings from turning off the water pressure is somewhere around 1/48 * $2000, or $42.00, conservatively speaking. Plus the extra dividend from peace of mind. Since it is far less than $42.00 of effort to shut off that valve, I should have asked her to do that before leaving as well. And you should do it when you take trips and leave your house empty too. An internet-enabled thermostat is also now looking like a better investment, even while I had dismissed it as an unnecessary gadget in the past. Since we spend at least two months traveling away from the house each year, it makes sense to have a way to monitor it without leaning too heavily on the aforementioned friends.

So, it looks like we squeaked through this bit of bad luck without too much damage. But lesson learned!



*Furnace Guy – hats off to Bob at Circulating Air, who I have long considered the most kickass HVAC contractor in the Longmont and Boulder area. Again he has saved me from trouble.

  • Dave Joly January 4, 2013, 2:14 am

    A kick-ass start to 2013 – Happy New Year, MMM!

    You remind me our furnace has been trouble free for 11+ years. I’m now going to be extra-vigilant (and show my wife the water main shut off!)

    • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies January 4, 2013, 5:06 am

      On the bright side, at least it was a freshwater problem. If it had been a septic system that had blown, then you could have REALLY said “shit happens”.

      But I did love your application of probabilities instead of just shrugging and saying “Murphy’s law”. I’m curious what the real failure distribution is of products like that. We’ve been waiting/hoping for our water heater to die since we bought our house – it was 24 years old then, and is 27+ years old now.

      On a side note, we love the Schlage programmable deadbolts. It feels like a huge luxury to not have a huge keyring – or if your on foot or on your bike, to have no keyring. I think they’re mental weights.

      • Debbie M January 4, 2013, 8:04 am

        I’ve been hearing that water heaters should be replaced every ten years or something, but mine was already super old when I bought my house 17 years ago, and it’s continued working perfectly ever since. I wonder if water heaters, like so many other things, were built more durably in the olden days. Either way, I’m still glad I didn’t pre-emptively replaced mine.

        • Lucas January 4, 2013, 9:05 am

          The main thing on water heaters is that you need to replace the anode rod to prevent corrosion. Most people don’t know this and plumbers make more money with a complete replacement so they won’t tell you either. Luckily I had a good home inspector on my first home that gave me lots of tips on stuff like this.

          Good site for anyone interested in reading about that: http://www.waterheaterrescue.com/pages/WHRpages/English/Longevity/water-heater-anodes.html

        • Noel January 4, 2013, 9:23 am

          Water heaters last an average of 13 years, some more some less.

          Here’s a Mustachian tip: Water heaters most often fail and leak due to corrosion of the steel tank. All tank water heaters come with a magnesium alloy rod in them called a sacrificial anode that preferentially corrodes instead of the tank. After that anode has completely corroded, the water attacks the tank itself and within 2-3 years the tank will fail. If you check that anode rod every 2-5 years and replace it as necessary, you can double the life of your water heater. The part itself costs like $25 and it’s a pretty easy DIY project.

        • Jamesqf January 4, 2013, 11:26 am

          Another point on replacing water heaters, especially older ones, is that it may save you money. Replaced mine about 18 months ago (it was at least 10 years old, plus however long the previous owner had it). Even though I’d added an insulation blanket when I moved in and have the water temperature set at about 120F, after the install my electric bill dropped by about $7-8/month.

      • Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle January 4, 2013, 7:55 pm

        How does the Schlage perform on really cold days when the snow is blowing? Has anyone had a day when they couldn’t get in because of the weather?

        • GTArea May 22, 2014, 4:31 pm

          Canadian here. Never had a problem in any weather. Not in the extreme ice storm we had this winter or the extreme cold alerts. Not in the heat wave we had. Weather has never made any difference to how my lock performs.

  • ael January 4, 2013, 2:19 am

    Glad it wasn’t any worse. Where I live it isn’t as cold or as likely to burst pipes or faucets but frequently cold enough to bring in pets and run well water (55 degrees) under the citrus. High deductibles are wonderful if you have the emergency funds.

  • ael January 4, 2013, 2:37 am

    I just remembered. Leaving the faucets dripping just a little (slower for the hot water ones) is cheaper than repairing faucets and lines–do it all the time here for outdoor faucets.

    • ael January 4, 2013, 1:44 pm

      Several people down below mentioned shutting off the main and draining the system. Excellent idea and we do that for the cabin in the mountains, but be sure no low lying or “u” shaped pipes remain filled, in which case it will be better to keep the faucets dripping.

      Pipes and faucets burst when freezing creates plugs which trap water that freezes just a little later than the plug. Outdoor vertical risers usually freeze from top down and those protruding from buildings from the outer toward the building end. No doubt there is relationship between flow rate (dripping), length of pipe, temperatures surrounding the pipe and incoming temp of water. This is not as objective as I would like, but spend some time measuring flow and visualizing the exchange rate of water in system to estimate appropriate drip rate. This is backup procedure after all when the heater is left on low.

      • David March 27, 2016, 7:55 pm

        Most of the houses built in my area in the last 25 years are designed so the plumbing can be easily drained. The pipes are sloped with valves at the low points for draining. There is still water in the traps and that is displaced by pouring non toxic anti-freeze down the drains of sinks, tubs and toilets. That prevents pipes from freezing. The basement still needs to be heated to prevent foundation damage from frozen ground but that’s much less expensive than heating the whole house.

  • Self-employed swami-master January 4, 2013, 2:45 am

    I’m glad to hear that your friends caught it before the rest of the house froze! I am in the process of investigating, and hopefully installing one of those internet enabled thermostats (nest.com).

    As I am also away from my cold Canadian home for weeks at a time in the winter, I think it will be worth the peace of mind (My husband is usually home though). Our furnace seems to be becoming less and less reliable lately as well, and I’m hoping that a new thermostat will fix our issues (furnace not staying on long enough to keep the house at the desired temperature). We have a thread going about the nest thermostat in the DIY section of the forum, if you want to pop over for a look.

  • Cline January 4, 2013, 4:19 am

    I’m in the insurance business. I advise all my clients to shut off the water anytime they are away for more than a couple of days. Personally, I never run a dish washer or clothes washer when leaving the house.

  • Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle January 4, 2013, 4:45 am

    My Canadian home owners insurance demands that I have regular home inspections if I am absent from my dwelling. Very vague about how often regular is but a way for insurance companies to wiggle out of claim payment if you can’t prove your home had a babysitter.

    I have a $2000 deductible because I am unhandy. Worse than unhandy. Any home improvements I have attempted have lowered my property value.

    • Ed January 5, 2013, 6:19 pm

      Sounds like we have the same handyman ;)

  • Mutilate The Mortgage January 4, 2013, 5:47 am

    Sounds like a close one MMM!

  • Michelle January 4, 2013, 6:32 am

    This is something that I’m actually terrified of happening! As the other commenter said, good it wasn’t the septic system :)

  • Ross January 4, 2013, 6:40 am

    Great analysis! I always figured there was some reason why I shouldn’t turn my main water supply off when I leave during the winter. It just feels wrong… But now that it’s approved by MMM I’ll add it to my checklist. Thanks!

  • My Life January 4, 2013, 6:43 am

    You are very fortunate to have such a good friend. If we know we are going to be away for a long time, summer or winter, we always shut off the water and drain the house. Easy to do and doesn’t cost us a dime. Live and learn. That’s what I always say.

  • Mr 1500 January 4, 2013, 6:54 am

    Wow, I would have freaked out upon first hearing that message. I have two additional points:
    1) I find that most people are incredibly intimidated by trying to fix things themselves. If its already broken, get out the toolbox and hack at it. You probably won’t break it any more than it already is and even if you don’t fix it, I’ll bet you learn something.
    2) YouTube is an awesome resource. In November, the lid switch on my washer broke. Last month, one of the faucets in my master bath started leaking. In both cases, I was able to find great repair instructions on YouTube. Even if you have manuals, seeing someone doing it in a video is infinitely more useful.
    PS: Glad you didn’t have to come back to Colorado. It IS cold here!

  • Jeff Ivany January 4, 2013, 6:59 am


    You didn’t turn off the water and drain everything before leaving for an extended period in the winter? Sheesh, what sort of Canadian kid are you? ;)


    • Eric Hansen January 4, 2013, 8:05 am

      living in WY, this was my thought too. MMM mentioned turning off the Main, but didn’t mention draining the system. you wouldn’t get a flood, but wouldn’t you still be susceptible to cracks if there’s water sitting in the pipes under pressure?

    • CincyCat January 4, 2013, 12:16 pm

      I was about to post something similar. This seems to me to be one of life’s little “near-miss warnings” that should be acted upon! His friend should probably leave the main water shut off, then run out the remaining water in the pipes by turning on a lower-level faucet until the water stops coming out. (By the way, I learned about this tip while watching a home improvement show where they were doing bathroom upgrade work on an upper floor in a house.)

  • Joe @ Retire By 40 January 4, 2013, 7:17 am

    You guys dealt with the problem so efficiently. My rental has a drainage issue and I’m losing a lot of sleep over it.
    The rain drain is not able to keep up with the amount of rain coming down and water is pooling around the foundation. It’s clogged and we can’t figure out where it drain out to. I’m having a really hard time fixing this problem. The plumbing company keeps running into problems and I wish I have a friend who knows plumbing right now. Ugh…

    • DoubleDown January 4, 2013, 8:10 am

      Hey Joe,

      If it’s an outside drain, I’ve learned that sometimes they don’t go anywhere. It might just drain into a bed of gravel below and, once that fills, you’re just praying for the rain to stop. Or, it could be attached to your sewer/septic line (which is probably a code violation most places nowadays but commonly done in the old days). Sadly the only way to find the blockage is to run a camera through it, which is pretty expensive unless you have the equipment yourself.

      But you can work wonders by diverting the rain away from that drain in the first place with stones, gravel, sand, etc., or by digging a channel to divert the water elsewhere. I built a low retaining wall at our house and it’s made a dramatic difference. I used to get several inches of water pooling (and over a foot of water during a recent hurricane) that would start flowing into our basement. Now that drain stays bone dry even in the hugest downpours. Just build a low, decorative stone wall and add some gravel and sand at the base to keep the water away from that drain if you can.

      • bogart January 4, 2013, 12:37 pm

        We had good luck for a front door in front of which water used to pool by digging a trench — one inch drop per four feet of run, as I recall, and we dug all the way past the front of the house and then just did dig a small “cistern” (it’s proved adequate for prevailing conditions and isn’t near anything important) and filled the whole thing with gravel that is shaped *not* to “squish together” (I’m sure there is a technical term for this, we just told the guy at the gravel yard what we needed) and covered the top couple inches with dirt. It was a lot of digging, but it’s worked well for us (there are, I believe, more technical/sophisticated solutions involving actual drainage pipes, but we didn’t employ them).

        • Bella January 5, 2013, 3:09 pm

          Our drainage swail wasn’t as effective as it should be. We buried a currigated pipe about 6″ down and pulled it all the way to the front of the house. Drains like a charm now.

  • Kraig - Young Cheap Living January 4, 2013, 7:30 am

    Crisis averted. Nice work, MMM.

    My mom owns a house and due to health issues, she had to be away from her house through the entire last winter. I was left to make sure her house was taken care of from 180 miles away. It was certainly stressful. We practiced many of the same precautions as you mentioned and we did turn the main water valve off. This proves that it is something that should be done when you leave. How scary.

    I’m glad everything is okay and that you didn’t have to leave Hawaii to handle it.

  • Trammatic January 4, 2013, 7:44 am

    I always shut off the master valve… I’ve even had a couple of copper pipes corrode to the point of pinhole leaks in the last couple of years, so in my case, there are multiple possible failure points.

    And, it really makes me appreciate PEX more, as it can handle multiple freeze/thaw cycles without problem. I always use the brass fittings, as I think they’re probably more sturdy in that case than the plastic ones.

  • MikeW January 4, 2013, 7:56 am

    We always turn our water off when we’re away, even though the cutoff valve is in a very awkward place. (And drain some of the water out of the system – there is a lot of residual pressure with our two-storey house.) It is worth the piece of mind and it is what our plumber advised years ago. The practice was further justified after a neighbor spent $10K and had months of hassle when one of their bathroom valves failed.

  • Freeze January 4, 2013, 8:19 am

    I never thought about shutting on the main water valve and we leave for week long vacations a couple times a year. Thanks for the tip.

    My heater went out a few years ago but luckily it was in the fall and wasn’t too cold yet, so I had about a week to try to diagnose and fix the problem before space heaters wouldn’t be enough and my wife would make me hire a technician. Luckily I was able to determine it was the main control board and found a local dealer to sell me one for about a $100 and installed it myself thanks to youtube. Been running fine ever since, not sure how much I saved.

    I never feel confident that I can do house and car repairs but always surprise myself and feel great when I do a job right. Even when I’ve broke something else while fixing the original problem, it’s rarely ever ended up costing more than hiring the repair done.

  • Gonzy January 4, 2013, 8:22 am

    A friend had a similar problem here in Florida where we always shut off the mains before leaving but in his case wouldn’t you know the mains failed and the riser to the bathroom failed as well causing major flooding in the bathroom and adjacent bedroom. In future I will also shut off the batroom fixtures in addition to the mains. The main shutoff in this case was almost 20 years old and was replaced with a more reliable ball valve.

  • Goldeneer January 4, 2013, 8:26 am

    You handled this situation really well and you have clearly invested good relationships with your neighbors.

    Your idea of having a schlage code lock is a good one to let contractors in at inconvenient times. I might consider that for my rentals.

    • Kenoryn January 4, 2013, 9:34 am

      I have one of these, but Emtek, not Schlage, and I have it on my regular lockset, not a deadbolt. It’s definitely handy and has the added benefit that it’s much more difficult to lock yourself out of your house. I hate messing around with keys trying to unlock doors while you’re standing in the cold with your hands full, and therefore I’ve just left my door unlocked in the past, but this is frowned upon by my boyfriend so this lock was my solution.

      The sensible advice the locksmith gave me on these was to use ones that just have a solenoid is operated by entering the code, and require you to manually turn the lock after that, and avoid the ones that have a little motor in them and actually move the deadbolt/lock themselves, since these use a lot more battery power and have a higher potential for failure.

  • Tyler January 4, 2013, 9:03 am

    Thanks for reminding me!!! My furnace is original from 1979, can you believe it? Still works! But for how long……

    • CincyCat January 4, 2013, 12:22 pm

      We had a “still works” furnace from 1970’s, but replaced it as soon as we could. We didn’t see the value in burning away up the flue 50-60 cents for every dollar of our heating bill. As soon as we replaced the furnace, our bill dropped dramatically – AND – since we also got a UV filter add-on, we experienced fewer sinus and respiratory issues.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty January 4, 2013, 9:12 am

    I hate it when something goes wrong while on vacation! It sounds like you made the most out of a bad situation, though. Good job! A leak is probably one of my worst home maintenance nightmares!

  • Lucas January 4, 2013, 9:14 am

    Great recovery, and glad it was nothing more serious! When you turn your water main off, you are then draining most of the water from the pipes as well right (by turning on one of the lowest faucets in the basement or something)?

  • 5inatrailer January 4, 2013, 9:20 am

    New tip for riches: knowing a guy

    I’m fortunate to be surrounded by excellent human beings at work, where we have a large informal network of “hey, does anybody know a guy who does x?”
    We also have an online bulletin board where we can ask around or even advertise. It has saved me and my family thousands; furnace installs, master electricians, car repair…
    It’s an often overlooked perk of my job. But it makes life so much easier sharing troubleshooting ideas and usually someone has fixed the same problem.
    Latest problem: moldy front loading washer. Fix? Replace gasket and install washerfan.
    Glad your holiday wasnt totally ruined MMM. Stay as long as you can.

    • Wes January 14, 2013, 7:23 pm

      Do you mean washerfan from the washerfan dot com web site? I looked at the web site and thought it was a little overpriced. Instead I bought the AC Infinity AI-CFS80BA cabinet cooling fan for $15.99 and attached it with some sticky velcro and sticky weather stripping. Works like a charm so far.

  • mugwump January 4, 2013, 9:32 am

    Looks like your friends caught the situation in time and you handled it well. Keep any eye out for mold when you get back, however. It can exist in dry climates as well as wet ones.

  • Kathleen, Frugal Portland January 4, 2013, 9:56 am

    Your comment about your friends is one that everyone should remember. Friends are worth more than we ever know.

  • Chris January 4, 2013, 10:19 am

    The Schlage combo locks are money! I have two of them on my house and they are incredibly convenient. If family/friends ever need into the house while we’re away, we just give them the secondary combo and they’re in without keys. Highly recommend them.

  • Jeff January 4, 2013, 11:17 am

    Why not make some extra cash while vacationing and find someone reliable to house sit – someone that needs a place to stay for 6 weeks or so and will pay you for the privilege. Obviously the key is finding someone you trust.

    • Lindsey January 4, 2013, 12:32 pm

      I thought this, too. Allowed a teacher to stay in my home this winter, and all she had to pay was utilities. She decided to keep the house at 50, to save money. WHen it hit 45 below zero in Tok, Alaska, the pipes in the house froze in the corners of the rooms (they get the coldest) so the entire system froze and burst and we had to spend thousands getting things fixed. I am going back to a computer monitored system that alerts us when the temp in the house falls. Screw humans.

  • Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget January 4, 2013, 12:08 pm

    Well, I’m glad for the most part a crisis was averted! My husband and I had a similar experience with our apartment a few Christmases ago… a pipe burst, our apartment flooded… and all while we were away on vacation. I can totally empathize with how you must have felt when you got that dreaded phone call!

    You guys really do have some awesome friends. That’s priceless.

  • bogart January 4, 2013, 12:40 pm

    Oof — glad things turned out OK. Also a fan of the keyless locks!

  • unimaginitiveusername January 4, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Heh….that little furnace problem used to happen to me once or twice a season, at my last place. After about two service calls I think I wised up and figured it out myself. Although, one time there was a similar problem but it wasn’t the little hose that clogged, but another part (maybe in the same line, can’t remember for sure).

    I also learned a few things from the service guys who came out, like how the furnace works and all the safety features / sensors that have to work and in what order. Plus, it was a newer furnace with diagnostic lights and a little reference sticker describing their meaning. Those two facts helped me already and probably will in the future (if I ever have a gas furnace again, anyway).

    Always pays to learn those kinds of things so you can take care of it yourself and not have to call an “expert”…at least for little things like the clogged sensor.

    • unimaginitiveusername January 23, 2013, 1:05 pm

      Also, I had a furnace repair guy comment to me that the little plugged sensor hose might have been at least partially because I kept the temperature so low — 50-52 F thermostat setting at night and while at work, usually 58 or so while there. Plus the furnace was in the basement where it was colder anyway (thermostat and most of the heat vents were upstairs).

      He said that with the colder surrounding / intake air, you could get condensation that would somehow leave impurities that would build up and eventually plug the hose — or something like that, it’s a vague foggy memory from a few years ago. Also said it wasn’t good for the metal and the whole furnace in general to have 50-degree intake air.

      While I don’t remember the exact comment (what I wrote just now seems a little sketchy…), I do remember “furnace guy said low temps bad for furnace”. For what it’s worth…

  • Jeff January 4, 2013, 1:44 pm

    When I lefty my house to work in Japan during the winter months, I did the following:
    1 Drained CH system and filled it with a mixture of anti freeze and water.
    2 Turned off water at mains
    3 Fitted switch so the heating system would switch off if water level in header tank ever got too low (not necessary on a pressurised system).
    4 Set thermostat below 10°C
    5 Fitted a 1kW electric heater downstairs, with in line thermostat set so it would come on at about 5C. In case of heating failure.
    6 Drained the cold water header tank.
    7 Asked a neighbour to check the house once a week.
    Total peace of mind.

  • aw January 4, 2013, 2:05 pm

    Your friends deserve a box of Hawaiian macadamia nuts! Yeah, always shut off main water line, drain pipes,put antifreeze in toilet trap, leave lights on a timer so it looks like someone’s home, pay neighbor to plow the driveway so it looks like someone’s home, security cameras in the house and outside that are internet accessible to keep an eye on things with trail cams for backup. The furnace failure is a tough one to monitor remotely, so now I plan on pointing one of the inside security cameras at my thermostat to check inside temps. That’s cheaper than a new thermostat.

  • Financial Black Sheep January 4, 2013, 2:22 pm

    This is insane, because I just wrote about my main sewer line backing up and flooding my second bathroom today! Oh course it had nothing to do with frozen anything, but I still had to wade through you-know-what. I was up late last night and still cleaning the mess up. I only spent $205.50 for the plumber, and probably a whole 12 pack of paper towels, because thank goodness I don’t have any carpet in the area of the problem. I did, however, have to throw a bunch of stuff out, but the openness of the area makes me happier. Sorry about your mess. At least I was home when this happened so I could take care of it instantly.

  • Dragline January 4, 2013, 3:54 pm

    Here’s to investing in good relationships! Good friends are worth their weight in gold.

  • jlcollinsnh January 4, 2013, 4:24 pm

    unskilled homeowner that I am, stories like this make my skin crawl.

    when we returned from our holiday travels our NH driveway was coated with a foot of heavy, wet and now frozen snow.

    Great exercise shoveling it out. Each time I do it and don’t have a heart attack I figure I’m good for another year.

  • Gmaxwell January 4, 2013, 5:40 pm

    “Foo usually bars once per 10 years on average. My foo has hasn’t barred for at least six years, so there is a good chance it will next 48 months.”

    The conclusion in the article is probably fine, but that formulation is dangerously close to sounding like someone suffering from the gamblers fallacy. You can think of failures as having two sources: random failure and wearing out. Random works like “on average you’ll throw the dice six times per roll of 1 you get out”, and wearing out works like increasing the random odds at the end of the service life (usually abruptly).

    The important thing about the random chances is that repeated success or failure doesn’t change your odds. If you roll fair dice 100 times without getting a 1 your next roll is no more or less likely to get a 1 than the first was because the rolls are independent. Thinking otherwise about an independent trial is called the gamblers fallacy.

    Mean time between failure is almost always talking about random failure— the dice roll away from the time of infant death and wearing out—, and so you don’t want to derate it based on past success. Likewise, you wouldn’t derate accident insurance— in fact if you adjust odds on accidents at all you might go the other direction: If you predict you should have one accident per year and you’ve had far fewer, that suggests that your prediction is too high.

    I’m sure furnaces actually wear out too, and so the ‘fair odds in 48 months’ conclusion is probably not crazy but service life is not so easy to reason about mathematically… I thought it would be good to comment before people started over insuring against accidents based on carrying the example too far.

  • Melissa January 4, 2013, 6:12 pm

    I saw a lot of comments on water heaters. We have a natural gas super efficient wall water heater that we are extremely happy with as far as heat and also gas bills, which are nil. In summer our bill runs around $10-$12 and most of that is fees. Yet we are certainly taking hot showers and washing dishes. I did a lot of research at that time (about 8 yrs ago) and chose a Takagi online. The plumber who was in building the house installed it. It’s run flawlessly and though we paid more for it than a tub type, we feel we’ve had a good ROI. We also built a small house on purpose for lower taxes, so I cannot be sure how a wall water heater would work in a bigger house. Our house is 1450 sq ft on the main level and 1250 finished lower with 3 full baths. We do often run the shower and clothes washer at the same time or dishwasher/clotheswasher at the same time, with no problems. We thought it would catch on more in the U.S. Apparently these are very common in Europe and Asia. Being the space-saving energy conscious sorts, we thought we’d go for it. Back when we did it, there was no energy rebate. I’m thinking there might be now. Anyway, something to consider…

  • MarkTX January 4, 2013, 6:22 pm

    Could you give examples on how you decide to raise your deductibles to save on ins premiums?
    My example:
    200K house,
    current 2K deductible, 678 annual premium
    I called my insurance agent and got these quotes:
    a) 2.5% or 5K deductable for 514
    b) 5.0% or 10K deductable for 371
    So using simple arithmetic if I wanted to save 164/year in premiums by raising my deductible from 2 to 5K, I better not file a claim more often than every 18 years ($3000/$164).
    With option b, my breakeven point is 26 years.

    • Mirwen February 4, 2013, 7:44 pm

      Your math is somewhat flawed. You assume that you will always be paying the full amount of the deductible if something goes wrong. Most issues are around $500-1000 to solve and the point of the higher deductible is to take care of “minor” issues yourself. Every uh-oh is not $10,000 out of pocket.

  • Dividend Mantra January 4, 2013, 6:46 pm


    Sorry to hear about the bad news with the house, but if anyone was equipped to deal with it quickly and cheaply it’s you! Great job on that.

    I am infinitely unskilled in carpentry and other household repairs, so this would have scared the shit out of me. I suppose that’s why I’m not a homeowner yet.

    I hope you continue to enjoy your time in Hawaii and come back to a house better than ever.

    Best wishes.

  • My Financial Independence Journey January 4, 2013, 7:55 pm


    I’m sorry to hear about your house, but I’m relieved that things turned out better than you had originally been lead to believe.

    Stories like this make me glad that I’m still a renter.

  • Jessica January 4, 2013, 9:38 pm

    Nice story! And some good luck!

    When we were looking at houses two winters ago, we approached one that seemed to have a lot of ice around the gutters and downspouts and the yard was frozen over. When we opened the door we saw the flood; something in the upstairs bathroom had broken. It had been flooding for so long (owners were in Florida with nobody watching the house) that there was a hole 4 feet round in the ceiling (!!!), water gushing through, flooding the downstairs bedroom, entryway, kitchen and garage. So unfortunate.

    We’re living with a mighty fine hot water gas boiler from 1951. It’s a monster and people who come to look at it either bow down in awe or tell us we need to replace it immediately because it’s not safe and very inefficient. We want to run it until it dies. I hope it lives into at least it’s seventh decade. When it goes I’ll keep the massive femur-sized wrench that sits atop it as a souvenir!

  • James @ Free in Ten Years January 5, 2013, 8:48 am

    I’m glad it’s not as serious as you first thought – there’s nothing that gets your heart racing like an unspecified problem with your house that you can’t get to. It’s awesome how you deal with problems like this. Most people would just sulk and whinge about it but you are driven to learn a lessen every time this sort of thing happens.

    Hats off to you MMM.

  • Chris January 5, 2013, 2:44 pm

    It’s interesting how you think of everything in terms of EV. You see it a lot in people who have played poker seriously…they start naturally thinking about all life decisions in EV. It’s rare to see it in people who don’t have a gambling background but I think it’s a worthwhile skill for everyone.

  • Kevin January 5, 2013, 3:11 pm

    Great post and I’m like many of the others who think they ‘key’ idea you put forth is having “golden friends (important for all sorts of stuff other than bursting pipes including health & longevity).

    Anyway, I’m wondering what you would think a house like this:


    would be for a mustachian? It seems difficult that the pipes would burst and due to the thermal qualities, if you were gone you wouldn’t need to worry about draining pipes?

    Hope your Hawaiian escapade continues to go great! Quite envious!

  • Ed January 5, 2013, 6:33 pm

    The life lessons listed at the end of this post are golden!

    We had some water damage at our home and ended up calling Service Master, a disaster clean up company. Will not do that again. They came in and did help, but they charge exorbitant prices to ‘rent’ fans, dehumidifiers, etc. Then they start cutting carpet and making holes in drywall before the insurance adjuster comes in who may or may not approve the replacement of the cut carpet and damaged drywall. I wish I had more knowledge and better skill at working with my hands in that type of environment. That is why I have a $1000 deductible ;(

    You need to have good friends that you can trust to come in and take care of these things when they happen, invaluable.

  • LeRainDrop January 5, 2013, 8:44 pm

    I turn my main water valve off every time I leave the condo — yes, every time — ever since I had my own “flooding” disaster a couple years ago. When I was out of town for just a weekend, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to a voicemail message from the building concierge that my condo was “flooding.” I was wondering, how can my condo be flooding when I am several floors above street level??? (I also had the fishtank vision that MMM briefly experienced!) Well, the concierge had discovered water dripping through to the floor below my unit and in inspecting the floors above, could hear running water in my unit. The cops were called, and they discovered the proplem. So, what had happened? My two CATS had turned on the kitchen sink full blast and turned the faucet so that it was no longer above the basin, but instead running onto the countertop. The water spread throughout my living room, hallway, guest bathroom, and office/guest bedroom. I had a $500 deductible, but otherwise everything was covered by insurance, including clean up, hardwood replacement, base boards and lower drywall, re-painting, hotel, etc. In that circumstance, I was also SO GLAD my brother lived a couple miles away because while I was already booked on a 6 a.m. flight home (coincidentally), he handled finding water remediation people and got them going until I could get home.

  • Sword Guy January 6, 2013, 9:50 am

    Our neighbors were in Europe for several weeks on an unspecified itinerary, i.e., no way to reach them. My wife went over to feed their cat and heard something odd coming from the basement.

    The water hose to the washer had broken and had been hosing down the basement for quite some hours. The basement was 3 inches deep in water. We had nothing to get the water out with and we live in the humid southern USA.

    It was imperative to get the water out quickly or the house would get infested with mold – which apparently nothing ever quite kills.

    We called one of those companies and they did an excellent job for $1500. Given the alternatives, it was money well spent.

    When our neighbors got home some weeks later, my wife went over to return the key and give them their bill for $1500. The husband was pretty grumpy about it.

    Then they talked to their insurance agent, who told them how damn lucky they were to have neighbors who woud do that for them. The damage to their home would have easily been in the tens of thousands to replace what would have been damaged/mold infested after water had been sitting in their home for two plus weeks. They were very thankful after that.

    On another note, we ditched our water heater (which gave us an extra closet) and replaced it with an on-demand gas water heater. It’s wonderful! All the hot water you want and you never pay to heat it until you want it hot.

  • Doug January 6, 2013, 10:32 am

    If any of you have tried parachuting, you’ll know that you have a reserve parachute in case your main one fails. You will usually also have an AAD (automatic activation device) which opens the reserve parachute at lower altitude just in case you don’t. This idea of a multiple backup applies to many things including leaving your house vacant, especially in the winter. It’s best to shut off the main water valve, shut off the water heater, and drain the water out of the pipes. On top of that, have someone check the place regularly (including inside temperature) preferably every day. That where those friends, worth their weight in gold as MMM says, are great to have.

  • Patrick January 8, 2013, 10:15 am

    MMM, dont forget what you learned in your probability and statistics course way back in engineering school! If furnaces usually fail every 10 years, and yours has made is six years without failing, that does not mean that your furnace must fail within the next four years (if well maintained, the probability of failure within the next four years might not even be much higher than failure within the next 10 years).

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 8, 2013, 6:40 pm

      I understand your point Patrick, and the other probability-theory guy above. But in this case, I maintain that past results DO predict future failures, since I haven’t changed any parts other than filters on my furnace in 6 years, and thus something was probably on the verge of going. “well-maintained” might have prevented this – if I were enough of a furnace expert to know to pre-emptively clean that rubber hose. But even better would just be turning off the water supply and draining the pipes :-)

      • Doug January 9, 2013, 9:23 am

        You are both right, to some degree. In engineering the statistic of mean time between failure, of MTBF is used. The average MTBF for that model of furnace is 10 years. I don’t recall the math (and if I did, I wouldn’t bore you to tears with it) but if 6 years have gone by, the time when it is likely to fail is not necessarily in 4 years but is now less than 10 years. In reality, it could fail tomorrow or run another 10 plus years.

  • Mattie January 9, 2013, 12:07 am

    I’m new to this, but does shutting off the water work when the house is heated by radiators?


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