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Thread: Frozen Pipe - Pipe thawer not working!

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member alipali's Avatar
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    Default Frozen Pipe - Pipe thawer not working!

    Hey Guys,

    I have a frozen heating pipe feeding the baseboards in the rear zone of my house (kitchen, rear living room, laundry room, and small bathroom), the pipe is in the finished ceiling of my basement close to the outside wall.

    I have a pipe thawer hooked up but it doesn't seem to be doing much even when it's been going for an hour.

    Have tried a few configurations by moving the ends to different pipes between where I believe the frozen spot is. I suspect the configuration of the pipes is reducing the current as I have a blower in the middle of the kitchen and the bathroom baseboard, but I only have a few spots to attach the leads.

    The copper pipe don't seem to be getting warm (at least not noticeably) where each lead is in contact, even though one of the leads glows hot.

    Questions:

    Should both ends be hot where each lead is in contact with copper pipe?
    How long does it take to work? The distance between the 2 leads is 20 feet.
    Do I need to cut a hole somewhere in the basement ceiling and connect there?

    Thanks for any help.

  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    FWIW, it takes a BTU to raise a pound of water 1-degree, but to change from ice to liquid at the same temperature, it takes 134BTU...IOW, you need to put a lot of energy in there to ever see the actual temperature of the pipe to go up.

    Now for practical experience in how well the pipe thawing machines work, I have none. I'm sure it depends on the type and amount of power it has available.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    In the Trades Gary Swart's Avatar
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    I don't know about pipe thawers, but frozen pipes can be a bear to get running. In my fairly limited experience, getting warm air moving over the pipes will work, but it may take some time. Sometimes an ordinary light bulb will produce enough heat if the area isn't too large. Once you do get them running, leave the water running a trickle until the weather breaks. You are having God awful temperatures right now, so you may feel you're fighting a losing battle. But, don't get impatient and try a blow torch or other open flame devices, you risk burning the house down.

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    DIY Senior Member craigpump's Avatar
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    Heat guns work pretty good if you have access to the pipes.

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    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    A pipe thawing machine does NOT get the pipe "hot", it just raises the temperature enough so that the ice turns to water. The lead should also NOT get "red hot" unless it is making a poor contact so that resistance is heating the lead and not the pipe. WHen I was in a "frozen pipe" area, I used a wall paper steamer so I could shove the hose into the wall and get closer to the frozen spot. Steam under pressure is a lot hotter.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

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    Jack of all trades DonL's Avatar
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    "The copper pipe don't seem to be getting warm (at least not noticeably) where each lead is in contact, even though one of the leads glows hot. "


    Almost fell off my rocker on that one.

    Get a good connection so that the pipe heats up, not the wiring.


    A heat tape can be nice.
    Theory only works perfect in a vacuum.

    Cyber Security Protection for Windows C:\ > WWW.WinForce.Net

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    In the Trades Tom Sawyer's Avatar
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    A whole lot of houses get burned to the ground from improper use of electric thawing machines. In essence it is nothing more than a small version of an ARC welder. If anything is getting really hot then either the contact is bad or the distance between the leads is too short.
    [B]No, plumbing ain't rocket science. Unlike rocket science, plumbing requires a license[B]

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    DIY Senior Member Reach4's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alipali View Post
    The copper pipe don't seem to be getting warm (at least not noticeably) where each lead is in contact, even though one of the leads glows hot.
    I expect that device would do a lot better on galvanized. Having a lead glow doesn't seem right at all. It seems like you would need really heavy leads to do what you are trying to do. Copper pipes are really low resistance, so I am thinking #2 wire or so would be needed on the pipe thawer. I have never actually seen one of those devices, but based on your glowing description, I think that the one that you have is not up to this job.

    I would raise the temperature of the cold rooms above and below the frozen pipes. You may be able to use fans to blow warm air from areas where the heat is working. Good luck.

  9. #9
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    The energy is being conducted into the water as heat. As I said, it takes a lot of energy to melt ice. The temperature won't rise until the ice melts.

    Think of an ice bath...the water essentially stays the same temp until the ice melts, then it can get warmer. It's still getting heat added to it, but the temp stays the same.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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