Help!!! Pipes severely frozen

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by cchapman84, Jan 29, 2005.

  1. cchapman84

    cchapman84 Well-Known Member

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    I'm at my friend's house right now and her pipes are completely frozen. The freeze is somewhere between the house and the spring (about 700' away from the house). They haven't had water for almost 2 days now. We got one of the pipe steamer things, but their pipes are really small so it doesn't seem to be working. They've fed the pipe 28' up and cleared the ice to that point, but they can't go any further. The only other pipe we have seems to be too small for the steam to push through. Just wondering if anyone has any ideas on how to get the ice out of the pipe? Thanks!!!
     
  2. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    O' Boy, long run, good assumption all downhill. You say all small diameter tubing / piping, lots of luck.

    Options are something like:

    1. Heating in some manner, probably not good in this situation. Very difficult to affect over long runs, especially if freezing is generalized.

    2. Draining or causing interchange of fluid. Again not good situation as described. If you can insert small stiff diameter tubing from up stream side and blow air to clear line while stopping any more water entering line can try adding heavy salt / brine solution and letting it find and melt the ice plug. Basically blow line clear, hopefully down to plug, add saltwater solution, melt plug or even extended frozen section. Method can progressive flow downward and clear a line. Heavy saltwater brine will tend to sink and displace freshwater it melts if you can initially get it close enough to the plugged area.

    Draining the down hill portion of the line to remove any liquid water will help, putting it under vacuum is even better, if you can get even a tiny flow of saltwater / brine can clear a line of about any length.

    3. Add heavy layer / heap of compost, manure, etc directly over the line to attempt to thaw ground, influence ground temperature. Might take a while but can work.

    Length of line will work against most methods, especially if there is more than one freeze point. # 2 and 3 together might be effective if done long enough and aggressive enough.

    Boy, would I like to get plumber rates on a job like this. :eek:
     

  3. FrankTheTank

    FrankTheTank Well-Known Member

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    If someone could ring in here and clarify what i'm saying:), i had a friend with frozen pipes and they used what i believe was some sort of welder(arc?), and using it "somehow" ran a very high current through the pipe, unfreezing it...
     
  4. Freeholder

    Freeholder Well-Known Member

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    Getting those pipes thawed out is going to be a fun job (not). I hope they are thinking seriously about digging the line up when the ground thaws, and setting it deeper in the ground, so this won't happen again. They could be without water for the rest of the winter -- it's happened to us before.

    Kathleen
     
  5. Orville

    Orville Well-Known Member

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    You said you cleared 28' of pipe. If that 28' is underground, and all frozen, you have to consider the fact that the pipe may be damaged by the ice pressure. You don't indicate where you live. If it's in the north, you probably have a major problem. Someone replied that your friend ought to place the pipe deeper in the springtime. I concur, but would suggest that you undertake the project right away, if the trench can be dug now. Why wait, especially if the pipe is ruined. If you live in the southern climes, the frozen area is probably above ground, and easier to deal with. What kind of pipe is it? Is it buried below the frost line? How much pipe is above ground? Is it insulated and in some kind of a shelter? I do empathize with you.
     
  6. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    Be something to try but I doubt it is that simple. Duh what do you hook to what?

    If you could get a current that is controlled could work. Problem is most lash-ups / connections are going to appear to the welder as direct shorts (as in a stuck rod and any welder knows what sound that makes the welder do.) :D

    Maybe putting the ground lead at one end, running a 700 foot cable and the positive stinger on the other end of the pipe and adding a big power resistor to limit current, should be able to boil water in a bit. Don't think you want Very High Current , better is some current in a controlled situation. Will definitely provide a heat source.

    Might work better if the welder has totally variable controls, as in zero settings and up. Just a tad of current. Same scheme could be done with a battery charger or Variac or any power source where you are going to be able to get enough resistance in the circuit to not fry the power source at the get go. Even a battery might work, just some short taps to give bursts of current by short taps on the terminals. Better ideas will somehow address the problem on line length. Dig down and hook the cables if you pretty well know the freeze plug location, limit the amount of wire involved.

    Cavet here is super amount of care is going to be required if water line is not copper or some metal. Easy to melt something plastic by misjudgement.

    Depth of line is important, providing a maintained mulch as in leaves or some thick ground cover can help a lot too. Might have to dig it up now, but some of the other ideas might be worth exploring. Line may not burst if buried close to deep enough, usually happens for sure if they freeze in free air. The electrical current idea is good with the right gear. Will definitely get heat the entire length of the line. Current will want to stay in the water or copper. Plastic / PVC / non metal will tend to want to be an insulator. If you can unplug it, can simply add more dirt over the top to bury it further depending on the lay of the land. Digging 700' lines up and relaying ain't a nice job.
     
  7. marvella

    marvella Well-Known Member

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    once again, if you are further south... it is rare for the ground to freeze very deep in the southeast. at the old place, i was on gravity flow spring water. thought it was frozen too. could not "unfreeze" it. what it turned out to be was air- locked. when i used too much water, and drained the small home made box, air would get in the line and not let the water down. i thought it was frozen. i'd have to wait for around 24 hours for the box to fill again, then pull apart the pipe from the spring where it met the plumbing to the house and let it flow until it flushed out the air. put the pipes back together and had water again. one thing i tried before we figured that out was to take an air tank, and blow a blast of air back into the pipe, and force the air bubble back up into the spring. it worked, but the other way was a lot easier.

    just an another idea. gravity flow water has it's own challenges.
     
  8. dreadstalker

    dreadstalker Well-Known Member

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    if it is a metal pipe and you can get to both ends a arc welder will work but you do need to be able to cycle the current.seeing as how part(majority)is underground i'm not sure how that would effect it.my major concern would be a burst underground pipe
     
  9. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    Ain't a big deal if it burst or not. Like all water lines. If the flow is shut off at the use point after fixing and you detect flow at the spring, must have a hole in the line. Check around, attempt to find the wet spot. Dig down and make a splice.

    Doesn't sound like metered water. If your typical spring, just goes out the overflow path anyway.

    Ok, got a leak, can fix as needed as spring comes on. Eventually it will show if the leak is any size. New York City or the farm, same deal.

    Present immediate problem is to get water flowing. Leaks are details.

    Yup, could be air locked but they probably know the system and experience is saying it is frozen. Might be something to double check.
     
  10. comfortablynumb

    comfortablynumb Well-Known Member

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    how about.... a new pipe, above ground,

    with some kind of cover over the pipe... hay or straw bales, or run the water pipe inside a corrgated drain pipe to make a dead air jacket, AND if it freezes you can pump hot air thru the jacket and thaw the line (a trick i rigged at my moms house! works great!)
    700 feet of pipe weeeeee thats a big order. if you can make it heavy iron pipe and rig it to the electric current method for warming you have an option.

    700 feet... wow. I think you best start digging a DEEP new trench with a hot water pipe along side of it in the ditch, hooked to a wood fired boiler & pump system to keep the line nice and warm on ungodly cold nights.
    that would be my future project goal, if your where the dirt freezes way way deep...
    700 feet... wow. once a pipe freezes it keeps spreading till the whole thing is a solid freeze.
     
  11. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

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    Been here, done this... new pipe. Run a new pipe into the cistern in the basement and this time, keep the water flowing! Even if that means you've got to syphon it out through a hole in a basement (well insulated) window.

    If she doesn't have a cistern, so she wasn't running that water constantly, she's going to have to bury that line 5' down come spring, so she might as well buy 1.5 inch plastic tubing now and get her water going again, she can re-use it come spring as her new pipe.
     
  12. Hoop

    Hoop Well-Known Member

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    You don't mention your location.

    If you're located in a northern climate, the pipes will thaw in spring. Deal with it.
    They may or may not have burst as the result of the freezing.

    You can spend countless $$$ and time trying to thaw out the pipes in what will likely be an unsuccessful attempt.

    Realistically, the damage is done. Look to the future. Take corrective action to ensure this situation does NOT repeat itself. Bury the pipes 1'-2' beneath the normal winter frost level in the ground for your location.
     
  13. BobK

    BobK Well-Known Member

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    You might have to consider setting up a alternative source for water until the freeze is over. Perhaps running pipe or hose above ground and using the water briefly during the day to fill buckets for toilet flushing, taking showers, dishes, ect. Once chores are complete drain the hose and it will be clear for the following day. Not the best of worlds but it beats no water at all......this is what we did during one period of three weeks when all we had was frozen.
     
  14. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    Those comments about alternative sources and letting the water run in winter and making sure it is properly buried to depth are right on but doesn't solve the immediate problem.

    I would still go with either the salt / brine method or the welder / electrical thawing method if I thought it could work and if the local situation was suitable. Got nothing to lose when you are dirty. :waa:

    We still don't know the material of the pipe or its buried depth / general location. The main drawback to the welder method is length of line. If the welder is portable with its own engine / tractor mounted PTO, etc the attempt could be a lot easier. Dig a enough holes to suit the wire length available, use jumper cables, any heavy wire available to span a line section.

    Would want to be sure the contact point with the pipe is securely clamped at both places and the spark / burn / contact point is external for starting the current. Could burn a hole in the pipe pretty easy. Try lower welder settings and be atuned to its duty cycle and any protests it might make. Battery charger with a generator might work too. Be portable, some chargers can handle very low resistance situations well due to built in current limiting.

    More than likely the line is PVC or plastic but could still work if you are gentle with the current. If the line is installed in sections, finding the clamped section points would be ideal place to attempt a currect injection. PVC / Plastic is probably not going to burst if it is a good quality line.
     
  15. jaciwiley

    jaciwiley Member

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    THank you all for your suggestions,
    I am going to put manure and hay over where the line is frozen,
    and we are going to put salt in the spring, I hope this doesnt' contaminate the water for to long, but bad water is better than NO water! As for digging a trench and laying new pipe, we don't have money to undertake something like this, the person who sold us this house, said on the disclosure, that their was never any problems with water freezing, but if this happened to us, he must have been lying.
    Hope for me!

    Thanks Jaci
     
  16. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    I would not put the salt directly in the spring water body that is feeding the pipe (tank, cistern, whatever). If you can make a plug in jury rig to the intake pipe area, say another larger pipe, connected with something to the intake area of the pipe and really add the salt to that will be better.

    The higher you can get the salt concentration the better. Plus will use less salt and maybe avoid a hidden danger. Question is will the salt / brine migrate in standing small lines. I think it has a chance based on density if the initial slope is steep enough. It will in larger pipes, vessels etc. The higher you can raise the temporary feeder pipe above the present spring water level, the better your chance if you have a super salt concentration.

    There should be some driving forces due to gravity, maybe the K-factor due to chemistry will sneak into the mix. Good manure should get you there at some point. It never freezes under the cow flop pile. :D

    Best of luck.
     
  17. jaciwiley

    jaciwiley Member

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    Hi,
    I trully appreciate all your help,
    I didnt' put salt in yet, instead we worked with the manure, and continued using the steamer, The pipes also seem to be glogged with grime not letting the steamer hose go up through,
    If I put the salt in the intake will it flow down to where it is frozen? If the water is not moving will it just settle to the bottom of the pipe? We were also thinking about investing in ALOT of black 1 inch pipe and making a makeshift waterline for now from the spring to the house above ground, if we leave the water on constantly this should work and not freeze? Would we have to get the air out of the line some how so the water will start comming to the house?
    Out under ground pipes are either lead of galvanized metal, I think if their galvanized the whole electric thing wouldnt' work? Is metal less likely to burst then plastic?

    Thank You,
    Jaci
     
  18. jaciwiley

    jaciwiley Member

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    Oh I reread what you wrote and you exlained what I just asked, sorry I think I read to fast at first, I was wondering about the above ground idea and whether metal is better than plastic. What would a plumber do in this situation? Probably something I couldn't afford!

    Thanks again,
    Jaci
     
  19. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

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    H,mmm if you are saying the pipe is really galvanized steel that may be a different story.

    If it is lead, you definitely want to abandon that and replace. Lead has a nice junk value, should more than pay for the replacement. Difficult to believe somebody would run that much of it. Was widely used in the past. I got a lot from the recent city water work on my street. Melting in down into heavy bricks.

    It could be the pipe is plugged with corrosion, it does happen to steel pipes, sometimes happens with lead. Also steel tends to add a taste to water. Bad from many angles. Lead will poison you, especially young childern. Guess you must know exactly what the pipe is. If steel or lead, I would be planning to replace quickly. If copper again super junk value if it must be replaced. Think junk on old pipes. Brass, copper, aluminum all have excellent scrap value. Lead was running something like .08 /lb for the last I scrapped, if you got enough adds up quick. Steel scrap value varies widely, in my area little / no market for light stuff.

    Your best action is probably get continuous plastic, comes in pretty long lengths, run temporary on the surface, cover with plastic sheeting and then cover with manure, leaves, etc and let the water run until warmer weather. Can then determine exactly what the present line conditions are.

    Many of the flexible water lines are a type of plastic vinyl and not that expensive. Use stainless steel clamps if required. Most plastic pipes are joined by a plastic nipple that goes into each pipe to be joined and held by clamps. Make sure it is suitable for potable water service.

    Filling the new line should be just a matter of opening valves at the house to establish flow, gravity should do the rest. You must determine the buried depth of the old line. Should be pretty deep in Vermont. Six feet is pretty common in most of New England. Many times you do not have to completely dig an old line up. Is a fairly common practice to use an old line to pull a new line into the same hole. Like for old lead lines, they are normally bigger in diameter than a replacement copper / plastic line. Done sort of like how electricians pull wire. Long lines like yours can dig pits and pull at sectional locations. Need something strong to pull with, truck, car, tractor, etc. Some lines are even pulled inside older lines, all depends on local conditions. If they were backfilled correctly with a fine soil usually pull fairly well.
     
  20. jaciwiley

    jaciwiley Member

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    How effective is a brine?