Author Topic: Avoiding frozen pipes  (Read 1303 times)

FLBiker

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Avoiding frozen pipes
« on: February 03, 2022, 08:11:17 AM »
We moved from Florida to Nova Scotia in 2020, and (so far) we haven't had any issues with frozen pipes.  This winter, though, we've had several storms (another one coming tomorrow) that could potentially result in longer term (3-4 days) power outages.  Thus, I'd like to know what we should do in order to continue not having frozen pipes.

First, I have a couple of questions about "everyday" (i.e. with power) temperature practices.  Our house is well-insulated and built in the 90's.  It's 2 stories with an unfinished basement.  When power is on, we typically run the pellet stove (downstairs) during the day, and the heat pump (upstairs) 24 hours a day.  I set the heat pump to 19 C during the day (I work in the room it's in) and 17 C overnight.  We set the pellet stove to different power levels depending on how cold it is outside.  As a result, the house is typically around 19/20 C in the afternoon and evening, but significantly colder in the morning.  For example, the basement is often 9 C overnight. 

Is this a problem?  I was reading some stuff online that said you should keep your house at 55F (so ~12 C) and we definitely have spaces that routinely get colder than that.  All of our baseboard heaters are set to kick on at 5 C (and never kick on, except in the mudroom).  Should I set them all to 10 C?

On particularly cold nights (say less than -10 C) should we be letting our taps run or opening under-sink cabinets?  My parents did this (in Boston and St. Louis).

Next, if the power goes out, at what interior temperature should I turn off the water main and drain the pipes?  Should I also turn off and drain the water heater, or would its insulation keep it from freezing in a 4 day power outage?  Is there anything else I should do?

Thanks!  I'm still getting the hang of this freezing weather.  I've done some googling, but a lot of it seems kind of alarmist (i.e. keep every space at 55F) and I value the practicality of this forum.  And if any other info would be helpful, please don't hesitate to ask.

uniwelder

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2022, 08:37:41 AM »
I'm not up in Canada, but we do get temps down to 15 f (-10 c) regularly.  Considering a basement and power outage, I would 1) turn off the main water valve, 2) shut off the breaker to the water heater, 3) open the faucets to drain, including the basement to empty the upper lines.  I wouldn't drain the water heater as it will still keep water hot for a few days.  I don't see any reason to worry about the basement temperature-- it just needs to stay above freezing, so as long as its separate from the rest of the house and not drafty, it shouldn't get below 40 f (5 c) unless you have a lot of exposed walls.

Something I've really liked about PEX is its ability to handle freezes.  I had tenants in a house leave for a 2 week winter vacation and shut off heat in the house.  When they returned, the only problem with plumbing was a short 3" long section in the crawlspace that split.  If your house was built in the 90's I guess you have copper?

Sibley

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2022, 08:41:06 AM »
The problem with blanket advice is it really does depend on the house. In my house, I know that as long as the heat is working, the main house is fine at -20F (-28C). But with the heat on, my utility room is vulnerable at 10F (-12C). That's a huge difference, and it's because of poor design in the utility room.

You really need to figure out what the house's tolerance is. If you don't have water lines on exterior walls, that helps. If you have insulation, that helps. Until you know the house's tolerance, you need to be careful. Problem is you really only learn the house's tolerance when you have a pipe freeze.

You have a couple years of data points already. Write them down as best you can. You know that you haven't had issues with frozen pipes, so that's your current baseline. As long as you don't let things get colder in the house than your current baseline, you should be fine. If the basement gets colder than 9C, or it stays 9C for longer than overnight, then pay attention.

I don't want to deal with broken pipes, so in your place I'd figure out the most vulnerable spots and let those taps drip in very cold weather. Vulnerable = exterior walls, unheated or poorly heated spaces, no insulation. But the bathroom sink that has no water pipes on the exterior wall, the pipes have insulation I'm less likely to be concerned about.

FLBiker

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2022, 09:41:06 AM »
I'm not up in Canada, but we do get temps down to 15 f (-10 c) regularly.  Considering a basement and power outage, I would 1) turn off the main water valve, 2) shut off the breaker to the water heater, 3) open the faucets to drain, including the basement to empty the upper lines.  I wouldn't drain the water heater as it will still keep water hot for a few days.  I don't see any reason to worry about the basement temperature-- it just needs to stay above freezing, so as long as its separate from the rest of the house and not drafty, it shouldn't get below 40 f (5 c) unless you have a lot of exposed walls.

Something I've really liked about PEX is its ability to handle freezes.  I had tenants in a house leave for a 2 week winter vacation and shut off heat in the house.  When they returned, the only problem with plumbing was a short 3" long section in the crawlspace that split.  If your house was built in the 90's I guess you have copper?

Awesome, this is very helpful, thanks!  If I'm not draining the water heater, am I right in thinking that I'd just be opening the cold water faucets?  Or would I open the hot ones, too, to drain out the water between the water tank and the faucet?  Our basement is almost all underground, so I think we're OK there.  And you're right, we have copper.  That's interesting to know about PEX, though.

The problem with blanket advice is it really does depend on the house. In my house, I know that as long as the heat is working, the main house is fine at -20F (-28C). But with the heat on, my utility room is vulnerable at 10F (-12C). That's a huge difference, and it's because of poor design in the utility room.

You really need to figure out what the house's tolerance is. If you don't have water lines on exterior walls, that helps. If you have insulation, that helps. Until you know the house's tolerance, you need to be careful. Problem is you really only learn the house's tolerance when you have a pipe freeze.

You have a couple years of data points already. Write them down as best you can. You know that you haven't had issues with frozen pipes, so that's your current baseline. As long as you don't let things get colder in the house than your current baseline, you should be fine. If the basement gets colder than 9C, or it stays 9C for longer than overnight, then pay attention.

I don't want to deal with broken pipes, so in your place I'd figure out the most vulnerable spots and let those taps drip in very cold weather. Vulnerable = exterior walls, unheated or poorly heated spaces, no insulation. But the bathroom sink that has no water pipes on the exterior wall, the pipes have insulation I'm less likely to be concerned about.

This makes a lot of sense, too.  We've definitely had nights down past -20 C since we moved in, and days where it didn't get above -15 C or so (although not very many).  So I guess we're good until then.  The main house all seems well insulated, and most of our plumbing (other than the kitchen sink / dishwasher) isn't on exterior walls.  We've got a mudroom and garage that were added on about 5 years after the main construction, and they get colder, but neither are plumbed.  And we do have foamboard insulation on the walls of the basement, even though it's unfinished.  There's a bathroom on the first floor that gets a bit colder than other spots (because it's away from the pellet stove) but even there it's typically 12 C on a really cold morning.  I'll check more diligently, though.

Is there some sort of thermometer for taking temperature measurements of particular spots?  So I could theoretically check a pipe or a wall or whatever?

Thanks again!

uniwelder

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2022, 09:49:39 AM »
I'm not up in Canada, but we do get temps down to 15 f (-10 c) regularly.  Considering a basement and power outage, I would 1) turn off the main water valve, 2) shut off the breaker to the water heater, 3) open the faucets to drain, including the basement to empty the upper lines.  I wouldn't drain the water heater as it will still keep water hot for a few days.  I don't see any reason to worry about the basement temperature-- it just needs to stay above freezing, so as long as its separate from the rest of the house and not drafty, it shouldn't get below 40 f (5 c) unless you have a lot of exposed walls.

Something I've really liked about PEX is its ability to handle freezes.  I had tenants in a house leave for a 2 week winter vacation and shut off heat in the house.  When they returned, the only problem with plumbing was a short 3" long section in the crawlspace that split.  If your house was built in the 90's I guess you have copper?

Awesome, this is very helpful, thanks!  If I'm not draining the water heater, am I right in thinking that I'd just be opening the cold water faucets?  Or would I open the hot ones, too, to drain out the water between the water tank and the faucet?  Our basement is almost all underground, so I think we're OK there.  And you're right, we have copper.  That's interesting to know about PEX, though.

You'd want to open both hot and cold faucets.  Water sitting in either line is going to be equally cold once you get a couple feet away from the water heater.

FLBiker

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2022, 09:58:54 AM »
Awesome, this is very helpful, thanks!  If I'm not draining the water heater, am I right in thinking that I'd just be opening the cold water faucets?  Or would I open the hot ones, too, to drain out the water between the water tank and the faucet?  Our basement is almost all underground, so I think we're OK there.  And you're right, we have copper.  That's interesting to know about PEX, though.

You'd want to open both hot and cold faucets.  Water sitting in either line is going to be equally cold once you get a couple feet away from the water heater.

Excellent, thanks!

Sibley

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2022, 01:55:31 PM »
This makes a lot of sense, too.  We've definitely had nights down past -20 C since we moved in, and days where it didn't get above -15 C or so (although not very many).  So I guess we're good until then.  The main house all seems well insulated, and most of our plumbing (other than the kitchen sink / dishwasher) isn't on exterior walls.  We've got a mudroom and garage that were added on about 5 years after the main construction, and they get colder, but neither are plumbed.  And we do have foamboard insulation on the walls of the basement, even though it's unfinished.  There's a bathroom on the first floor that gets a bit colder than other spots (because it's away from the pellet stove) but even there it's typically 12 C on a really cold morning.  I'll check more diligently, though.

Is there some sort of thermometer for taking temperature measurements of particular spots?  So I could theoretically check a pipe or a wall or whatever?

Thanks again!

I learned the hard way by having pipes freeze (one pipe, repeatedly) - that was my thermometer. It's not just the temp, its also how long at that temp, and if the water is moving. Feel the wall. If its cold, the pipe in the wall is cold. Maybe not cold enough to freeze, but it tells you something.

FLBiker

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2022, 01:56:58 PM »
I learned the hard way by having pipes freeze (one pipe, repeatedly) - that was my thermometer. It's not just the temp, its also how long at that temp, and if the water is moving. Feel the wall. If its cold, the pipe in the wall is cold. Maybe not cold enough to freeze, but it tells you something.

OK, sounds good.  Thanks!

GuitarStv

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2022, 02:29:42 PM »
It's already been covered, but yeah . . . for a multi-day power outage you want to completely drain your pipes from the lowest place in your home that you can.  The goal is to get as much water as possible out of the system.  No water, no expansion, no cracking and freezing.

lthenderson

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2022, 03:17:53 PM »
Can you run your pellet stove independent of electricity? I ask because we've been without electricity for long periods of time in the past and just start a fire in the basement fireplace is generally more than enough to keep the temperatures well above freezing even though I can't use any fans. I just leave the door between the family room and the utility room open.

I just put a simple outdoor mercury type thermometer in the utility room and check it now and then. Only if it would get down to say upper 30's would I start panicking and draining pipes. Don't forget to pour a little antifreeze in all your traps and toilets when you get the lines all drained.

Sibley

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2022, 06:20:12 PM »
Can you run your pellet stove independent of electricity? I ask because we've been without electricity for long periods of time in the past and just start a fire in the basement fireplace is generally more than enough to keep the temperatures well above freezing even though I can't use any fans. I just leave the door between the family room and the utility room open.

I just put a simple outdoor mercury type thermometer in the utility room and check it now and then. Only if it would get down to say upper 30's would I start panicking and draining pipes. Don't forget to pour a little antifreeze in all your traps and toilets when you get the lines all drained.

Use MARINE antifreeze - its safer for the water supply.

FLBiker

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #11 on: February 04, 2022, 08:34:54 AM »
Can you run your pellet stove independent of electricity? I ask because we've been without electricity for long periods of time in the past and just start a fire in the basement fireplace is generally more than enough to keep the temperatures well above freezing even though I can't use any fans. I just leave the door between the family room and the utility room open.

I just put a simple outdoor mercury type thermometer in the utility room and check it now and then. Only if it would get down to say upper 30's would I start panicking and draining pipes. Don't forget to pour a little antifreeze in all your traps and toilets when you get the lines all drained.

Unfortunately, no.  I've got a UPS on the pellet stove which gives me ~2 hours of run time, but that's it.  I may end up getting a generator, but per my neighbors (we moved in last summer) electricity here is quite reliable.  I'm completely inexperienced in maintaining gas engines, so I'm kind of hesitant on the generator.  I'm hoping that battery backup technology increases to the point where I could run the pellet stove for a day, but right now that capacity is very expensive.

I've got thermometers in a couple of rooms, and I'll get some marine antifreeze.  Thanks!

FINate

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #12 on: February 04, 2022, 09:04:08 AM »
Unfortunately, no.  I've got a UPS on the pellet stove which gives me ~2 hours of run time, but that's it.  I may end up getting a generator, but per my neighbors (we moved in last summer) electricity here is quite reliable.  I'm completely inexperienced in maintaining gas engines, so I'm kind of hesitant on the generator.  I'm hoping that battery backup technology increases to the point where I could run the pellet stove for a day, but right now that capacity is very expensive.

Have you looked into RV deep cycle batteries + an inverter? Depending on the Wattage of your pellet stove, a 100Ah deep cycle battery should run it for around 5-6 hrs. A lead acid battery in this size runs about $200, though you need to maintain it and, ideally, leave it connected to a Battery Minder to keep it topped off. Or, a 100Ah lithium ion battery runs about $300 on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/JITA-Lithium-Battery-12V-100Ah/dp/B0922ZZK85/?th=1). Add a 1000W inverter for about $70 and you're good to go. If you want longer runtime (again, it all depends on what your stove draws), you can add additional batteries (wired in parallel) to increase capacity, or buy a single larger capacity battery. For about $1000 you should get close to a full day of backup (assuming it's not running 24hrs/day). That's cheap compared to dealing with frozen pipes.

ETA: Lead acid batteries must also be used/stored/charged in an area with good ventilation, otherwise there's a danger of explosive gas build up. Sealed AGM batteries are technically safe from this, though I'm still a little be leery with these. Just don't want anyone blowing themselves up.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2022, 09:18:00 AM by FINate »

uniwelder

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #13 on: February 04, 2022, 10:49:31 AM »
Have you looked into RV deep cycle batteries + an inverter?

How about just the inverter hooked up to your car?  Forget about the battery completely.  For the limited number of times it would get used, I think it makes the most sense for people.  Here's a good article I like to reference--- https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/02/can-a-pint-sized-power-inverter-replace-a-generator/index.htm

edited to add--- Supposedly a small car will idle for about 5 hours per gallon consumed, so 10 gallons could get you through 2 full days if ran continuously.  Hopefully you could just run it for a few hours at a time.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2022, 11:38:09 AM by uniwelder »

chemistk

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #14 on: February 04, 2022, 11:13:54 AM »
Have you talked to others in your area and asked what they do? Your house was probably built to a similar spec that others are in the area. They might be able to assure you that it's not much to worry about, or suggest products that you can use if the power is out.

I think your best option, as others have mentioned so far, is to get the pellet stove to a point where you can run it periodically to maintain enough heat to the house to prevent freezing. It's not great for your car or the environment, but you could (in the meantime) get an inverter and run the pellet stove off your car.

Generally, in cold climates, that's always one thing to be mindful of - a strategy for how to handle no power and cold weather.

FINate

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2022, 12:32:53 PM »
Have you looked into RV deep cycle batteries + an inverter?

How about just the inverter hooked up to your car?  Forget about the battery completely.  For the limited number of times it would get used, I think it makes the most sense for people.  Here's a good article I like to reference--- https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/02/can-a-pint-sized-power-inverter-replace-a-generator/index.htm

edited to add--- Supposedly a small car will idle for about 5 hours per gallon consumed, so 10 gallons could get you through 2 full days if ran continuously.  Hopefully you could just run it for a few hours at a time.

Yes, that's an option if the car is outside yet still close enough to the house, and need a way to keep the inverter dry. That last part is what I haven't quite figured out. Keeping it in the engine compartment with the hood closed doesn't seem like a good idea, nor does leaving it out in the elements. What has worked for those who've gone this route?

BudgetSlasher

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2022, 12:42:02 PM »
As has been said there is very little blanket guidance that can be given, there is a lot that is house specific. The only blanket that can be made is that if water is exposed to freezing or below-freezing temperatures for long enough it will freeze. How long depends on the volume of water; a 1/2" pipe will freeze before a 3/4" or 1" pipe and cold water will freeze before hot water (though water sitting in the lines for more than a couple minutes will be the same temperature) so a large and insulated volume of water like a water heater will be the last thing to freeze.

I can offer you our situation here in Maine (we are also recovered Floridians). We rely on heat pumps, pellet insert, and do have central forced hot air. Our house is between 66 and 63 F and without the central heat the basement sits between 48 and 46 F. (A quick google puts those numbers as ~19 to ~17 C and ~9 to ~8 C.) Our house  was also built in the 90s. The forced hot air is set to come on at 58 F (~14 C) that is for comfort if we are away an extended period of time we will set it lower. 5 C ~40 F would make me uncomfortable, but that is because there are rooms that are noticeably cooler than others; in high winds and low temps the difference between the temp at the thermostat and some rooms with plumbing in them could drop them below freezing.

First we have no plans to drain the water heater ever. It is a 80 gallon tank kept at 136 (mixing valve takes it to a safe temp for the house) We've been here for about 8 years and our longest ever power outage was about 36 hours during a major wind storm, every other event has been less than 6 hours. When the power came back after 36 hours the tank was still noticeably warm. Depending out how the basement it built and insulate it might be the last thing to go below freezing as below ground temperatures can be remarkably stable, or it could be the first if there are large uninsulated portions above ground and lots of air infiltration. If I lived somewhere that 4 day power failures where to be expected I would have a way to run a source of heat, even if it were just a small honda generator (or any other reliable source of power) powering the pellet insert alone. Full disclosure we do have a wood stove in the basement, but only some scraps from the workshop to fuel it so less than a day.

Also in the basement, if the pipe run directly in contact with an uninsulated concrete wall that is above ground or near surface they are likely to freeze quicker.

We do not drip any taps and our hose bibs are the freeze/frost proof kind. Running taps depends on you pipes and where they are. (I assume you either have freeze proof hose bibs or turn off and drain your outside spigots) If all of your pipes are in interior walls (standard building practice these days) or an above-freezing basement it isn't necessary, so long as your house/basement is above freezing.

We also do not open our cabinets, even as low as -15 F (~ -26 C). This only has any uses on cabinets that are on exterior walls. This is a good tip in older/drafty/less insulated homes for cabinets on exterior walls as it lets the warm heated air circulated in the cabinet that otherwise is poorly insulated and or drafty.

To date there are only 2 conditions where i have drained the pipes. 1) When we have left for an extended period of time in the winter and 2) after the above mentioned wind storm. I have not thought of a trigger temperature, but I would probably be in the low 40s F (say 4-7 C) before I drain the pipes. That is if I were home. The reality is if my home where that cold I would have already left to stay with my in-laws and their fancy pants whole house automatic generator with enough propane for over a week. In that case I would drain the pipes before I left as per #1 above.

When I drain the pipes I shut off the breaker for the well, close the main house valve, open all the valves in the house, both hot and cold, and flush all the toilets to open the valves there, the pipes will all drain out the lowest valve in the basement. I leave them all open until it is time to turn the water on to allow little trickles out. Word of warning some anti-scald shower valves will not open the hot line if there is no pressure on the cold line so that hot water pipe may stay filled with water or drain very slowly as the pipes behind it empty.

I like the idea of talking to those people around you and seeing what they do, especially those in similar homes, and what the real threats are. That will give you a good starting point and also an idea of what the power failures are like. If multi-day failures happen with some frequency, I would suggest being prepared to address that.

Every house is different, I've never had an issue with my pipes, whereas my co-worker with an older home will be dealing with frozen pipes every time the temperatures drop below 0 F (~18). If you know where your pipes are and you can figure out which is the coldest spot, base you decisions off that location.

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2022, 01:07:02 PM »
We heat with oil and with a wood furnace that uses the same ductwork to heat the house.  We tend to keep it over 70F, so higher than what you're talking about.  Something that is very helpful is knowing WHERE the pipes run.  We have a second story bathroom where the pipes run against a wall.  During a multi-day, very cold spell (under 0F for days), I came home at lunch and indeed, the supply was blocked.  Not only were the pipes against the outside wall, but at the bottom, insulation had been installed, so heat from the basement didn't exit, but also didn't go up where the pipes went.  I pulled down and out the fiberglass insulation and took a torch and heated up each of the pipes (cold and hot).  Fortunately, this was enough to open up the pipes.  I then ran the water, which of course will continue to melt the ice in the pipe because underground here is 55F year round.  It did indeed do that.  We have never had this problem again.

We're outside Boston, for a weather idea.

uniwelder

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2022, 01:20:00 PM »
Have you looked into RV deep cycle batteries + an inverter?

How about just the inverter hooked up to your car?  Forget about the battery completely.  For the limited number of times it would get used, I think it makes the most sense for people.  Here's a good article I like to reference--- https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/02/can-a-pint-sized-power-inverter-replace-a-generator/index.htm

edited to add--- Supposedly a small car will idle for about 5 hours per gallon consumed, so 10 gallons could get you through 2 full days if ran continuously.  Hopefully you could just run it for a few hours at a time.

Yes, that's an option if the car is outside yet still close enough to the house, and need a way to keep the inverter dry. That last part is what I haven't quite figured out. Keeping it in the engine compartment with the hood closed doesn't seem like a good idea, nor does leaving it out in the elements. What has worked for those who've gone this route?

I never did it in bad weather, so not advised in hurricane conditions, but if its just a power outage--- Prop the hood open, lay a board or scrap of plywood across, place the inverter on top of the board and tie or duct tape it in place if needed.  Never done it for an extended period of time, but while running power tools.

If the weather was bad, I suppose I'd put a concrete block on the ground, inverter on top of that, then put a big plastic tote bin over that with something to weigh it down so it doesn't blow away.  You'd need to allow for some airflow underneath for cooling.  You'd also have to have cables long enough to get from the battery to ground.  I'm also not sure I'd want to be making those electrical connections while getting rain blown at me.

Sibley

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #19 on: February 05, 2022, 08:28:44 PM »
BudgetSlasher's advice is good. And note that my house is NOT new - it was built in 1919 and the crappy utility room was a 1940s addition I believe. So I have very different factors to consider when in extreme temperatures. A house built in the 90s with modern insulation will perform very differently.

Re draining pipes - I've drained the utility room a few times just because I didn't want to have to monitor it closely/I knew the chances of me successfully preventing it from freezing were low, so I just avoided the issue. But that's in extreme weather, negative F temps. Draining the whole is house is more drastic and you really do it because not doing it is potentially catastrophic. Think all the people in TX a year ago who lost power/heat, pipes froze and then flooded the house when the pipes unfroze and were broken. A lot of that is due to panic and lack of knowledge, but it could have been avoided if they'd shut off the water and drained the pipes when they first lost power.

FLBiker

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Re: Avoiding frozen pipes
« Reply #20 on: February 08, 2022, 07:16:52 AM »
Thanks all!  I really appreciate all of this advice.

So, based on everything I've seen / read, I think we're in good shape as far as nothing getting frozen when we have electricity.  We've have several days this winter where we hit -20C, and the basement never really got below 9C (nor did any other room) with just the heat pump running upstairs at 17C overnight.  I was looking at where all the pipes run, and everything (including the basement) is inside the insulation envelope.  The two hose bibs run through it, but I always turn those off in the late fall.  There's one exception -- there's something heading out through the insulation in the basement, but it's in a region where we don't have any plumbing above it.  I have no idea what it is, but it hasn't been a problem thus far (2 winters in).  My intention is to have a plumber take a look whenever we have one out for something.

My pellet stoves draw is ~330W during ignition (say ~20 minutes) and then about 100W to run after that.  I've seen the idea of using the deep cycle batteries and a sine wave inverter, and I kind of like it.  I did a bit of googling about the standby generators and battery backups, and I wasn't overwhelmed by the cost-benefit of either one.  Perhaps a simple gas generator is the way to go (I could run in through the UPS so the output is a sinewave).  I don't love the idea of having to leave a window / door cracked open, and having to store / stabilize gas, but I suppose I could do it.

And I've talked to a few of my neighbors.  1 has a wood stove, another has a generator (but has never taken it out of the box) and a third plans to turn off their water and stay with their in-laws.  No one does anything to protect their pipes on cold days when the electricity is on.  As newcomers (and immigrants) we don't have any family nearby, nor friends that I'd be comfortable imposing on.  At the same time, we can certainly afford a hotel.

And I don't think long power outages are frequent at all.  We had 3 nor'easters this winter, plus a big ice storm, and we lost power for 2 minutes.  However, if the ice storm hits just right, you can be without power for 3 or 4 days.  I think that last happened 7 or 8 years ago, and I'm not sure how long it had been before that.  Honestly, given the infrequency, I think I'm leaning towards toughing it out for 24 hours, then winterizing the house (drain the pipes, pour in antifreeze) and going to a hotel (or at least sending my wife and daughter there).  If we go through this once, though, I may revisit my plan and hopefully battery backup technology will be a bit better by then. :)