Water Supply Under Lawn Freezes for First Time (at 24 degrees!)...


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Old 01-15-17, 01:49 AM
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Water Supply Under Lawn Freezes for First Time (at 24 degrees!)...

I hope someone has some advice on this new problem...

We live in NC in a 2-story 1991 contemporary (no crawl space, no crawl space). The basement has been finished (carpets, heat, rooms, etc.) for 25 years. The gas water heater is indoors, in the heated middle of one of the basement rooms, next to the downstairs gas furnace.

On Saturday the temps dropped to 24 (common here on occasion every winter), and when we woke we had no water in the house. This has never happened before (we've only lived here a couple of years).

We called a plumber, and he checked everything indoors, and also out at the 2 water meters (one is for irrigation). The meters are about 175 feet from the house, about a foot underground. He said the meters were not frozen, and he confirmed we weren't getting any water. He advised us to just wait till the temps rose.

We also called the city water department, and they sent someone out. He also said the meters were getting "good pressure and water" and therefore there was no "city" problem (he also said several others in town had the same problem).

We have no idea where the line is buried (I called a locator service, but they want $700 just to locate the line) and nothing is visible anywhere at the house exterior (someone told me the lines are beneath the slab?).

The lawn is dry everywhere, and not frozen anywhere.

Sure enough, as soon as we hit 35 or so the water came on.

My questions:

1. Why might this happen for the first time (we get temps in the 20s, and lower, every winter)?
2. Is there anything we should do to prevent this next time (we've never had to run faucets all night when it was cold)? My wife says this was a weird one-time thing and we should therefore just ignore it.

Thanks much for any advice!

Alan
 
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Old 01-15-17, 03:06 AM
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There's something to be said for ignoring "a weird onetime thing". Plus, if it happens again you could tell your wife you told her so.

In the interim, I'd find the water line to determine if anything is visual in that area, perhaps a low spot where the pipe is only inches from the surface. It shouldn't be hard to figure out where the water enters the house and the water line should be in a largely straight line from the meter.
 
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Old 01-15-17, 03:13 AM
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Look for your main water shutoff. (Should) be a straight line to meter. Never can tell you sure but builders hate spending more money than necessary.
 
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Old 01-15-17, 03:52 AM
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Thanks Tony and Pugsl,

The plumber did attempt to follow the line from the shutoff, but the shutoff is at the water heater in a room in the middle of our lower level, and the pipe disappears into the ceiling and there isn't much space (perhaps 8-10") so he couldn't trace it back to where it actually enters the house.

He thought the line was installed during construction, and the only way to locate it precisely within the ceiling would be to cut the ceiling and/or wallboard in several rooms. We decided at that point to just hope for the best (though I'm still worried about this being just a one-time thing).

Thanks,

Alan
 
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Old 01-15-17, 04:29 AM
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Sounds good. I lived in SC for a time in a home by the water so it was elevated. We were concerned about the possibility, though infrequent, of water pipes under the house freezing. We did something we called drippity drip, turning a faucet or two at a very low rate so the water would flow.
 
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Old 01-15-17, 04:58 AM
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A couple of points. Since the water line goes up through the ceiling to get across the basement to the exterior it must then come down to pass through the basement wall headed towards the meter. Where it comes down (I'm guessing) could be in the basement rim joist and that area is notable for freezing pipes. A simple air leak between house and foundation can let that 24 air in and freeze a pipe.

24 temps are not that cold and the ground requires extended periods of cold weather (below freezing) to move the freeze line down even a few inches. If you take a shovel to one of your flower beds you will probably find very little frost.

If the pipe does run under a patio that isn't good but still would require a lot of cold weather. We would hope the install is several inches below that patio if indeed it is there.

The straight line advice is good, just follow the ceiling joists from where it enters the ceiling over to the outside wall. If you decide to explore, that area above the outside wall is where I would start.

Bud
 
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Old 01-15-17, 07:18 AM
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Thank you, Bud (and Tony!).

A few friends have also advised the "drip faucet", and we will try it (even though we've never needed to before).

I just followed your "where to look" advice, and I discovered some areas along the exterior walls where the soil level was lower than elsewhere (I am guessing this naturally occurs over time?). I can't determine of course if the line actually comes in at one of those spots, but they are in line with the meters.

I'm thinking of getting lots of bags of top soil, and then adding it to those areas so that the resulting soil level is then at least as high as the surrounding areas.

Does this make sense? Is it worth the expense and effort?

Thanks again!

Alan
 
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Old 01-15-17, 07:47 AM
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Possible area of freeze is where the pipe goes down the wall to ground. Maybe a air leak to the pipe that wasn't there before.
 
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Old 01-15-17, 08:16 AM
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Since this sounds like a municipal water system, there's probably a shut-off near the water main in the street, and a straight line could be drawn between it and the entrance in the basement . . . . thereby showing you (within inches) exactly where the water line is under the lawn.

That assumes they didn't use coiled copper which may have required more of a serpentine trench. And the municipality probably knows exactly how deep that shut-off was set (and inspected) by them or their representatives when the water hook-up was performed.
 
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Old 01-15-17, 08:47 AM
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Always good to keep the soil near the house higher than the surrounding soil so water will drain away.

Natural air flow through a home involves cold air flowing in low places like the house to foundation seam and warm air being pushed up and out high leaks like the attic entrance or recessed lights. Many more leak areas those are just examples. But, on a cold calm day one might be able to smoke being pulled in along the edge of the house at the foundation level. Turning on all exhaust appliances, bath and kitchen fans, and dryer, would increase that air flow making it easier to see. I use a similar approach but with my infrared camera and the fans pressurizing the house.

If you can locate the leaky area you might be able to press some rope caulking in there and stop it.

If the freeze is inside the house as opposed to somewhere out under the grass then a simple piece of plywood leaned against the house in that area might keep the pipe warm enough to not freeze.

Sounds like another project for the coming summer.

Best,
Bud
 
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Old 01-15-17, 10:06 AM
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Alan, I want to comment on your last question, "Is it worth the expense and effort", and build on Bud's comment. I suspect the issue you haven't raised substantively is the more serious of the two.

Yes, you may have a leak, but finding a leak that may not even exist in a 175' pipe you can't locate easily doesn't sound like something I'd be quick to undertake.

However, for several good reasons (and in keeping with Bud's comment) ground should slope away from a house. If that can be done with $100 worth of dirt, I'd do it. BTW, if you live in a community with a recycling center, you may be able to get what you need for free (or almost free) assuming you can transport it.
 

Last edited by Tony P.; 01-15-17 at 12:09 PM.
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Old 01-16-17, 04:05 AM
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Thank you again Tony!

Your comments are very helpful and we will follow them.

I'm going to look for someone to do the soil stuff because my wife of 50 years wont give me permission to do it

Thank you, again!

Alan
 
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Old 01-17-17, 05:28 AM
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Hi Guys,

Just wanted to share some good news: The handyman I hired to spread the soil around the foundation asked if he could first try to find the hidden water line. I said okay, thinking it would be a waste of time, but sure enough, he found the line! I have no idea why the plumber couldn't find it (Gary, the handyman, theorized that the plumber did find it, but he didn't want to waste his time doing stuff like re-insulating the line and replacing the vent).

The line comes up in a tiny crawlspace in a corner of the house, where the lawn irrigation controls are. Turns out the insulation on the line had deteriorated, and more important - the grate in that area was stuck in the wide open position which let all the cold air in. He's replacing the grate and insulation in the next few days.

Thanks again to all of you for your time and help! Much appreciated.

Alan
 
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Old 01-17-17, 05:39 AM
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Side comment for those of us getting too old to DIY, finding a good, reliable, HONEST, handy person is very important. Keep him busy.

Bud
 
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Old 01-17-17, 05:50 AM
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Thanks, Bud, will do!

(I have a handyman buddy - a retired EE and ME - but he's even older than me - he's 78, and still very active.)

Alan
 
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Old 01-17-17, 08:01 AM
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Sometimes, just having another set of (interested) eyeballs evaluate the situation is all that's needed.

The key word is probably "interested" !
 
 

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