View Full Version : Thawing a water supply line?


nitrohog
02-09-2014, 09:04 PM
I'm in a bit of a pinch at the moment. My main feed into my house has frozen and after multiple failed attempts to thaw it I'm open to any suggestion. So far the water department has refused to do anything, I can't get a plumber with a steamer out for another few days, and it has been frozen for the better part of three days already. I have so far managed to get a small tube 20' up the pipe but I believe the city shutoff valve is stopping it. At that point I have tried back flushing it with warm water for a total of around 6 hours and even tried damming it so that it would fill the pipe and circulate warm water in. I attempted to use steam but the cold pipe didn't allow the steam to reach the end of the tube with my redneck pressure cooker setup. My fear and best bet is that it is frozen under the street another 15ish feet upstream. With the vast knowledge here hopefully someone has better idea than me.
Thanks.

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pattenp
02-09-2014, 09:13 PM
If it's frozen on the city side of the shut off then it is the city's problem. Why are they refusing to help?

nitrohog
02-09-2014, 09:25 PM
I've learned that for whatever reason in this city the homeowner is responsible for the pipe all the way up to the main which happens to be across the street.

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JaredC
02-09-2014, 09:36 PM
I own a plumbing service company in Oklahoma and it sounds like you are kind of stuck. You aren't going to be able to manually thaw a water main that has been froze for that long that is underground without some specialty equipment.

We carry electric thawers that resemble a portable battery charger and usually it takes no more than 30 minutes. But every area uses different materials and strategies.

I wish I could give you some more helpful advice, but in this case there just isn't any unfortunately.

Do you know what material the water main is piped in? Is it PVC, pex, copper or galvanized?

finn
02-09-2014, 09:43 PM
The city would dig down to the frozen pipe with a backhoe and attach an engine driven welding rig to the pipe when I was a kid in Upper Michigan. I would imagine just attaching one lead to the shutoff valve from the main line and the second lead in your basement would work.

I don't know what they set the amperage to but would imagine it was quite low.

nitrohog
02-09-2014, 09:52 PM
It is a copper pipe. I thought about the welder trick but if I have to dig up the road to hook up a lead I'm just going to dig the pipe deeper and replace it anyway. You basically just told me what I was expecting to hear, I guess I'm in for a long wait for the thaw and learn to let the faucet run when the frost gets this deep.

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Ray-CA
02-09-2014, 10:06 PM
Could you wrap a heating pad around the pipe and turn it on?

Ray

PS: Are you the only one on this line without water or is it a neighborhood wide thing? Sounds like a phone call needs to be made to your City Councilperson/alderman etc. If you are without water for this long, it's now a health issue. Can't flush the toilets and how are you cooking? Any children in the house? You've got some leverage...

nitrohog
02-09-2014, 10:45 PM
I've been carrying water in 5 gallon containers for the toilet, been showering at the girlfriends parents house, and have been eating out/at their house as well. Thankfully I live alone, no kids, and work a lot so I'm rarely home anyway. My neighbor to the west has been out of water for a week longer than me and said that she's tried everything within her power to get the city to do anything for her and all that they suggest is to borrow water from neighbours. I'd love to raise some serious hell with my alderman but on the other hand fear that the city may condemn due to the health reasons that you've stated. It's a double edged sword with the way the city water system is setup. Also there's no way that any amount of heat that I can put into the pipe is going to travel 20+ feet through frozen ground. I had a 1400 watt heat gun on it for several hours before I resized how far up the blockage was.

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Ray-CA
02-09-2014, 10:58 PM
I think that you might want to consider calling the local newspaper and/or the TV stations. They can't condemn your home because the City water lines have frozen. Any worries that the water lines have split farther upstream....You might want to also call your homeowners insurance since your home is now un-inhabitable. See what they have to say.

Ray

galute
02-09-2014, 11:09 PM
Maybe you can pour some kind of alcohol or gas line antifreeze in it that will thaw it out. There is a product just for this if you can find it called liqui-fire or something like that.

Edit: Found a link to it. http://www.woodsmansinternational.com/liquifire.htm

JaredC
02-10-2014, 12:14 AM
If its copper it won't take long to thaw with an electric thawer. The ones we carry on our trucks run about 800$. Maybe you can rent one?

Sureshot
02-10-2014, 12:22 AM
Sounds like it is under the street. If not cover the line with straw and a tarp to use the ground heat to begin thawing from the bottom up. If you don't the frost will continue to travel down. Cover it ten feet on either side.

If you can get pex or synflex down you can circulate warm water in or make a "heater" by running two hoses inside each other, plug the end of the outer one at the downline end. Slide the smaller one inside to within a few inches of the end. On the end of the outer one you need a threaded fitting to accommodate a tee. Slide the tee over the inner pipe and attach to the outer pipe. You will need a compression fitting for the inner hose(synflex) that has been drilled out enough to let the hose slide through but still "crimp" the compression fitting. Slide this over and install in the tee. Tighten the fitting into the tee and squish the ferule on the line. Put a fitting in the side of the tee. I have two of these with 1/2" pex as the outer and 1/4" or 3/8" synflex as the inner. They sit in a pipe adjacent to my domestic water out of the house and into the shop.

You can now circulate down the outside of the inner tube and back up the middle without losing fluid. I would hook it to my truck heater line and let it run. It may take a day or more depending on how far it needs to thaw it but the longer you leave it the worse it will be. The heat will travel in the pipe some and thaw the ground around it. Even if you don't get it now you will be able to get it a lot sooner in the spring.

If you have a water based boiler system you could use the water line itself as the outer tube. This would be best so you can leave it work when you are gone and if it does unthaw it will be sealed up and not flood you creating a new problem. Possibly use your hot water heater and some garden hose and a pump to keep it warm under there and it will thaw eventually.

I am sure you are aware of the implications of being caught circulating antifreeze in the water line but the city doesn't sound like they are showing up any time soon so I would do it despite what the safety police will say. The line will be thoroughly flushed if you get it moving.

If the line is frozen under the street where it is open to air and being driven on you need to get on it soon or you are fu$%ed as the frost will travel quick.

PM me via email if you need a pic of the setup.

kaffine
02-10-2014, 12:50 AM
How about hooking one lead of the welder to your water line and the other lead to your neighbors water line?

Not sure if it would work as both might be grounded through the electrical system and that may provide the better path. Also there may be dielectric unions to provide isolation from the city main or the city main may be plastic.

cinco
02-10-2014, 05:40 AM
Nitrohog, for a moment I thought you were me.

I've been dealing with almost exactly the same problem for the past 3.5-4 days myself. Mine is frozen somewhere between the meter in my front yard and where it comes through the pad at the back of my garage, so it's definitely my problem. Slab house so no access to anything, and plastic pipe so no fancy electrical tricks. Guess now I know how long it takes to freeze 6-feet deep at 40-60 degrees below freezing. Anyway, my last resort before calling a plumber is going to be some of that roof heat cable that you can buy to keep your gutters from icing over. Seems like if I can work it past an elbow or two it'll run right up to the ice plug and warm things up. But as we all know, in theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they're not. I'll let you know if I'm killed in spectacular fashion.

ghost68
02-10-2014, 06:05 AM
We've had ours freeze up at the meter before. If you think it might be frozen there or the main cut is close, get a board big enough to cover the meter, some insulation, and flexible exhaust pipe. Cut a hole in the board the size of the pipe. Insert the pipe through the board, pack insulation around the meter/cut off and place the board over the meter. Back you vehicle to where it will reach the pipe. Hook the flexible pipe to your vehicle exhaust and let the vehicle run. Ours thawed out in no time.

Ghost

nitrohog
02-10-2014, 09:58 AM
I bought a chunk of hard plastic tubing and managed to get it about 30 to 35 feet up the line which near as I can tell is approaching the road. I'll see if I'm stuck against something else or if I am able to make some form of progress. Only time will tell.

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galute
02-10-2014, 10:05 AM
Will hooking a vacuum pump to it work? I know ac tech's use vacuum to boil water out of ac systems. I have no idea if this would thaw ice. I'm sure someone who knows will be along shortly to tell me this is a dumb idea. LOL.

SteveCh
02-10-2014, 10:26 AM
I had to be away from home for a week in Dec. due to a very unexpected death in the family. While I was away, freak storm, up forecast, came thru and a section of my well pipe is frozen, first time ever, shows what a week of minus 15 F. can do, even six feet underground.

I spent days trying everything I could think of, finally resorting to using 3/8" clear hose and pouring boiling water into it via a tiny funnel. After three days of this, I had to admit defeat. Went to Lowe's and bought ten 5-gal buckets and am hauling water. Using the laundromat for washing clothes, etc.

Nothing I can do til summer, ground frozen from the surface. Pain in the butt, but what you gonna do.

Milton Shaw
02-10-2014, 10:34 AM
A welder with long leads should be able to hook up to your system and a neighbors system and thaw the pipe quickly. Have faucets open in both houses so when the ice melts the water will run. From now on let water run in tub during cold weather to keep this from happening again. Ridgid tools sells a couple of pipe thawing tools. They are step down transformers that step 120 volts 15 amps to 6 volts about 200 amps. Found one on Ebay a couple of years ago and bought it for $25 I think. I bought 50 foot of leads for it and am ready whenever my pipes freeze. Knowing I have the tools the pipes will never freeze.

jimindm
02-10-2014, 10:36 AM
My mom has the same problem. Has lived in the house 35 years and has never had a problem in that time. They had the new main supply brought in about 20 years ago. The city water company says there are no outages in the area, and they have not shut any water off for a few weeks. About 6 months ago the water company offered an insurance plan for the line between the main and the meter. Its $3.99 a month. I told every one that I knew, you should buy it. For the monthly cost, it would take many months to over ride the cost of a problem.

I called a few plumbing friends about the situation, and they all kind of laughed and said" its happening every where, from million dollar homes, to shacks in the woods". They had a few ideas of why its happening. Most every one of them had to do with the lack of rain fall and ground moisture. The ground around foundations and stop box valves is actually pulling back. Letting the extreme winter temps get down into the now available air space. Lack of snow fall to insulate the yards, allowing the frost much deeper than normal. What snow that has fallen has been plowed off of streets, so lines that run under the streets are even more in danger of freezing.

Many thawing methods that plumbers used in the past are shelved. They have not been used for a long time. Maybe nobody knows how to use the equipment any more. With plastic lines the norm now, most any method would be old school now.

I think the OP is also a part of the problem. He lives alone and likely does not use much water. As opposed to a household of a family with kids using a lot of water.

Its really just an act of nature. Mother nature has not been great to many across the US. You can not prepare for the ultimate misfortunes. You can only be prepared for what your general needs are.

I really have nothing to offer the OP as far as getting water running to his house. Other than he is not alone in this situation.

In my moms situation, insurance does not cover freezing lines. That's not a bad thing actually, because what is the fix. It does how ever cover any thing that she is not negligent in doing. So we will wait it out. If it has burst after it thaws, then she is covered.

Just took the kids to school, and a block from the school they started building a couple of houses in the fall. They are close to being finished. There is water shooting up through the ground in the front yard of the center house. Its flowing towards the houses downhill and flooding the street and homes behind them. The water in the street is up to the side walks now, and still rising. It looked like the water company just showed up on the scene.

Took a picture of it and sent it to my mom. This is three blocks from her house. She texted back" You just do not have to look far to find someone in worst shape than yourself".

Buckgnarly
02-10-2014, 10:36 AM
Will hooking a vacuum pump to it work? I know ac tech's use vacuum to boil water out of ac systems. I have no idea if this would thaw ice. I'm sure someone who knows will be along shortly to tell me this is a dumb idea. LOL.

This only lowers the boiling point temp by lowering the vapor pressure, does not affect the actual temperature at all....but good thinking out of the box:thumbup:

nitrohog
02-10-2014, 12:17 PM
Just a slight update. Im about 60' up the pipe with my plastic tube and still pumping warm water. I have a guy on standby that offered to let me use his welding rig but the only way to get continuity is to hook onto the neighbors house then mine and let it burn... Im not a big fan of that idea personally.

JakeKohl
02-10-2014, 01:30 PM
Just a slight update. Im about 60' up the pipe with my plastic tube and still pumping warm water. I have a guy on standby that offered to let me use his welding rig but the only way to get continuity is to hook onto the neighbors house then mine and let it burn... Im not a big fan of that idea personally.

That welder trick just feels like it has "watch this wreck" written all over it.

nitrohog
02-10-2014, 02:39 PM
Yeah, putting that one on the back burner for the moment. I'd hate to utter the words "hold my beer and watch this".

Twiggss
02-10-2014, 04:10 PM
reading this thread makes me want to go flush my toilet every 10 min. :lol:

arsco
02-10-2014, 04:23 PM
we used to hook the welder to the street key while it was down hole on the shut off. no need to dig.

onewheat
02-10-2014, 04:34 PM
I've learned that for whatever reason in this city the homeowner is responsible for the pipe all the way up to the main which happens to be across the street.


I would have thought that the homeowner is responsible from the meter IN, not from the main IN to the house (like the electric, cable and phone). So if the line breaks under the street, you are responsible? I call Bravo Sierra. What do they do - fix it and bill you or are you responsible for digging up the street, repairing the main and then fixing the street as well. No way!!

jhelrey
02-10-2014, 04:42 PM
The other trick is to use a steam machine and a few nozzles to get down to poly hose size. Then you shove the hose in the copper line instead of hot water. The steam works much faster!

jhelrey
02-10-2014, 04:43 PM
we used to hook the welder to the street key while it was down hole on the shut off. no need to dig.

That's what I was told by a few plumbers as well.

Spareparts
02-10-2014, 04:53 PM
Just remember to hook the leads to the pipe then start the welder, I did it the other way one time and the results werent good.

finn
02-10-2014, 04:58 PM
we used to hook the welder to the street key while it was down hole on the shut off. no need to dig.

That's how I remember it. City crews probably did a couple a day when it got real cold with little (only a foot or so) snow cover.

Of course we were tougher back then....

RPH
02-10-2014, 05:51 PM
I have used table salt poured into the pipe to thaw it. If you can get the pipe in that far blow a salt slurry in there and give it some time. Last time I did this was on the outside faucet at the barn. Twenty minutes later I geyser from the salt working through.

pstnbly
02-10-2014, 06:21 PM
Nitro, you are doing the right thing, just keep pumping the warm water, you will get there eventually. We thaw a lot of frozen pipes in VT. The method you are using has the least drawbacks and potential for damage.

Just remember to leave the water running a trickle after you clear the blockage. The welder method is the next logical way to go. I've thawed 500' of 6" snowmaking pipe outdoors with this method, although it did take 72hrs continuous with a large portable welder to do it.

flat350
02-10-2014, 06:48 PM
Just remember that when you do thaw it your going to have to get that hose out of the main in a hurry when that water starts flowing.

sberry
02-10-2014, 07:03 PM
With a welder on needs to learn a bit about alternate pathways and I use a clamp on amp meter. I usually unhook the electric to plumbing ground.

cinco
02-10-2014, 07:48 PM
Re: my earlier post: Didn't work, but I still think it might. It turned out that the hard plastic tip on the heating wire won't go through 3/4" pipe elbows. If I had 1" it would have made it.

Awfulcanawful
02-10-2014, 07:59 PM
Rent a backhoe. Dig up the street. I bet the city will take interest at that point.

nitrohog
02-10-2014, 08:12 PM
So if the line breaks under the street, you are responsible? I call Bravo Sierra. What do they do - fix it and bill you or are you responsible for digging up the street, repairing the main and then fixing the street as well. No way!!

That is way the law reads. If it breaks I have to tear up the street, repair the line, and fix the road to their specifications. I talked to city hall and they said there's tons of people out of water in town. They aren't willing to do anything at all even if it's the main at this point. The only consolation they offered is that they wouldn't bill me next month if I didn't use any water.... I back flushed it for 6+ hours at the 60' mark and got no where. I'm up against something metal and I have no idea what it could be. The city shutoff should be around the 35' mark.

Also my only source of a welder backed out today too...


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Keep
02-10-2014, 08:45 PM
Here is how you need to hook things up:

http://www.pipethaw.com/ownersmanual.html

Probably work just the same with the welder. But at least this gives some pics.

onewheat
02-10-2014, 08:53 PM
That is way the law reads. If it breaks I have to tear up the street, repair the line, and fix the road to their specifications. I talked to city hall and they said there's tons of people out of water in town. They aren't willing to do anything at all even if it's the main at this point. The only consolation they offered is that they wouldn't bill me next month if I didn't use any water....

That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. :confused:

rockwithjason
02-10-2014, 09:04 PM
it's not uncommon at all. most people are shocked when they find out just how much of the utility they have to repair on their own

nitrohog
02-10-2014, 10:54 PM
Here is how you need to hook things up:

http://www.pipethaw.com/ownersmanual.html

Probably work just the same with the welder. But at least this gives some pics.

Thanks, the only way I can think to get it connected without digging is to hook on to the neighbours supply and mine, completing the circuit through through the main.





That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. :confused:

You're preaching to the choir my good sir. Idk if a petition to change the policy would do any good or not. I literally can't find any insurance that would cover it if something went wrong either, the lady I talked to at the insurance agency had to have a line replaced last summer and went as far as consulting with an attorney about the city taking care of it under their property. In the end she spent $8000 out of pocket for the repair and road work.


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jlckmj
02-11-2014, 07:54 AM
Not going to help the OP at this time, but here is what a friend of mine did a few years ago.

Their house was fed through a common valve that they shared with the next door neighbor. The valve was leaking and the city stated that they were responsible for repairs even though it was on city property and 60-70 feet away from their house.

They researched the city ordinances and found that there was nothing in the city code that stated that the were required to have water. They had an attorney contact the city and told them that they no longer wanted water and told them to shut it off. The city realized that they had to repair the valve in order to shut it off so they did the repair.

After the valve was repaired, they told them they changed their mind, and had them turn it back on again,

Jim

sberry
02-11-2014, 08:24 AM
Here is the concern, not so much so with rolled copper line though.

Mattlt
02-11-2014, 09:05 AM
You're preaching to the choir my good sir. Idk if a petition to change the policy would do any good or not. I literally can't find any insurance that would cover it if something went wrong either, the lady I talked to at the insurance agency had to have a line replaced last summer and went as far as consulting with an attorney about the city taking care of it under their property. In the end she spent $8000 out of pocket for the repair and road work.


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Do you have fire hydrants in your area? I would think your insurance company wouldn't be pleased to find out that your nearest hydrant may not work.

That said, if you do have a working hydrant nearby, ask (or tell) the city that you are hooking up to it. Insulate the line and keep it running constantly to prevent freeze up.

EOC_Jason
02-11-2014, 09:18 AM
How are you back-flushing it if you don't have any water?

jimindm
02-11-2014, 11:34 AM
This is a huge problem that a lot of people in northern states are having right now.

Some of you think that the municipality is the one at fault. So do you want them to build and enact codes so you have to build to standards that are once in a while problem.

Sure this guys city could say yea its an issue lets fix it. They replace the mains to get them deeper, require the people to hook on to them. Oh yea and since you are hooking up you need your service as deep.

Where do you draw the line? Your street floods in a torrential downpour, that happens every ten years. So know the city should require larger culverts, intakes, and storm sewers to fix it. A problem that exists once every ten years.

Remember that the money you want the municipalities to spend is your money. They will get from taxes or some way, from you and your neighbors, to pay for it.

I get it that the OP does not have water. But it is not like its life or death. By his very first post its a place he basically sleeps in. Although it would be very inconvenient to not have water, its not like there is no water in the area. Really how far is the nearest convenience store to buy a couple of gallons of drinking water, or better yet walk next door and have some jugs filled from the neighbor. A couple of five gallon buckets of toilet water and your set.

Some of you guys talk about how soft the kids are now about getting out of school when it snows or the wind chill is 50 below zero. Have you thought that it was not that long ago that indoor plumbing was unheard of. Many of us have parents or grandparents, that can tell you about it.

Yea, the situation that the OP is in sucks, but he is not alone. Mother nature got him into it, and sooner or later mother nature will get him out of it. I would try to do something, but at some point you just have to go on with life and not dwell on it. How many hours, or how much money, would you spend to repair it.

kesslerbmw
02-11-2014, 12:01 PM
Build a big ass fire on the ground where its frozen, I've heard of them doing that here in MI when they've had sewer lines frozen.

nitrohog
02-11-2014, 01:01 PM
Nearest fire hydrant is across the street and a few hundred feet down the road. I've pretty much come to grips with the fact that I'm basically out of water for a month to 6 weeks or so. Yeah it's a huge pain in the ass but I'm into it for about $200+ and three days worth of worthless labor. I'll just be thankful for the hospitality of friends and do my best to repay them in the future. Until then I'll probably research some more and basically wait it out.

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nitrohog
02-11-2014, 01:03 PM
Also as much as I love the fire idea I'm pretty sure it's frozen in the road and burning tar smells really bad lol.

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MScott
02-11-2014, 01:07 PM
Build a big ass fire on the ground where its frozen, I've heard of them doing that here in MI when they've had sewer lines frozen.

It would have to be a really BIG ASS FIRE to thaw the ground underneath. We used to build large bonfires on the ice of ponds or lakes when ice-skating. The ice underneath never melted.:lol:

finn
02-11-2014, 01:27 PM
The sewer lines were replaced on my mother's street a couple of years ago. They replaced the water lines with plastic at the same time. I noticed that the old lines were about 5 or 6 feet down and the new lines are at least 8, and maybe 10 feet down.

Joe69
02-11-2014, 10:51 PM
Now I feel bad about my post, complaining about thawing my water out again. I had mine thawed in a 2 or 3 hours. Hope you guys get yours working soon!


Joe