Frozen pipe(s) .. what can be done

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Old 01-03-14, 01:13 PM
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Frozen pipe(s) .. what can be done

Serious cold snap and I woke up to most of my house having frozen pipes. I looked for a bit to see if I could follow them and find something exposed, but no luck. Disappear into the ceiling then from there who knows where.

Questions.. Any way other than ripping out the walls to find the frozen pipes?
Anything I can do short of waiting for warmer temps?

Lastly... how do I repair burst pipes. I think I will really need this advice sad to say. I see something "shark bites". Is this an option or is solder better or ???? I am handy to a point and have done repairs, just not on copper pipes.

Thanks for any advice.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 01:31 PM
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If the pipes didn't break, put some electric heaters next to the walls. Open the faucets & wait.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 01:45 PM
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Heat is the only thing that will melt the ice. I would leave faucets cracked open to relieve any pressure and to allow water to start flowing when you do get pipes thawed. In addition to heaters next to the walls you can turn up the heat inside the house, hopefully during a warmer part of the day. Insulation only slows the passage of heat so if you can make the inside of the house warmer you can push the magic freezing line a little further out and hopefully get your pipes on the liquid side.

Start thinking about where your main water shutoff is located and how you can get to it. If the pipes have burst you may need to turn the water off in a hurry when they thaw. If your shutoff is next to your water meter in the yard I would gain access to it before working to thaw the pipes. Find it, dig it out and make sure the valve is not frozen and that you have the tools to close the valve. Then mark it with a stick and bury it under snow to help insulate it from the severe cold. You don't want to thaw the pipes only to have water pouring from the ceiling and no way to turn it off.


---
My brother in law in central Alaska had one bad winter. The oil jelled and would not flow so the furnace died and everything in the house froze. They got the furnace going and invited all their friends over with whatever heater they could bring. They ended up getting half the house thawed & working but the other half had to wait till summer. Luckily no pipes burst.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 02:01 PM
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Turn the heat up as high as it could go. Get it hot in there.. Try to get water flowing to every faucet then run a pencil stream overnight and or until the temps get warmer...

You can call a pro but it will be costly...

They will use a thawing machine..




Last if on a crawl space I used to aim a torpeado heater in the opening... Very carefully placed and supervised...That did the trick in less then 30 minutes at times...

 
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Old 01-03-14, 02:03 PM
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Supposed to get down to like zero tonight. I did locate the water shutoff in the house, but did not try to turn it. Good idea to see if its frozen or not. Im going to turn it into a sauna in there I guess. See if that works.

thanks.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 02:06 PM
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Im going to turn it into a sauna in there I guess. See if that works.
Have some beverages if it gets too hot for you!!!......

It should work... Now is when to act because they may not be that frozen..
 
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Old 01-03-14, 04:02 PM
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When you finally get things going again, remember to keep the problem pipes exposed (no insulation) to the warm interior and insulated from the cold. Also, watch for cold air leaks as I've seen pipes freeze 10" inside a home because there was a hole in the sheathing allowing a direct path into the joist cavity.

Good luck
Bud
 
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Old 01-03-14, 04:59 PM
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Check around at your local tool rental stores or big box home centers that rent tools. A half day rental of a thermal camera will tell you a lot about the insulation in your home and may help you pinpoint problem areas where your pipes are more likely to freeze.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 05:43 PM
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Short term solutions-

Had this happen on and off in an addition to an old farmhouse.

Here is what I've done to thaw frozen pipes.

My situation is pipes to the laundry area and full bath in an addition have frozen in fierce cold.
Pipes are copper - if you have PEX, that's a whole 'nother ball game.

1) Wrap the copper pipe leading TO the frozen section with heat tape.

2) propane torch on low, (very time consuming)

3) (assuming no small children or dumb pets) steal the large conversation piece candle from the coffee table, place it on a dinner plate, light it and set it under the sink so that the flame is directly below the copper pipe.

4) In anticipation of the problem - place an electric radiator style heater UNDER the sink in the room where the freezing occurs. Found that works well (with copper) because the heat is conducted to the sink, and then to the hot, cold and drain piping. Mine's metal, if you've got PVC or PEX, might not work as well.

5) My cold water pipe of the run was freezing - warm was ok.
Temporary solution -bridge the hot and cold water on that run.

If you have a single lever sink faucet (e.g. anything but a 1940's style sink)
block the spigot with a small water bottle cap, or by placing a plastic bag and small hose clamp over the spigot. Open it to "warm" - and you have now connected the hot water to the cold water.
Run the "cold" water and it will pull from both warm and cold.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 07:06 PM
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Made a small amount of progress. Found the pipe run that is frozen. Its buried in the ceiling/floor. I am able to get to part of it, but five or ten ft from the frozen part. Hairdryer is on it best as possible. Both hot and cold frozen up. Pain in the. Heat is cranked up all over. Hope my ailing boiler holds up. Going to be a long night.

Debating shut down the water tonight. Worried if ido ill lose the water I have now. If not and I spring a leak middle of the night ill be in a big mess. Ah the joys of a new home.
 
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Old 01-03-14, 07:20 PM
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I wouldn't shut the water off yet, but it wouldn't hurt to check that main valve and be sure it works. I also wouldn't go to bed till the frozen pipe breaks loose. I had a similar situation many years ago on New Years Eve, missed a good party too. It was so cold, I don't think the furnace ever shut off that night.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 05:34 AM
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Never did thaw last night. Today I will open up the ceiling find the pipe and tape insulate if possible. So... what kind of tape? if I go to home depot and ask for heat tape that will do it? From whT i can see and feel hot and cold pipes are about on top of each other. Cant easily wind a spool of tape around. Do i need to know anything special about wrapping the pipes? Thanks.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 05:51 AM
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Heat tape isn't really "tape" at all. It's a flat electrical cable that's usually attached parallel to a pipe rather than being wrapped around it. Also generally has its own thermostat so it's not on unless it needs to be. My only actual experience with it was when we lived onsite in our RV for a couple of years while building our house. I ran a PVC water line on the ground from the yard hydrant to the RV (about 50 feet), attached heat tape with plastic tie wraps, and covered everything with foam tube insulation and black plastic. Even with zero-degree temperatures some mornings, that pipe never froze.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 06:25 AM
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Looks like double post. Sorry. Fixed now. Ended upgetting the white tube of pipe insulation to cover the frozen run. Not sure this will actually help stop from freezing or not????
 

Last edited by Dan.NY; 01-04-14 at 07:36 AM.
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Old 01-04-14, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Dan.NY
Never did thaw last night.
If the house has marginal insulation, you're not going to get it to thaw when it's -5 F outside.
Better to make an all out heat attempt in the late am early pm when it's less cold out.

What I would do in the mean time is start checking or anyplace that you are loosing heat -
While you're waiting for the pipes to thaw, start checking, and plugging any cold air leaks that
you can find- e.g. rolled up bath towel to block cold air seeping in through a little used door,
might be using duct tape and plastic dry-cleaning bags over single-pane basement windows-

Thawing pipes is a bit like bailing an old row boat - bailing works better if you plug the leaks.


Originally Posted by Dan.NY
Today I will open up the ceiling find the pipe and tape insulate if possible.
So... what kind of tape? if I go to home depot and ask for heat tape that will do it?
I can make a wild guess that every big box is almost out of heat tape at this point. I'd check on line and buy it NOW, then go and pick it up at the store.

Originally Posted by Dan.NY
From whT i can see and feel hot and cold pipes are about on top of each other. Cant easily wind a spool of tape around. Do i need to know anything special about wrapping the pipes? Thanks.
Well, it can be a pain to get to them - one good thing, copper pipe is at least a good heat conductor. If you can't wrap the pipe with heat tape in a crawl space, begin wrapping it as near as you can.

Two other suggestions.

First, look for a main water shut off valve in the basement. See if it turns.
If it DOES, then I'd go ahead and close it, then open it just a bit.
That way, you will still have pressure to push water through the lines, but if you do
have a broken pipe, you're less likely to have catastrphics flooding.

As noted above, open all the inside spigots to keep the water from building up pressure in the pipe. That way, if there IS a split pipe, you will have water dripping, or running out, instead of gushing out.

Second, if it's an electric water heater, I'd turn the hot water heater up to high temperature. Should be simple, flip the circuit breaker to the water heater (will be a double breaker) open the access panels on the water heater, turn the heat setting on the elemetns up to highest temp, replace covers, turn the circuit breaker back on. Write a note on your calendar for day after tomorrow to turn the water temp back down.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 07:10 AM
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The statement by md2lgyk "It's a flat electrical cable that's usually attached parallel to a pipe rather than being wrapped around it." is very important. When wrapped around itself some heat tapes can catch fire, my brother found that out first hand. If the tape is longer than you need just leave it exposed, but don't try to stuff it in to get more heat.

If you have identified the frozen area, the next most important step will be to identify the source of the cold. If your overnight efforts did not that it out, then it must have a good supply of cold air. Consider, natural air leakage involves warm air out the upper areas of a home and cold air infiltrating in via the lower leaks. A very small hole could be allowing a steady flow of cold air into that space which is preventing the heat from reaching those pipes. A hot cup of coffee will freeze solid as a rock despite being inside a nice foam cup, it just takes 30 minutes longer.

If I remember what you posted, this is in the ceiling floor cavity between basement and house. If so, where the house sits on the foundation is a notorious location for major leaks. The concrete is uneven, joints in the sill plate, and often poor attention to installing the sill seal.

Sorry for going long, but important. You should open and inspect the entire frozen area. Freezing will expand areas that may be just a breath away from cracking open. If you are lucky, it only reached the slush stage, but if it went solid, it did some damage. You need to assess how much.

Remember, isolate the pipes away from the cold but expose them to the heat. Sometimes wrapping them also isolates them from the heat. Fiberglass insulation doesn't block air flow so look for some roxul or cobble in some rigid insulation, but be sure to air seal it away from the cold.

Luck
Bud
 
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Old 01-04-14, 07:43 AM
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Good stuff from everyone. Thanks. Yes the frozen area is basement ceiling/top of wall by the concrete foundation. In addition to the white fiberglass pjpe innsulation I have spray insulation and will spray and seal any foundation leaks. This is the plan. Hopefully this makes sense to do..?
 
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Old 01-04-14, 08:20 AM
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Just a note, the can foam (all foam) does not like it cold, but there isn't a lot of choice right now. Use a room temp can and maybe a hair dryer to warm up the intended area.

Bud

Added note, if the can foam becomes a mess, warm up some rope caulk or regular caulking. You can work it with those multi-tools on each hand (fingers) and it cleans off easily. Can foam does not wash off.
 

Last edited by Bud9051; 01-04-14 at 08:23 AM. Reason: addition
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Old 01-04-14, 08:33 AM
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Never did thaw last night. Today I will open up the ceiling find the pipe and tape insulate if possible
I wouldn't try to insulate the pipe till after it thaws. Since this is in basement ceiling, you have to get more heat into your basement.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by CasualJoe
Originally Posted by DanNY
Never did thaw last night. Today I will open up the ceiling find the pipe and tape insulate if possible
I wouldn't try to insulate the pipe till after it thaws.
Well, I've used scraps of foam split pipe insulation to hold heat tape against a pipe.

If the pipe is in an otherwise inaccessible area, I'd place the heat tape inside oversized foam insulation and slide it along the pipe as far as I could.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 09:09 AM
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I've used scraps of foam split pipe insulation to hold heat tape against a pipe.
The OP suggested insulating the frozen pipe without a heat tape, I wouldn't do that, however, heat tape held in place by split foam pipe insulation might be an option. I believe I'd use a heat gun on the pipe once the drywall is removed and try to thaw it first.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 10:16 AM
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I have water!!! Pulled the trim (ok ripped it out) removed wooden filler piece and exposed the pipes to 80 degree temps in the basement. Maybe five or ten mins later wboooooosh. They thawed. I now have a goood view to whats going on back there and one thing I see lots and lots of daylight. Going to figure how to close off these holes. Amazing really. Ill throw my insulation on now im thawed. Thanks for advice everyone.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Dan.NY
Maybe five or ten mins later wboooooosh. They thawed.
Frozen pipes usually have dislodged grit and sediment.

You may want to check whether toilet fill valves and sink faucet screens are plugged up.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 12:35 PM
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Y I did happen to see grit and stuff when the water came on. Ill check screens. No leaks yet. Hoping im safe. I found source of issues. One was dryer vent allowing mass amounts of cold air in. Another about a two foot strip on outside of house that needed sealing. I hope the foam sets up in the cold. This is a temporary solution though and cut draft down a measurable amount. The real fix will be great. no space to wrap my pipes though. Not sure what to do with them.
 
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Old 01-04-14, 04:03 PM
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From the sound of the leaks, you may be fine just insulating between the pipes and the outside. If the pipes are then open to the joist cavity with floor above and sheetrock below then it will remain reasonably warm, at least above freezing. With open gaps and the natural air leakage being "in", those pipes were almost as cold as being outside.

Adding pipe insulation may not add a lot to a good layer on the cold side. NJ has Roxul dealers and once you see how dense it is you will understand why a lot of contractors like it. Mike Holmes uses it frequently on his shows.

Bud
 
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