It's a very bad sign. The first event of 2009 was me waking up at 6:30 to get a drink of water and realizing that our cold water pipe had frozen.
We have had this problem before. Back when we had the old crappy walls in our house, we had a similar incident. Jim ended up ripping open a wall and seeing that the prior owners had insulated that wall by putting insulation on the inside of the house - with the pipes on the outside, not insulated. And the cold water pipe happens to run up the outer wall of our house, between our front hall and the unheated front porch.
We thought we'd solve the problem by putting the insulation on the correct side of the pipes - so that they would benefit from the heat in our house. This was accomplished last spring when we had our walls redone. Jim had also installed one of those cords that you put next to the pipe, and then if it freezes, you can plug it in in the basement and it's supposed to warm up the pipe. The problem with the cord is that we're now convinced it's a fire hazard. It was OK when the wall was open (we had a hole in our wall for several years before redoing the walls), but now that it's closed up, it's more worrying. Having an undetected fire in one of our walls is far worse than a frozen pipe.
But here we have the first really cold night since we redid the walls: it was 2 degrees at 6:30 this morning, with a windchill of -10. And the problem is back. Ugh.
Jim tried to warm up the pipe by running the hot water. The hot water pipe is right next to the cold water pipe, so he hoped that it would give off heat. Also, we warmed up the house. We keep it in the low 60's at night. About an hour later, the water thawed. Phew. No burst pipes.
As I was lying in bed, trying to go back to sleep, I thought about how most people have small house problems. Like a window that isn't insulated and is letting some cold air in. Or a kitchen that's ugly and needs to be redone. Normally, people just have to do some routine maintenance on their houses.
Our maintenance includes new furnace, new roof, new walls, new insulation, replacing 90-year-old windows with cracks in them, and worrying about whether our pipes are going to burst at any moment because the people who built this house didn't realize that it got cold in New England in the winter.
Jim reminded me that other people have problems too. Other people have had pipes burst. Other people have had flooding in their basement. Yes, that's true. It just feels like we're always the ones with the problems. Maybe those people feel that way too. And I will agree that things have definitely gotten better at our house in the last 8 years that we've been here. For example, we have lights in our kitchen and foyer that are not florescent outlets that belong in a bathroom vanity mirror. And we have already covered most of the major projects on the house. We've done major work on the HVAC system, the electrical system, the structural integrity of the house, the roof, and the insulation of the house (through windows and wall insulation). We should be getting to the point where we're more worried about maintenance and cosmetics than overhaul.
But hopefully this pipe issue isn't a bad omen for the year. :)