Frozen Pipes?


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Old 02-06-07, 10:15 AM
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Frozen Pipes?

I lost heat in one of my two zones the other night (oil/hot water baseboard). The oil service company says it's a frozen pipe since little water is draining from the system. They said I should get a plumber out to fix this, but I''m not sure that's the problem, and I don't really want to spend a bunch of money on a plumber if that is not the problem.

Is there any way to check to see if it could be something else, or any test I can do to isolate where the problem might be?

The zone valve seems like it's working, but I can't be sure.

Any ideas? Thanks,

James
 
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Old 02-07-07, 06:34 PM
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Frozen?

Pictures of the boiler & nearby piping would be a big help in trying to explain what to check & how. You can post them on photobucket or similar site & provide a link here.
 
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Old 02-07-07, 08:15 PM
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I don't have pictures handy, but here are some clues:

The system is a a New Yorker boiler with a Beckett burner. There are two zones, one for the main floor and one for the basement. They both have manual thermostats and relatively new Honeywell zone valves (v8043f1036). The basement zone works fine. On the zone that's not working, turning the thermostat up or down will open and shut the valve (or at least appears to). The circulator also must be working since there is only one for the whole system. When I shut off the main valve (I don't know what you call it), and open up the tap just above it to bleed the system, hot water trickles out (which I think is coming from the boiler and getting past the main valve).

The suspicion is that there is a blockage (a frozen spot somewhere), since the weather has been in the single digits. But what confuses me is that the house is kept warm, and there haven't been many long periods when the heat is not running. Although there have been times when the heat has come from
the fireplace, so the baseboards may not have had heat running through them constantly.

It would be nice to be able to get to all the piping, but most of it is behind walls, and I have lots of crap filling the house, so the only places I can really inspect is the baseboards, and they wouldn't freeze because they are inside the house.

I just don't like the assumption that it is a frozen pipe, and I should just spend $400-500 to get a plumber up to put a charge through the pipes to try and melt the frozen spot, if there is one.

So, is there anything to verify that that is the problem? If it is a frozen spot, what are the chances that it ruptured the pipe, and I will have a major repair job ahead? If I wait till the weather get above freezing, am I risking doing more damage to the system?

So far I've broken some holes in the basement ceiling so warmer air can circulate around the piping, and every few hours I go down and open up the valve to see if anything comes out. The thermostat is turned up to 80 so if it frees up I assume I should hear something.

If Ken is reading this, I left a message at your office to call me. I don't know if you remember, but you came out and replaced several valves and the circulator a couple of years ago (down in Coopersburg), and hoped you might have a convenient solution to get me going again.

Thanks,

James
 
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Old 02-08-07, 05:03 PM
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Frozen?

Check the pressure on the boiler. If it is less than 6-8#, you might not have enough pressure to push the water up to the main floor. "Normal" pressure, even for a single story house is around 12#. How far past the zone valve is the pipe hot?
 
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Old 02-08-07, 05:49 PM
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I'm doing 20 frozen pipe calls a week right now. Normally the deciding factor is that that zone won't purge. It sounds as if they have tried that.
With the weather as it has been, I see the baseboards freeze while the room is up to temperature. All it needs is for the water to sit in the pipe in a poorly insulated area.
Look for areas that go under sliding glass doors, spots where the pipes run through an overhang, or a room over a garage (such as in a ranch style home) Feel along the pipe, the problem spot is frozen so it'll be COLD, hard to hang onto cold. Elbows are a common spot for freezing.

Be prepared for a burst pipe. If it's gonna burst, it already has. The ice is just plugging the leak, but once it thaws....whoosh.
 
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Old 02-08-07, 07:06 PM
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Frozen pipe

Originally Posted by HVACGuy
Be prepared for a burst pipe. If it's gonna burst, it already has. The ice is just plugging the leak, but once it thaws....whoosh.
Whoosh is right. As a friend of mine likes to say: "Frozen isn't a problem. The problem starts with that danged thaw."
 
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Old 02-08-07, 08:47 PM
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Thanks for the replies.

My boiler pressure is around 12#. I even opened up the automatic feeder to increase the pressure to ~30#, but it didn't help. Luckily the downstairs zone is working okay, so leaving the upstairs door open, I am getting enough heat in the house (although I'm probably burning a ton of oil).

The weather forecast says it won't be above freezing till next Monday, and only about 37, then it goes back to the 20's for another week. So I guess I should be using that time to clear away any suspect locations (but much of the pipe seems nearly impossible to reach, much less providing enough space to do a repair if needed.

So, let me see if I've got the potential bad news correct. If a pipe has ruptured, when it thaws I will have to shut down the entire system until it is repaired, and I won't even have the working zone to use? Although there is a valve on the outlet side of the boiler for each zone, so on second thought, I guess I could just close that, and hope that it doesn't allow any water to pass through.

Once I get through this situation, I'm going to have questions about replacing the gasket for the hot water heat exchanger (I don't know the proper term for it, but it's the thingy that bolts into the boiler to provide hot tap water). It's leaking a little, and probably letting air into the system.

Thanks for the help,

James

PS - I just signed up with Petro for oil delivery and it included yearly burner maintenance. The lummox that came out to do it changed the nozzle, the filter, and did a minor vacuuming of the stack. But he didn't clean the boiler tubes, didn't oil the burner (I have an older Beckett that needs oiling), didn't adjust the flame, or do anything else. And the supposed test he did says my burner is running at 80%+ efficiency, which I don't believe, because it's more than 30 years old. I complained, and they're sending someone out tomorrow to do the job again. What should I be looking for to make sure they're doing it right this time? Anybody have any experience with Petro? With the problems occurring after their visit, I'm wondering if I made a mistake signing up with them.
 
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Old 02-09-07, 02:14 PM
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Thumbs up

I got my heat back.....

WHOOPEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

Temps got up into the upper twenties, and the sun was shining. I got home, opened teh valves, bled the system, and all seems cool. No flood that I can see or hear. So I may have escaped tragedy.

Thanks for all the help and advice,

James
 
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Old 02-09-07, 07:39 PM
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Thumbs up Heat

You dodged a bullet on that one. Don't bother playing the lottery tonight 'cause you've used up your luck for a day or two.
There is a lesson in this I hope you've learned. That lesson is not to use the fireplace as much. You are not the first to learn this the hard way & likely won't be the last.
Glad you are back up & running.
 
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Old 02-10-07, 12:52 PM
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ever heard of it

Originally Posted by HVACGuy
I'm doing 20 frozen pipe calls a week right now. Normally the deciding factor is that that zone won't purge. It sounds as if they have tried that.
With the weather as it has been, I see the baseboards freeze while the room is up to temperature. All it needs is for the water to sit in the pipe in a poorly insulated area.
Look for areas that go under sliding glass doors, spots where the pipes run through an overhang, or a room over a garage (such as in a ranch style home) Feel along the pipe, the problem spot is frozen so it'll be COLD, hard to hang onto cold. Elbows are a common spot for freezing.

Be prepared for a burst pipe. If it's gonna burst, it already has. The ice is just plugging the leak, but once it thaws....whoosh.
what means are you using to thaw inaccesible pipes. I've heard of using an arc welder to thaw pipes. ever heard of this?
 
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Old 02-10-07, 03:13 PM
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> what means are you using to thaw inaccesible pipes. I've heard of using an
> arc welder to thaw pipes. ever heard of this?

That's what I heard they do to thaw the pipes, but I also heard that the process can melt solder joints, so besides the expense of getting a plumber out to do it, I was concerned it might create more problems than I already had.

Luckily, things worked out okay. Now when I use the fireplace, I'll crank the thermostat up every hour or so when it's real cold out to get some hot water running through the system. I only do it for a minute to get the pipes hot. And I no longer will stoke up the fireplace before I go to bed, since that is likely what caused it in the first place.

Now I think I'll go out and get some of those foam pipe covers, and put them over the problem spots. Or is that a waste of time? I have two sets of sliding glass doors. One is right over the room the boiler is in, and tough to get to the pipes, but the other is at the far end of the house and is likely the spot where I got the blockage.

It is really nice to have this site to turn to for advice. A couple of years ago I had some leaking zone valves, and noticed that Ken Field was only about 20 miles from where I live, so I got in touch with him and he came out and got my system back together. An honest, knowledgeable, and trustworthy guy (hard to find these days).

James
 
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Old 02-10-07, 06:34 PM
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Foam Pipe Insulation

The insulation will certainly help. Your idea of cycling the boiler at least once an hour should prevent frozen pipes. There are timers available to do exactly this.
Be careful about speaking so highly of Ken. He might get a swelled head.
Just kidding of course. He really is a good guy.
 
 

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