#!*@% Pipes! (guess what?)

ks_toolgirlFebruary 2, 2011

Hi all, yep - the hot water is frozen. Just another joy of an old house with dirt cellar & crawlspace. Am I the first this year? Lol. Perhaps just the only one foolish enough to not have adequately insulated hot water lines. (For the record DH did some & it's been enough since, but doesn't usually get - & stay - this darn cold!).

So, I've got a (tiny) space heater down there aimed at pipes that come down from water heater... Been almost 2 hours & nothing yet. Not sure what to try next. Those pipes are in the crawl-space portion, it won't be easy for me to get to them. I guess I'm saying I'm open to suggestions! (I'm going to end up under there with a hair dryer, aren't I?).

I wish this was as fun as my 4 year old seems to think it looks!

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Git thee to a bib box. Use electric water pipe freeze cable and leave it on for the rest of the winter. Uses hardly current.

Don't be tempted to use a torch!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 4:15PM
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Wuups, " big," as in big box store.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 4:16PM
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Thanks, worthy! I'll do that, but I'm home w/a sick little boy today. Perhaps DH will stop & get one on his way home from work. (Especially as this is "all his fault", foot stomp). Looking under there today, I've been less than impressed. The copper pipes come directly from the HWH, down into the crawl space in the the northeast corner. Cinderblock foundation inches away, and nothing on the line - just bare copper. Am I wrong, here, or is that nuts? I'm going to try the hair dryer now, (gently). That's as far as I'd go, I promise, no torch OR heatgun. :-) It's been frozen all day at least, who knows how much of the night. I'm thinking time is of the essence, right? Man, I REALLY hate going into that crawlspace!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 4:33PM
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You can also buy that foam insulation that comes in a tube shape, you cut it to length and it wraps around the pipes easy as pie.

For 25yrs or more I had frozen pipes every winter at least once or sometimes twice. Finally a plumber friend replaced my galvanized pipes with copper and moved them away from the stone foundation and into the center of the the dirt cellar ceiling. I couldn't believe I hadn't done that all those years ago. And I feel for you when you talk about the crawlspace, I have one right under my bathroom. When the wind blows cold, the toilet usually freezes up.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 5:36PM
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If there's enough space, insulate the cinder block wall - rigid insulation is probably the best bet - and the pipes themselves. If there's no insulation on the crawl space floor, that's another area to deal with.

You can wrap the pipes with electric heat tapes, but they can be a fire hazard and they consume a surprising large amount of electricity. Installing them under pipe insulation may be prohibited as well since this increases the fire danger due to overheating. A small space heater which can be used to direct heat into the space on the coldest nights is a much better, much safer option.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 6:03AM
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Insulation only slows the movement of heat, it does not stop it.

A insulation wrapped pipe in a poorly conditioned area will still freeze, it will just take longer to cool off before freezing.

If you are lucky you will run some water before the freezing takes place.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 8:44AM
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My neighbors lived for several weeks without hot water when their hw heater died right in the middle of a solar hot water install. They thought it would just be a few days, or they would have bought a stopgap heater. But it was one of those death-by-inches situations. (And yes, the solar system came with a backup heater, which was installed asap, but delayed by some sort of wierd approval thing). Anyways, they showered at my house and washed their dishes in cold water--and this was during a new england winter. Tough stuff. I just gave them a key to the back door and they came and went. Half the time I never even heard them. Just sayin', it might be time to get to know your neighbors a little better, especially if they are the type who would enjoy turnabout when they're in a pickle someday.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 9:34AM
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they can be a fire hazard and they consume a surprising large amount of electricity.

Freeze protection tapes use as few as 3 watts per foot. Your light bulbs are a greater fire hazard. However, you should look for the UL or CSA label and use a GFI receptacle. If you don't have one, you can use a portable GFI plug.

As noted above, pipe insulation is no help if the space is cold to begin with.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 9:59AM
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you can have the honor of claiming the first hot, I "know someone" who had their cold freeze up a couple weeks ago. :/

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 11:22AM
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Thanks, everyone, for all your responses!
Update: the tiny space heater slowly got the job done! Just before 8 last night hot water started coming out of kitchen faucet (I'd left it on for that reason, & seemed like good idea for pressure reasons? Maybe not, lol, I'm such a rookie still!). Ironic, there was ONE pipe down there that had the tube-type insulation around it. I felt like a boob when DH explained that it was the hot water line, & the uninsulated pipes were COLD water - which didn't freeze. (I've heard of that before, but it still makes no sense to me. Mpemba affect or something? I'm sure that's not right, but close).
Yikes, schoolhouse - I actually had thought yesterday.. "Well, this is a drag, but at least the toilet works!". I like the idea of the rigid insulation, there is a small square of it down there. (Metallic silver, right?). I don't know what one would use to insulate the dirt floor... The top layer of dirt is soft & loose, (for which my knees & elbows are grateful today, lol).
Brickeyee, you're right - we should have run water through. We had been leaving hot faucet dripping, I think DS came down for a drink & shut the faucet off after.

There are SO many things down there that aren't "right", even to my rookie eyes, that I wish like heck I hadn't had to go down there & see it all. Ugh.
Sorry for rambling so! (1 sick child turned into 2 sick kids + 1 sick mom = sleep depravation & mush-brain). :-)

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 3:16PM
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Be glad the pipes didn't burst or that soft loose dirt wouldn't be so comfortable to crawl through. A 300 watt +space heater may be good for an emergency but is overkill unless you heat and insulate the crawl.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 4:01PM
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One word: PEX

I don't live in a climate that freezes like that- but isn't that what a lot of people said this year?! But, at least I know my pipes won't freeze even if the weather does something freaky.

Best money I've spent yet, on this house. And a LOT less expensive than copper. The plumbing company that installed my PEX had a copper warranty of 5 years, but the PEX was warranted for 20.

I know that's probably the last thing you want to think of right now, but it might be a good thing to put on your radar. My neighbors DIY'd their entire house with PEX- much easier now than when I first installed mine. It cost them less than $1K to do the entire house.

Here is a link that might be useful: all about PEX pipe

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 11:47AM
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From the PPFA site linked above:

Is PEX freeze-break resistant?

PEX piping is freeze damage resistant and can expand and contract as water freezes and thaws within the tubing. No tubing material is freeze-break proof, however, and PEX should be installed using the same locally-prescribed insulation requirements to prevent freezing of any plumbing system.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 2:09PM
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PEX. Isn't that the stuff that sparked a class action suit about 15 years ago, when buried water lines split in large numbers? Maybe I'm thinking of something else.

Pipe heating tape can help prevent frozen pipes, but it should never be concealed. A friend of mine had a house fire when pipe heating tape in an attic, put there by a previous owner, overheated and caught fire.

The traditional but wasteful preventative is to leave a tap or two open on nights when you're concerned that pipes might freeze. Supposedly running water is less apt to freeze.

Don't know if they still do it, but about 50 years ago you could have your pipes thawed quickly with electricity. It was done with a big diesel truck-mounted generator. The operators connected huge clamps to each end of the frozen pipe section and fired up the generator. It took maybe 15-20 minutes at most. This rquires metallic pipes; I saw it done on cast iron back in the day. It wouldn't work with nonconductive pipes such as CPVC or PEX, of course.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 4:03PM
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Not PEX. Polybutylene. The fault was mostly with the joints.

PEX manifold

PEX uses a homerun system with no joints, just a connection to an incoming manifold and the connection to the fixture.

Polybutylene Piping

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 8:31PM
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