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View Full Version : How to thaw frozen pipes!



Terry
12-20-2008, 08:48 AM
It's that time of year when pipes are freezing.

There are several things you can do.

1) Make sure your heat is on. Sounds silly, but I've seen homes with the power off before.

2) Remove garden hoses from hosebibs
If your home is older than the sixties, you may not have frostfree hosebibes, those should be covered.
http://www.terrylove.com/images/hosebib_legend_a.jpg

3) Make sure you water meter box has some sort of cover over the meter. You don't want the water meter freezing.

4) If you have plumbing on an outside wall, like a kitchen sink, keep the cabinet doors open. You will want as much warm air getting to the plumbing as possible. Closing those cabinet doors prevents the warmth of the home from getting there. Open doors.
http://cantonantiques.com/images/db/antique/furniture/1400.jpg

5) If you have a frozen pipe, DO NOT use open flame. These can cause fires. The wood in homes becomes very dry and flammable. Just a little flame, and you could lose your home.

USE a hair dryer to thaw pipes.
http://www.terrylove.com/images/hair_dryer.jpg

6) If you have a faucet (s) that freezes, you may want to run a little water, that keeps the water moving and prevents freezing too.

7) If your main line has frozen, they do have pipe thawing devices that can clamp on, using electricity to run a warming current to thaw, this only works on metal pipes. If you have plastic, you will need warm air.

http://www.terrylove.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=11883&stc=1&d=1290711458

nhmaster
12-20-2008, 10:36 AM
I wonder if anyone has ever kept records as to how many houses get burned down each year by folks trying to un-thaw pipes?

My favorite is the guy that turns the thermostat off and cranks the wood stove up. I've seen heat pipes freeze and break in the very same room the stove was in.

hj
12-20-2008, 01:49 PM
A wall paper steamer and hose makes a great pipe thawer inside walls, under floors, and even drain lines sometimes if you can feed the hose in far enough.

SewerRatz
12-20-2008, 05:29 PM
I have had good luck taking water from the water heater into a 5 gallon bucket and using a water fall/effect pump with a 1/4" plastic hose and fed the hose into the pipe to thaw the ice in the pipe. I learned this from an old well guy, since most of the well systems here have a plastic pipe from the house to the well head that freezes ever now and then.

Terry
12-09-2009, 11:00 AM
Just an update on how to thaw frozen pipes and what to do.

Please remember to remove all outside hoses.
Keep cabinet doors open on outside walls with plumbing
Don't let you heat get down too low.

Esquire
12-09-2009, 12:31 PM
Anyone ever use the fire hydrant and inside piping to thaw a water main? I've heard of it done but never attempted or seen it done personally. I have heard if you wish to do ityou have to make sure you remove the electrical ground for the house if it falls with in the clamps of the thaw machine. Just curious what you guys think of this.

ChrisJA
12-09-2009, 12:31 PM
My hot water only froze in my master bathroom sinks. Until we get the problem permanently resolved, do I leave the hot or cold water on drizzle when the temps are going to get below zero?

jadnashua
12-09-2009, 12:40 PM
If only the hot froze, you might get by with just letting the hot drip. WHen the water is flowing, you are constantly replacing some of the cooling water with water from a warmer part of the house, so it doesn't ever get cold enough to freeze. Try leaving the vanity doors open and let it drip. Just having the doors open may be enough, but it depends on where it actually froze.

You had asked earlier how to tell if you did split a pipe. One thing you can do is make sure everything is off in the water system, then watch the water meter. If you can keep people from using water for awhile, go back and check on it after a few hours. If it is moving, you either have a leak, or someone used some water (flushed a toilet, etc.). Otherwise, unless you can hear it or see wet spots on say the ceiling or walls, you may never know. If it is leaking badly, you'll hear it. Note, it could start slowly, depending on how big and where it starts to thaw from.

Terry
11-24-2010, 11:52 AM
It's freezing in Seattle right now.
Read the tips above for protecting your pipes.

Thatguy
11-24-2010, 12:17 PM
I've heard that in PA they use welding machines to thaw inground copper pipes by passing many amps through them.

hj
11-24-2010, 01:28 PM
The closer the two clamps can be positioned to each other, and the less "dirt" the current has to pass through, the more effective a thawing machine or a welder will be. BUT, it the pipes have frozen and burst, so there is a gap between the ends, a welder can create an arc and burn the house down.

Thatguy
11-24-2010, 02:11 PM
a welder can create an arc and burn the house down.
That's probably why I haven't yet been on the evening news; I didn't yet do the right things. :D

Rich B
11-24-2010, 02:18 PM
Thawing pipes with a welder is a common practice but it is really hard on the machine. It is very easy to exceed the 100% duty cycle rating of a welding machine doing this.......You can hurt the engine or easily damage the windings or wiring in the machine.......Big machines can do it a lot better than small but they should not be turned up to max output.....

Some machines have warning labels on them that say DO NOT use for thawing pipes.......Larger Diesels are in the $20K range new for a Miller or Lincoln.......they can do the job as they are usually rated at 300-400 amps at around 30 volts DC.....and at 100% Duty cycle which means continuous with no rest period needed....

Thatguy
11-24-2010, 02:39 PM
Thawing pipes with a welder is a common practice but it is really hard on the machine. It is very easy to exceed the 100% duty cycle rating of a welding machine doing this.......You can hurt the engine or easily damage the windings or wiring in the machine.......Big machines can do it a lot better than small but they should not be turned up to max output.....

Some machines have warning labels on them that say DO NOT use for thawing pipes.......Larger Diesels are in the $20K range new for a Miller or Lincoln.......they can do the job as they are usually rated at 300-400 amps at around 30 volts DC.....and at 100% Duty cycle which means continuous with no rest period needed....
This gets interesting; 1" ID copper pipe is equivalent to heavier than 0000 AWG copper wire. That's a dead short in my book.

And if you have a welding machine and a storage oscilloscope you could check your resi. circuit breakers [from behind a shield]. Nah, just kidding.

hj
11-25-2010, 07:22 AM
It IS a dead short which is what creates the heat to thaw the frozen line, and why it is hard on the welding machines. But then, a stuck welding electrode is also a "dead short", and the machines survive that.

Thatguy
11-25-2010, 10:03 AM
We're getting into fine details here but for a 1/4" steel welding rod the resistance could be 20x to 200x that of 1/2" dia. copper wire. I shouldn't have said "dead short" in any case.
A superconducting water pipe would not thaw ice at any current level because no power [I squared x R] would be dissipated in the pipe.

Terry
11-25-2010, 10:57 AM
Why all the talk about welding machines when Ridgid makes a pipe thawer already?
http://www.ridgid.com/Tools/KT190-KT200-Pipe-Thawers

For fast thawing of frozen metal pipes 1/2" through 1 1/2" (12-36mm). The KT-190 and KT-200 Pipe Thawing Units provide continuous heating to quickly thaw 1/2" to 1 1/2" frozen metal pipes. With these lightweight, versatile units, there is no need to dig or tear apart walls. Simply attach the clamps to the metal pipe on each side of the frozen section and the pipe is thawed within minutes.

Thatguy
11-25-2010, 06:13 PM
http://www.ridgid.com/Tools/KT190-KT200-Pipe-Thawers

With 120 V and 15 A input it only takes something less than 1800 W, maybe 30 W per foot, to thaw enough of a gallon of ice in a pipe for water to flow again.

Probably a welding machine does it 4x quicker but the problems with that method have already been discussed.

Rich B
11-26-2010, 03:31 PM
It IS a dead short which is what creates the heat to thaw the frozen line, and why it is hard on the welding machines. But then, a stuck welding electrode is also a "dead short", and the machines survive that.

A welder would not normally "stick" an electrode and leave it that way. Even if he did, the electrode would overheat and burn up long before the machine or cables.......

I am not a plumber....but I am a Lincoln and Miller certified welder repair tech........and I know more than a little about welders....been doing this work for close to 20 years now.....

Those Pipe Thawing machines sell for around $800.......They don't list the full specs so I have to guess.......they are basically a high amp battery charger..... a fairly low DC voltage output and something low enough that someone operating it is not in danger of being shocked.......

Welding machines normally have around 80 Open Circuit Volts and that can be AC or DC.......that is enough to give you a good little sting if you get across the two output studs......Once in awhile I get stung myslef and I work on them all the time......

Now the High Frequency ouptut on many tig welders and plasma cutters is a whole 'nother deal altogether........3000-3600 volts at 1 million HZ......Not enough current to kill you but it really stings when your working on a steel bench and the HF gets on you as you go to start a weld.....

Thatguy
11-26-2010, 04:23 PM
Those Pipe Thawing machines sell for around $800
Putting 30 of these
http://www.allelectronics.com/make-a-store/item/TX-6310/6.3VCT-10A-POWER-TRANSFORMER/1.html
in parallel is cheaper.
Or, make your own
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://bushytails.net/~furrywolf/welder2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.m715zone.com/vb/showthread.php%3Ft%3D18282&usg=__FoMGMPsAV1llMUN4K_9_4ClfjKo=&h=691&w=921&sz=319&hl=en&start=28&zoom=1&tbnid=8mP_xqOUjFMjYM:&tbnh=139&tbnw=185&prev=/images%3Fq%3D%2522homemade%2Bwelder%2522%26um%3D1% 26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26client%3Dsafari%26sa%3DN% 26rls%3Den%26biw%3D1488%26bih%3D772%26tbs%3Disch:1 0%2C894&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=719&vpy=345&dur=50&hovh=194&hovw=259&tx=146&ty=113&ei=NFrwTPiaFMWclge3tejNDA&oei=ElrwTLP4J8L_lge8q_CGCg&esq=2&page=2&ndsp=28&ved=1t:429,r:24,s:28&biw=1488&bih=772

I'd say the thaw machine has an AC output because rectifiers cost money and the pipe won't know the difference.

I haven't run the numbers but I think that most of the power these things put out goes into heating the connecting cables and there's no way around this. The cable resistance is higher than the pipe resistance but you have to have long cables for long pipes.

Since the pitch says "fast thawing" I asked Ridgid, How fast? Still waitin' on that answer.
I will say that the women on their calendars look, well, wholesome. . .:D

Cookie
11-26-2010, 07:42 PM
Well, it is 19F here, and suprise! I turned on my kitchen faucet and heard that all too familiar sound of my pipes starting to freeze! So... I took action. Doors open, faucet dripping, all throughout the house.

The fun has begun. :( I guess I better warm up that blow dryer.

Rich B
11-27-2010, 05:10 AM
I have a 2 family house. I rented one side for about 35 years. The rental side has been vacant for over 2 years now and that is so I can do some rennovations. It is a duplex style home and each side is a mirror of the other.

I have kept the heat at a minimum on the vacant side during the winter. One cold winter morning (I think it was 12 overnight) I had NO cold water in my upstairs bathroom.....I knew immediately what it must be......I followed the pipes to an area where they were run right next to an outside wall in the basement......YUP....one elbow was getting hit with a cold air stream from outside.......I thawed it and than sealed up the air leak with foam and insulation.......I used a 500w quartz light and directed the heat to the pipe........Luckily it thawed without damage to the pipe.......

In the spring I moved all 3 copper pipes that were run in that area in further and up to the second floor........I also insulated them anywhere I could.
They were the supllies for the 2 upstairs bathrooms......1, 3/4" cold and 2, 1/2" hots.......The original "plumber" ran them right next to the oustisde uninsulated wall........With the heat always turned up on both sides it never caused a freezup in the past.....

I now have some heat from a duct sending warm air directly in the area of those pipes and sealed up any leaks I could find around the sill area. All you need to do is use you hand on a cold day and feel for a cold draft.......The foam insulation works great.....


P.S. I do believe the Pipe Thawing machines are DC as that would explain the high price.....a rectifier, just like in a battery charger or a welder....

Thatguy
11-27-2010, 08:03 AM
Thawing machine, 1800 W
hair dryer, 1000 W
lamp, 500 W
but the last two waste a lot of the heat they throw off.
Oh, well. . .

I don't guess anybody makes a machine that forces superheated steam into frozen pipes? If so it's probably only for commercial use.

If Ridgid answers me I'll ask them about the DC output.
I guess for small blockages you could use a car battery for 30 second intervals but it might need a long rest between attempts and you would need to limit the current to 200 A or so with your connecting cables.

Rich B
11-27-2010, 11:45 AM
If the Rigid machine is AC output.......$800 seems like a heck of a lot of money for a box with a couple switches/ a gauge/ a couple other components and a transformer and some jumper cables and clamps.....

Terry
11-27-2010, 08:40 PM
Those things pay for themselves after about two jobs.
I don't have one though.

Years ago I worked at a shop that had them. Too much power and you can melt the solder joints is what I was told.
To me, that would be worse then waiting for the pipe to thaw.
Can you imagine having to find a bad solder joint underground with snow on the ground?

ballvalve
11-27-2010, 10:58 PM
And watch the insulating crew carefully. On one house I found they pushed all the pex up against the exterior walls wherever they could. It would have been a disaster.

Terry
01-19-2012, 11:37 AM
It's that time of year to revive this thread.
At the moment we have freezing rain in Seattle. I went out to my car last night to grab a flashlight when the lights flickered inside, and all the doors were frozen shut. It looks like I will need to take a hair dryer to it.

hj
01-19-2012, 04:36 PM
quote; will say that the women on their calendars look, well, wholesome. . .:D

To me, all the heads look like they have been Photoshopped onto bodies from previous calendars.

Gary Swart
01-19-2012, 06:34 PM
A couple of years ago it got down to about 10 degrees and my DW supply line froze. It is under the DW after coming from the sink cabinet and was completely closed in. I removed the baseboard and got overly anxious about thawing the line with a heat gun. Made the mistake of leaving the gun blowing for a few minutes while I did something else. Toasted the line. Not a disaster, just a "learning experience". I left the baseboard cover off and have had no more problems. Also learned the hard way about taking hoses off my frost free valves. I usually learn pretty well after experiences after this, so I have few repeat performances. Best way the thaw pipe? Don't let them freeze.

dlarrivee
01-19-2012, 06:48 PM
Best way to keep them from freezing is not to wrap them in pipe insulation... contrary to popular belief.

You want insulation on the cold side of the pipe, and warm air reaching the pipe itself.

Insulation doesn't create heat. For example you can insulate a house till the cows come home, but you'd still need a furnace to heat it.

fixitright
01-24-2012, 07:54 PM
Were having a cold snow-less winter here. How about some discussion on thawing
main lines.