Author Topic: Pipes froze :(  (Read 2166 times)

neophyte

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 519
  • Location: A wretched hive of scum and villainy
Pipes froze :(
« on: January 01, 2018, 07:22:01 PM »
It's my first winter in my first house and today we started off the new year with frozen pipes in the first floor bathroom.  The pipe to the toilet is running right up the exterior brick and frozen solid. The water to the sink is probably about 6 inches into the basement and is fine.  (Hoping to get those rim joists insulated in the spring.) What's the best way to handle this? I'm thinking to get some of that heated tape to try that first but I'm concerned that it won't be enough (also don't have a good place to plug it in). Barring that is the only other solution to move the water supply to the toilet farther out into the basement and bring it up through the basement floor instead of through the wall?  Thanks in advance!

Sun Hat

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 487
  • Location: Canada
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2018, 08:02:11 PM »
I'll preface my comment by saying that I'm not a plumber, I just live where pipes tend to do this. The good news is that it shouldn't be too difficult to thaw the line, but the bad news is that keeping it from re-freezing will be some work.

https://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-thaw-frozen-pex-water-lines

The link above has instructions for how to thaw frozen polyethelyne pipes. I'll underscore the importance of shutting off the water supply where it's still liquid, since you won't necessarily be able to see fine cracks in the pipe, and you want to limit any spills to whatever is in the closed section of the line.

The bad news is that it'll re-freeze. Generally, water pipes shouldn't be run in an exterior wall, and since yours seems to be touching the brick, there's no thermal break, so the cold will continue to transfer from the brick to the pipe. If there's any room between the pipe and the wall to shimmy some styrofoam or pipe insulation, that will help. Another trick is to keep the water running through the pipe. Since your supply is running to a toilet tank rather than to a sink that you could let drip, you'll have to see if you can rig your toilet to run (this is going to waste a ton of water). Set your water tank float high so that it tries to fill the tank above the top of the overflow valve - this will cause the water to continually fill the tank and flow slowly into the bowl (and down the line). Overflow valves are easy to install if you don't have one.

Since you don't want to waste water forever, you should probably run the line away from the wall unless you can get some insulation in there.

teen persuasion

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1040
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2018, 08:21:52 PM »
We've successfully thawed copper water lines with a hair blow dryer.  Plastic feed lines aren't common here, just drain lines.

We begin warming the side of the freeze nearest the opened faucet (for us), so that melted water has a way to escape rather than build up pressure, and work back to the source.

Check to see if heat tape is safe to use on plastic lines - you might risk melting them.

Jon Bon

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 491
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2018, 08:27:16 PM »
Pretty good info by sun hat, I too am not a plumber.

Yes the issue is the exterior wall for sure.

In the short term throw a space heater near the pipes to thaw them out. Turn the water back on and see if the pipes themselves are damaged after an hour or so  near the space heater.  I've thawed pipes this way, obviously be careful, dont melt anything or catch anything on fire. They will thaw out.

So I would for sure drip my sink most cold nights until you can come up with a more permanent solution.

First I would try to insulate near the pipes, even a 1/2 inch piece of foam insulation between the wall and pipe could make a big difference.  Before you start moving pipes it might be worth it to buy a $20 temp gun, They are fun to play with and useful as hell!

How cold is the basement to begin with? Do you have an insulated crawlspace, foundation gap, or something that is just dumping cold air into the area? I would try to find and eliminate the cold air first.

Assuming dripping the pipe as well as trying to insulate fails then you can move the pipe.




scantee

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 370
    • Do Anything
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2018, 08:40:19 PM »
This happened to me yesterday, for the first time ever, with my kitchen sink. We were able to unfreeze it by using a hair dryer on the outside of the pipe in the basement, in combination with pouring boiling hot salted water down the drain. It took persistence, we worked on it on and off for most of the day, but eventually the ice gave way and then it cleared quickly.

Ocelot

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 111
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2018, 07:09:00 PM »
I hope noone minds if I jump in here - this has just happened to us today, in a copper hot water pipe that runs against the inside of an exterior brick wall. It's insulated but not very well, and our big problem is that the section that we suspect is frozen is inaccessible without removing kitchen cabinets and a plaster wall. Does anyone have any ideas for how to solve this without too much destruction?

Sibley

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3168
  • Age: 33
  • Location: Chicago, IL
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2018, 08:21:32 PM »
I'm working to unfreeze pipes right now. Mine are in the utility room on the back of the house, they run along the exterior wall and the wall is poorly insulated. I didn't know about the pipe tape stuff last summer when I redid the room, so oh well. The way I did the room it's pretty easy to get to the pipes at least. The insulation I added clearly isn't sufficient.

I've got them all exposed and have a space heater going. It looks like the whole wall may be frozen? Not sure. I just keep sliding the heater along the wall bit by bit. The faucet has been dripping, so hopefully everything is melting and nothing is broken - I have no way to shut down this pipe without shutting down the whole house.

I will be adding the pipe tape before I put everything back together though!

edit: Pipes are unfrozen, everything is working properly. no leaks. Getting the heater tape tomorrow.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2018, 08:55:16 PM by Sibley »

Sun Hat

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 487
  • Location: Canada
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2018, 06:59:09 AM »
I hope noone minds if I jump in here - this has just happened to us today, in a copper hot water pipe that runs against the inside of an exterior brick wall. It's insulated but not very well, and our big problem is that the section that we suspect is frozen is inaccessible without removing kitchen cabinets and a plaster wall. Does anyone have any ideas for how to solve this without too much destruction?

Hi Ocelot! Try contacting your city water department to ask if they have a "hot shot" to thaw your pipe. My city uses them to thaw underground frozen lines all of the time. They can only be used on metal pipes, so you're ok, OP isn't, and essentially look like the clamp that goes on a car jumper cable. It clamps to an exposed part of the metal water line and heats it. I'm not sure if there's a fire risk associated with using one on an indoor section, but they'd be able to tell you. IDK, but  plumbers may also have them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUA_D9f316c  (Hot shot video)

A less exciting solution would be to use a pipe heating wire on an exposed section near the frozen part.

To keep it thawed, I think that you'd have to improve the insulation (maybe via the back of the cabinets so that you don't have to remove them?) or keep the hot water flowing at a slow drip.

Jon Bon

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 491
  • Location: Midwest
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2018, 07:39:16 AM »
Maybe those of us who live in glass houses should not throw stones? :-)

Totally just spent the evening thawing out pipes at a rental, while I was doing this got a call to thaw out pipes at a different rental!

I had plastic pipes at both so there was no damage to the pipes. I was able to find the air leak and fix one, butt he other was just poor planning and poor workmanship so I will have to move that pipe at some point.

Space heaters near the effected area should do the trick. With metal pipes you probably could get away with being further away from the frozen section as copper is great at transferring heat.

neophyte

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 519
  • Location: A wretched hive of scum and villainy
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2018, 01:32:25 PM »
The more the merrier? (I think not in this case...)

I got my pipes thawed last night, for fun I guess. Then I just turned the water back off and opened the tap since I don't have a plan for keeping them unfrozen yet. I might just leave them like that through the weekend when it's supposed to warm a little. Fortunately it seldom gets this cold here for this long. Unfortunately, occassional days this cold aren't all that unusual.

I actually have one of those heat guns, been having some fun with it.
The house is 100 years old and there's no insulation at all in the basement (plumbing is a year old, why they ran it right up the brick beats me!). The basement in general is lower to mid 50s, the brick the pipe runs up was about 37 when I measured it, there is a gap at the very top of the brick that feels colder. The brick about 2 feet away measured at 27. Inside the bathroom, the drywall on the lower half of the wall is cold to the touch. I pulled the plastic doo-dad where the pipe comes through the wall away and tried to measure the temp behind the drywall. I was getting right around 32.

Clearly I need to insulate the basement! But as for this particular pipe,   I could maybe get something 1/8" thick behind it. Perhaps a sheet of craft foam or the fabric insulation that goes in pot holders would fit.

It looks like I could get heat tape with a thermostat that would be safe for PVC pipes, but I'd have to install a new electrical outlet to use it.

Ocelot

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 111
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2018, 03:43:19 PM »
I hope noone minds if I jump in here - this has just happened to us today, in a copper hot water pipe that runs against the inside of an exterior brick wall. It's insulated but not very well, and our big problem is that the section that we suspect is frozen is inaccessible without removing kitchen cabinets and a plaster wall. Does anyone have any ideas for how to solve this without too much destruction?

Hi Ocelot! Try contacting your city water department to ask if they have a "hot shot" to thaw your pipe. My city uses them to thaw underground frozen lines all of the time. They can only be used on metal pipes, so you're ok, OP isn't, and essentially look like the clamp that goes on a car jumper cable. It clamps to an exposed part of the metal water line and heats it. I'm not sure if there's a fire risk associated with using one on an indoor section, but they'd be able to tell you. IDK, but  plumbers may also have them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUA_D9f316c  (Hot shot video)

A less exciting solution would be to use a pipe heating wire on an exposed section near the frozen part.

To keep it thawed, I think that you'd have to improve the insulation (maybe via the back of the cabinets so that you don't have to remove them?) or keep the hot water flowing at a slow drip.

That thing looks amazing! Thanks, I'll look into it.

Edit: Update for those interested - I had nothing else to do this evening so I tried some extended hair dryer action at both exposed ends. Even though there was 10ft+ of pipe between them, I must have been close because after about 15 mins it worked! Never have I been so excited to have a hot shower.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2018, 04:32:40 PM by Ocelot »

DangleStash

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 97
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2018, 01:13:45 PM »
If it makes you feel any better, when we bought our house there was a broken basement window about 6" away from the pipes running up to the 2 units kitchens!  We closed in late February, and one of our conditions was that it must be boarded up because they wouldn't get it replaced!  Some people are idiots, penny wise and pound foolish.

Spring project will be replacing all basement windows with dual pane insulated ones and insulating where necessary.

J Boogie

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 676
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2018, 01:11:43 PM »
I had two copper pipes burst and a radiator crack in my bathroom.

It was pretty bad but I got the water main shut off right away which was good.

Silverado

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 176
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2018, 07:38:43 PM »
Some of these seem to be caused by terrible initial construction planning and or execution. That really is a shame. I have had to get into two different spots that had terrible layout to soffits and allowed cold air over pipes. 3 bucks in insulation on the day the walls were closed would have saved me 30 hours and a couple hundred bucks.

Zap

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 23
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #14 on: January 13, 2018, 09:57:21 PM »
As an electrician, I want to add that heat tape is for exposed pipework only. Do not install it in a wall then cover it!

Sibley

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3168
  • Age: 33
  • Location: Chicago, IL
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #15 on: January 13, 2018, 10:44:14 PM »
As an electrician, I want to add that heat tape is for exposed pipework only. Do not install it in a wall then cover it!

I noticed. Luckily, I read instructions. I would have had to break 2 or 3 of the "don't"s to use heat tape. I returned the stuff and bought a small space heater instead. Between dripping faucets and using the heater, I should be good.

Lulee

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 166
  • Location: NH
  • "We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it."
Re: Pipes froze :(
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2018, 05:09:34 PM »
I found in my last apartment, after an invasion of gray squirrels chewed routes around the walls in the kitchen of the apartment below mine, that I was having troubles in sub-zero weather with the hot and rarely the cold water pipes in my kitchen were freezing, even with my leaving water trickling all night and the cabinet doors open and running the hot water whenever I got up in the night for a bathroom trip.  The old hair dryer would indeed unfreeze them eventually but seemed to take forever, especially when it was -10 Fahrenheit or lower outside.

What I found sped things up CONSIDERABLY was to keep pouring piping hot water down the drain while propping up the hair dryer so it could do its best to force hot air down the wall.  I'd boil water on the stove in my largest pot and in between those, I'd bring in buckets of the hottest water I could get from the bathtub and pour those down as well.  It seemed to help warm up the cavity all those pipes were running through on their indirect course around windows and cabinets to the cellar.

Maybe this would help some of you as well.  Best of luck to us all as this seems to be a pretty brutal winter for pipes.