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UHF
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[Plumbing] Frozen water service line

Yesterday at least three water service lines on my 3 block long street froze. I measured the temperature of the water coming out of the tap and it is 31 degrees. We are now letting it run at a trickle in the hopes of keeping it from freezing.

My question is: If it were to freeze, how do you thaw it out? This is the line from the house to the city water main. House was built in 1962, so I assume the line is copper, it is where it enters the basement through the floor.

Will letting the water run at a trickle keep the water line from freezing, but then freeze the sewer line instead??

Both the water and sewer lines run underneath my driveway for about 60', so if I have to dig them up I have the additional expense of repairing the concrete driveway.

The septic line at my work office is frozen as of this morning, and it is installed inside of a larger pipe and has 2" of foam board above and on both sides of it in hopes of preventing this from happening. It's worked up until this year


skipon11
Premium
join:2005-06-09
Pittsburgh, PA
It is rare for underground pipes to freeze. What makes you think it is the underground pipes,and not in house pipes that are exposed to the weather?


UHF
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reply to UHF
It's underground pipes. The frost line is the deepest it's ever been here. There's been news reports all over the upper midwest about this problem. We don't generally run water lines where they can freeze inside of a house here. All of my pipes run through conditioned space heated to at least 67 degrees. My wife just called and said the city water supervisor told her to let the water run as the lines are freezing underground all over town.


skipon11
Premium
join:2005-06-09
Pittsburgh, PA
I'm amazed! Water people are correct though. I would follow there advice and let the water drip,to prevent freezing. Good Luck!


mityfowl
Premium
join:2000-11-06
Dallas, TX
reply to UHF
Well, so how deep are the lines run?


pende_tim
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Andover, NJ
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reply to UHF
Wow. That is a real problem. If they are copper, you may be able to thaw with a welder if you can get to the service pipe where it connects to the street main.

Just curious, what town are you in?
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

jgriz

join:2008-12-10
Saint Charles, IL

1 edit
reply to UHF
Not unusual given the extreme and prolonged cold this winter. I just saw this article in the Chicago Tribune about the same thing. Some people have been without water for weeks.

www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-water-pipes-problems-met-20140219,0,192046.story


Msradell
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join:2008-12-25
Louisville, KY
reply to UHF
I had that happen to me in 1978 in Rochester, New York. Fortunately, if you have copper run from the street to your home is not a major problem to fix. As mentioned earlier a welder can be used to fix that. One end of the welder is connected to the copper pipe in your basement and the other end is connected near the street, normally if you connect to the valve stem near the street that will work. It's probably not a DIY project but is relatively easy for someone with experience you have to be careful to not get the pipes to warm.


Booost

@151.190.40.x
reply to UHF


UHF
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Exactly! I drive by that house every day


UHF
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reply to mityfowl
said by mityfowl:

Well, so how deep are the lines run?

I have no idea how deep they are at my house. I hope to never dig them up to find out. My neighbor 3 doors down buried his 10' deep when replaced his sewer line 2 years ago. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that mine won't freeze.


mattmag
Premium,ExMod 2000-03
join:2000-04-09
NW Illinois
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reply to UHF


We are experiencing this exact problem in many of the local towns around here, and it hasn't happened in this volume for many years. Some towns have issued notices to all residents to let their water run at a slow flow, *not a trickle*, to help prevent freezing.

To make things worse, the current warming trend (if you can call it that) is only going to make the problem WORSE. Warming soil above frozen soil will force the freezing action even deeper, so don't think you are off the hook if it gets nicer out. You need to stay with your plan to allow it to run.

As far as fixing the issue, there are a few methods, including the use of a portable welder connected to the inside service pipe and the outside shutoff casing. This obviously has to be done by an expert, and certain precautions with the electrical service in the house need to be taken.

Another method is to remove the shutoff valve inside the house, and run a garden hose inside the service pipe, which is connected to a neighbor's house that still has water. The flow will thaw the ice, and the hose is pushed further into the service pipe as it thaws. This is a great method if the water is available.

resare

join:2012-11-07
Greenfield Park, QC
reply to UHF
I know this video is in french but it explains why great care should be taken when thawing pipes with a welding machine

»m.tou.tv/la-facture/s2013e14


Mashiki
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Woodstock, ON
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reply to pende_tim
said by pende_tim:

Wow. That is a real problem. If they are copper, you may be able to thaw with a welder if you can get to the service pipe where it connects to the street main.

Just curious, what town are you in?

Fire hazard waiting to happen. A good hair dryer will work just fine.
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Parneli

join:2004-12-28
Naperville, IL
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said by Mashiki:

Fire hazard waiting to happen. A good hair dryer will work just fine.

I suppose after you dig out your front yard to get to it.... then yes.

kherr
Premium
join:2000-09-04
Collinsville, IL
reply to UHF
Now that the city uses remote readers, I guess I should poke some insolation down the meter pit. I guess it is the most exposed there ...


NS4683

join:2000-08-25
South Amboy, NJ
kudos:1
Insolation doesn't apply to frozen pipes in the ground. Normally people use insulation on pipes but it seems difficult to implement unless you're willing to dig up the yard.


pende_tim
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Andover, NJ
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reply to Mashiki
This is obviously not a DIY project unless you happen to own a hefty welder and know how to use it for such tasks.

Not sure how a hair dryer would thaw a frozen underground line, but I am willing to hear your approach.
--
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Ken
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join:2003-06-16
Markle, IN

2 recommendations

reply to mattmag
said by mattmag:

To make things worse, the current warming trend (if you can call it that) is only going to make the problem WORSE. Warming soil above frozen soil will force the freezing action even deeper, so don't think you are off the hook if it gets nicer out.

I don't understand how warming the soil near the surface could make the soil below freeze deeper.


Anonymous_
Anonymous
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said by Ken:

said by mattmag:

To make things worse, the current warming trend (if you can call it that) is only going to make the problem WORSE. Warming soil above frozen soil will force the freezing action even deeper, so don't think you are off the hook if it gets nicer out.

I don't understand how warming the soil near the surface could make the soil below freeze deeper.

magic


rogersmogers

@start.ca
reply to UHF
I can personally say I never heard of the pipes freezing in the ground and I live in Canada and it's bloody cold here every winter. I do like how chilled my water is out of the tap makes for a nice glass of water but never have I heard of freezing pipes outside.

But I wonder if it's because we get all the snow ontop of the ground which would protect the soil from direct cold weather.


pike
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Washington, DC
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A more likely explanation involves the minimum required depth at which the water lines are buried where you live.

The entire planet has experienced unusual temperature extremes over the past few months. Have you read about the heat waves in Australia? Localities may need to reevaluate weather related building codes as the global climate continues to evolve.


UHF
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reply to rogersmogers
said by rogersmogers :

I wonder if it's because we get all the snow ontop of the ground which would protect the soil from direct cold weather.

Yes. We've has many sub-zero days this winter with no real thaws up until the past two days. We have a fairly large amount of snow, but nothing record breaking. The septic line that froze at my work is run under a driveway, so compacted soils and no snow cover cause it to be susceptible to freezing.

Automate

join:2001-06-26
Atlanta, GA
reply to rogersmogers
said by rogersmogers :

But I wonder if it's because we get all the snow ontop of the ground which would protect the soil from direct cold weather.

said by pike:

A more likely explanation ...

Snow has known insulating properties for temperatures less than freezing »www.jlconline.com/rooftop-access···te-.aspx


mattmag
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NW Illinois
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reply to Ken
said by Ken:

I don't understand how warming the soil near the surface could make the soil below freeze deeper.

I don't fully understand it either, but anyone who deals with this situation around here will concur that it can make it worse. From the limited explanation I received when I asked, it has to do with the upper levels of soil thawing which then releases moisture that migrates downward toward the colder soil, and in turn re-freezes, and that expansion is what helps move the frost line lower in depth.

MacSierra

join:2013-11-22
United State
reply to UHF
Right on Matt.. I've been involved with frozen pipes for many years in the Sierra's and asked the same question many years ago. The heat of the sun or warmer ambient air will always drive moisture away or into the ground just like it does in a building wall. For that reason the building codes require a moisture barrier behind the outside surface of a structure.

The moisture being driven down into the drier ground under the frost line creates water evaporation or a cooling effect just like the evaporation does in a swamp cooler in the summer. You can have a 60 degree day and dig down a foot into the soil and find a frost line harder than chicken lips....


Jack_in_VA
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North, VA
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That's because the frost line was there to start with. Above that the 60 degree day thawed.

robbin
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Leander, TX
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Doesn't dry soil have a higher insulating value than moist or wet soil?


Jack_in_VA
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North, VA
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I would say so.

Why do they have established depths to bury water and sewer lines to get below the frost lines? If that is observed it doesn't matter what the moisture of the soil is. Warmth above is not going to drive the frost line lower. It may however raise it if the warmth remains for extended periods of time.

robbin
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join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
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I think the freeze line may be lower than the frost line areas of the country this year.