How to thaw out a old farm house - two split radiators, pipes frozen.

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Old 01-10-14, 07:19 AM
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How to thaw out a old farm house - two split radiators, pipes frozen.

Our neighbors are away on vacation during this deep freeze.
Heat is oil fired boiler and radiators. Heating oil ran out. House froze.
So - what sort of checklist is there for thawing out a house?


The bad news-
Have at least 2 split radiators, one in first floor kitchen, one in 2nd floor main bedroom. Most water pipes are frozen, don't know if they've split.

The good news -
The kitchen is over a crawl space, when that radiator split it sprayed water for a short time then refroze, water drained to the outside, saved the first floor.
Split radiator in main bedroom froze and stayed frozen, the only water really visible is an icicle running down the side of the split radiator fin.


Current situation-
House is an old stone farmhouse - 3 bedrooms 1 bath.
- Electric is on.
- Now have heating oil in the tank.
- Well pump is off at the breaker.
Cold water drain is open.
Kitchen sink & bathroom tub faucets were frozen, as in wouldn't turn.
Bathroom sink faucets didn't freeze, are open.
Toilet didn't freeze, tank is dry.

- Boiler
Boiler is off at switch.
Main drain is open.

So, we're supposed to see 50-60 degrees tomorrow, first step, open all the windows, try to get the pipes to thaw.

Second step, isolate the two split radiators from the system.

Third step, start up the little hot-dog air compressor, set at 10 psi, put a garden house connection on the air line and see if the hot, cold and radiator lines hold pressure.

Any specific suggestions for this sort of re-start?
 
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Old 01-10-14, 09:48 AM
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So, this is not your house and the owners are away?

I would try to stabilize the house for the owners return. You know of a few leaks but there could be others you are not aware of so I'm leery of trying to thaw out and repair things. I would focus on stabilizing the situation to minimize the potential for more damage.

I would turn off the water, kill power to the water heater, shut down the furnace and try to drain the plumbing and heating systems as much as possible. Leave all faucets and spigots in the open position and don't forget to empty the sink traps & toilets (bowl and tank) or pour in a non-toxic anti freeze.

If you are set on trying to repair things while the owners are away be prepared to babysit the house and give it a thorough inspection for leaks. There could be other burst or slow leaking pipes in the walls of which you are not aware.

----
I'm currently working on an old house. The tenants had the water turned on a week ago, power Wednesday and have yet to have the gas turned on. Needless to say there were burst pipes. No problem so I fixed the ones immediately visible. Turned on the water and inspected in the crawl space. More leaks than I care to count. The pipes were thoroughly wrapped in newspaper from 1965 (Lyndon Johnson was one of the headlines) as insulation. There are so many leaks that I'm doing a full re-plumb with PEX instead of chasing leaks in 50 year old copper and steel pipes.
 
  #3  
Old 01-10-14, 12:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Pilot Dane
So, this is not your house and the owners are away?
Yep.
Sorry, I had a few ideas running together there.

First party was emergency stabilization.
Neighbor called out of the blue, asked if I'd check up on their house.
Walk in and the kitchen floor is covered in ice and water's burbling out of the radiator like a water fountain.

Second part, the thing that causes the most damage, is when the pipes thaw.

Third, all the fun of tracking down leaks.

Good point about the drain traps, however they were already frozen solid when I got there.

Originally Posted by Pilot Dane
If you are set on trying to repair things while the owners are away be prepared to babysit the house and give it a thorough inspection for leaks.
There could be other burst or slow leaking pipes in the walls of which you are not aware.
Not really doing any repairs yet, only trying to minimize damage, and perhaps facilitate thawing.

- boiler off, radiator drain open
- well pump off, main water valve closed.
- hot and cold spigots to minimize leaking.


Fortunately, it's a fieldstone farmhouse, there are no pipes in the walls.
All the radiator plumbing is out in the open. The kitchen and bathroom plumbing are visible through crawl space or looking down the access panel.
I've taken buyers through one or two homes where the pipes froze

Anybody ever used compressed air to check whether water pipes were damaged?
 

Last edited by Hal_S; 01-10-14 at 01:14 PM.
  #4  
Old 01-10-14, 01:46 PM
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A air pressure test is often required when plumbing is inspected. I have a simple test fixture with a pressure gauge and a Schrader valve (tire/bicycle air valve) and an NPT fitting so it can be tied into the plumbing. Use a compressor to pressurize. Come back in 24 hours and see if the pressure has dropped. If the temperature drops you may see the gauge drop some. There are online calculators and charts showing how temperature can affect air pressure if you want to really get accurate.

One drawback of using air is that it only tells you that there is a leak. Finding the leak can be a problem unless it's big enough to hear the air hissing. At least with water you can more easily find the source even if it means your standing in a puddle to fix it.

One of the sneakiest burst pipe areas I commonly see is the riser from the tub faucet up to the shower head. Many valves trap water in that pipe and leaks are inside the wall and can drain down to the crawlspace without being noticed. Everyone turns on the tub to check for leaks but make sure you select shower for a while as well.
 
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