How to thaw frozen pipes!

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by Terry, Dec 20, 2008.

  1. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,889
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    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.
    [​IMG]

    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.
    [​IMG]

    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.
    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2010
  2. nhmaster

    nhmaster Master Plumber

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    Location:
    S. Maine
    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.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,485
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    pipe thawing

    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.
  4. SewerRatz

    SewerRatz Illinois Licensed Plumber

    Messages:
    1,706
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    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.
  5. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,889
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    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.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  6. Esquire

    Esquire Plumber

    Messages:
    65
    Location:
    Newfoundland
    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.
  7. ChrisJA

    ChrisJA New Member

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    Utah
    Hot or cold running water

    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?
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
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    Location:
    New England
    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.
  9. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,889
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    It's freezing in Seattle right now.
    Read the tips above for protecting your pipes.
  10. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    I've heard that in PA they use welding machines to thaw inground copper pipes by passing many amps through them.
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
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    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.
  12. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    That's probably why I haven't yet been on the evening news; I didn't yet do the right things. :D
  13. Rich B

    Rich B DIY Senior Member

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    283
    Location:
    New Jersey
    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....
  14. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    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.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2010
  15. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    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.
  16. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    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.
  17. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    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.

    Attached Files:

  18. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    Location:
    MD
    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.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2010
  19. Rich B

    Rich B DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    283
    Location:
    New Jersey
    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.....
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2010
  20. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

    Messages:
    1,460
    Location:
    MD
    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...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
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2010
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