Seattle Houseboats & Floating Homes In The Freeze

Leah from Aqua Dive using a heat gun and a kayak as a work float to thaw part of a hard to reach waterline.

Happy New Year! Well, the “Seattle freeze” has been alive and well this week. All week temperatures dropped and it snowed in Seattle. When it snows on a floating home or houseboat, the biggest concern is usually removing the excess weight off the top and decks of your home as they were not built to withstand the additional load. Snow loads can make them top heavy and tipsy or even worse – sink them if the floatation is not adequate.

This week, though, the snow seemed lighter in weight than usual, and the bigger concern was the ice and frigid temperatures. It’s customary for everyone on the dock to drip their faucets during cold snaps. This one caught a lot of us off guard and many people were either out of town or simply forgot to run their faucets. The result was Monday morning most of the lake awoke with no running water.

As we warm up, it’s important to recognize what worked and what didn’t so that we can better prepare for the next cold snap.

The freeze was real!

Running water prevents pipes from freezing as the water is moving. Many docks are equipped with valves at either end so that the water flow can be turned on and off should the need arise to have running water. Individual houses should still run their water so that the connecting pipes between the floating homes and the dock do not freeze.

My dock does not have this valve system, but we have historically been able to keep our water flowing to our houseboats just by running our faucets. We have 19 floating homes on our dock and 2/3 of them were frozen in the morning including my own. I reached out to three vendors at 6AM and Aqua Dive answered my please for help. They spent the entire day unfreezing the majority of our homes and getting us back up and running. We were fortunate because our main line did not break, but surrounding docks had both frozen and broken pipes.

Aqua Dive spent the next few days working tirelessly to make sure my neighborhood was with water. We are very grateful for that and I learned a lot in the process.

Aqua Dive working on the connections and frozen pipes at The Shelby Dock in Portage Bay.

As a result, we are changing the way we do things so I thought it might be good to list some tips for keeping your water running in your floating home or houseboat during a cold snap.

  • Heat tape under the insulation on connectors between dock and house – Our floating homes only have our pipes insulated and what we found was once they were frozen the insulation actually KEPT THEM FROZEN. The better method is to install heat tape – specifically thermally activated heat tape which is an electric cable and aluminum tape that warms the pipes when the temperature drops below 37 degrees. The heat tape is installed under the insulation. It isn’t a guaranteed method and faucets should still be dripped, but it does warm the water enough to keep it flowing and then as a result it adds extra protection to the mainline.
  • Hot water and/or heat gun warming – We used both as well as Aqua Dive’s giant warming blower. With no running water, how do you boil water? The answer is that you are surrounded by water. Boil lake water in pots and pour on water line around and connected to your house. This was the best method we found for quick thawing and the dock neighbors mobilized and helped each other. If you are going to use a heat gun, just be careful not to light the insulation on fire and go easy. It can be too hot. I also saw many people using hairdryers to warm pipes, but the danger of hairdryers over water prevents me from recommending that. I saw one clever homeowner using his wife’s Dyson hairdryer to thaw out their pipes in the Mallard Cove floating homes neighborhood.
  • Community and Dock Reminders – This might be the most important for prevention. At least it would have prevented much of our frozen pipes on my dock. Email your neighbors, your dock, facebook group messages, text messages, etc. Our dock has an A-frame sign that we (forgot to) put out to remind people to turn on faucets at night and throughout the cold temperatures.
  • Home temperatures – Keep your thermostat turned up during cold snaps to warm the pipes on the inside of the house, too. Open your bathroom and kitchen cabinets under the sinks to let the heat in. Periodically run warm or hot water – or the dishwasher. This helps keep the sewer line warm, too.
  • Dripping may not be enough – The owner of one of the few floating homes on our dock that had running water was very proud to proclaim that the real trick is to not DRIP the faucet, but to run a steady low stream. Also, if you are only going to run one faucet then run the one furthest from the dock, but it is preferable to run all of them on a low stream for best results.
  • Creative work floats – We don’t have a work float on our dock, so Leah with Aqua Dive used my kayak to work on my waterline along my house which I could not otherwise reach. We are a creative bunch so be creative! But don’t fall in!
  • Prioritize help and come together – Help your neighbors with what they need. Check on their homes for them. Work together, and get the homes with elderly, children, and medically challenged up and running first. Offer the good people that work on your homes a bathroom and drink or a warmth break. Aqua Dive was able to use our dock cart to move all of their gear up and down docks all around us and that helped them be more efficient. It is all about taking care of each other and that is what this community is so good at.

Temps are warming up, and we are excited about the new year on the lake!

Lake Union Landing’s unique perspective

After the last week, my love for this community is reinforced and I am so happy to be a part of it. Seattle floating homes owners and houseboaters are a group of hardy and loving individuals and I will be forever grateful for all of you and the hardworking divers that help us. Both Seattle Dive and Aqua Dive were running around my little Gold Coast of Portage Bay this week and also around Eastlake and Westlake. We are so lucky to have them.

Despite the freezing weather, we were showing Lake Union Landing’s newest gem, “Pearl” repeatedly. And when I say we, I mean Molly because I was in work clothes trouble shooting dock pipe issues and writing up contracts behind the scenes. In below freezing temps on the last day of 2021, this beautiful houseboat by FullerStyle received an offer and went into escrow.

We are so very excited about 2022 and our community is in demand now more than ever. Let us know if you are interested in a valuation. Lots of buyers out there. We are highly networked into the community and can help with all steps of the process. We have excellent references, too. [email protected] 206-841-6800/206-850-8841

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