Possible frozen line between main and meter

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice, Tips & ' started by shadowjfaith, Feb 5, 2014.

  1. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    Not sure where else to turn, but I figure a plumbing forum might be best. Story laid out below of everything that's happened so far with my exact question at the end.

    I have been without water for seven days now and I have had 5 service techs out from the water company. The first looked at the meter, said he didn't think it was frozen and proceeded to check my line where it enters the house. My line does not have any insulation in the hole so a draft does blow over the line and he said it was frozen there, believing him I then heated the line up myself with a heat gun for well over 30 minutes, when that failed I called a plumber whom was also unsuccessful in both the line coming in and thawing out the meter with a blow torch.

    The second and third techs didn't do anything, other than telling me I needed to remove the gravel from the pit (which i complied and called again) and showing up a 2 am and claiming to shut the valve off on my side of the meter according to the notes left in the system (I do not have a valve on that side or a curb box for that matter, the only valve I have is on the main side in the pit).

    The fourth tech looked at the meter and said it wasn't frozen, but then in a cocky manner said he would open it and show me it wasn't. After cracking the meter open he was hit by back flow from my line to the house. No water coming from the main, but the meter wasn't frozen as he was able to open it. He called out a fifth tech with a larger truck whom proceeded to do the same and saw the wasn't any water anywhere (as the previous tech had emptied the rest of my line). Before calling dispatch he said it didn't make much sense to him (he has been a service tech for them for 24 years) and that they would send out a larger truck to check the main line. After he got off the phone he was informed to tell me by his supervisor my line was frozen (this is where I was really upset as both your techs said it wasn't and now someone who has never even seen my situation is telling me what's wrong). The tech said he didn't think it was right and advised me to call a supervisor myself and explain the situation. After a few hours on and off the phone I was informed that my line was frozen (where did they get this idea when your experts say it's not) and they would not be sending out any more trucks.

    I understand if my line is frozen as you can't do too much about that other than dig it up, and the water company is not held responsible for frozen lines, but how can you tell for sure (as they never proved it was frozen)? Is there anyway that I or a plumber determine if my line is frozen between the main and the meter as if it's not frozen as it doesn't make much sense to be I will be waiting till spring for them to unclog something that could have been fixed in the first 24 hours.

    Any advice for my situation is greatly appreciated.
  2. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,812
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Sounds like you need insulation and a heat tape.

    Not sure a Forum will give any better answers, than a pro that has already been there.

    By code the water lines should be below the frost line of your area.


    Good Luck.
  3. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    I do need insulation and will be getting that in order soon; however, the problem isn't on my side. If my line was frozen the meter wouldn't have had any back flow, and the lines are in fact buried below the frost line.
  4. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,812
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    The back flow was probably just the water in the line before the frozen pipe.

    You can use a salamander heater to unfreeze your pipes.

    You may need a lot of BTUs to get it done.

    This is what I used when I lived near Indianapolis.


    salamander .jpg


    Had to use one just to get the automobiles started when it was below 0F.


    Good Luck.
  5. DougB

    DougB Member

    Frozen pipe can be thawed with a welder. But you gotta get an experienced person.
  6. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,812
    Location:
    Houston, TX

    Sure can, If you do not have PVC pipe.
  7. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    Let's say that my pipes are frozen, they would be frozen about 4 feet underground. Would a salamander or a welder work without digging up the line? Like I said a blow torch was used at the meter and where it enters my basement so I would expect a few feet either way at both locations the line would have thawed as about three feet down the line in the basement from the torch was quite warm.
  8. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    1,923
    Location:
    IL
    Who is responsible for maintaining the line from the main to the meter if the problem is a clog or a crushed line? It sounds as if that line is too shallow. Are they saying they are planning to replace that line with a deeper line in the spring at their expense? In some places the maintenance from the main to the meter is paid by the homeowner. I think you are implying that is not the case where you are. That's good.

    So anyway, how do you distinguish a clog from a frozen pipe? I don't know of a non-digging way faster than seeing if the water resumes on its own in the spring. :-(
    Right now, your toilet tanks are empty? I would leave a faucet that you will notice on slightly so that if any water starts coming through, it will continue to flow thereby melting the ice. Having a pressure differential on the ice can cause it to creep and maybe open a flow.

    Have you checked with the neighbors to both sides of you to see if they have water?

    Regarding thawing. If the frozen place was in/near the pit, you could put an electric heater in the pit. Cover the pit with insulation-- maybe a 4x8 sheet of foam board. Maybe pile snow on it, oddly enough.

    Good luck.
    Not a pro.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
  9. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,798
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    I don't see pipe buried four feet underground as being the issue.
    Ground temps don't change much between the seasons. I would be more inclined to put an extension cord out to thewater meter, put an incandescent light bulb in the meter box, and then cover that with insulation.
    Safe and cheap. And no skill required.

    If you have a plastic line, then a welder won't help you.
    What decade was the home built in?
  10. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    Still working out who is exactly responsible for what. So far it's looking like I'm responsible for the line to the main which goes under the street, but I have to check exactly where my path of right of way lies with the assessors office. My line is buried below the frost line on both sides and does comply with code, but nothing really seems to add up. Both my neighbors have water and the were working on the line the day I lost water. Why no one has bothered to check if something went wrong when they completed that work is quite frustrating as well.

    I know for certain that on my side of the meter the line isn't frozen, the meter isn't frozen, the only thing I don't know for sure is if the line from the main to the meter is frozen (they claim it is, but can't show me any proof nor did anyone check that out). My faucets have been open for the whole week and haven't had any luck. I would at least expect water going to the meter if it was on my side which I don't have any.

    I don't see why any more heat in the pit would help has the blow torch got it plenty hot to melt anything there.

    According to Citizens Energy Group's terms and conditions they are only responsible repair/maintenance on the line up to the path of right of way from the main by way of leak. (i.e. they technically don't even have to fix a clog which is so, so, so very wrong)

    Page 23 Rule 7.2

    http://www.citizensenergygroup.com/pdf/TermsConditions-Water.pdf
  11. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    Home was 'placed' on the lot in the 50's and the water line installed sometime after as it sat on a well. Built in the 20's. No plastic line (copper) and would a heat lamp (or some other means of electric heat in the pit) really do more than the torch?
  12. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,812
    Location:
    Houston, TX

    Who worked on what lines ?

    If it is before the meter it is the Water authorities problem to repair.


    I agree with Terry, It will not freeze if it is 4 feet deep.
  13. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    1,923
    Location:
    IL
    Please clarify. How far is your meter from your foundation, and which side of the foundation is the meter on? We/I have been presuming a pit way out in the yard.

    What is the ground profile between the meter and the main? If there is a valley between the meter and the main, I would suspect that the water line is much shallower than 4 feet at that point.

    How cold has it been where you are? I am guessing you are not in Evansville.

    This new info:

    Who was working on the water line. I am guessing you are referring to the water company. That seems very relevant. What were they doing? Where were they digging?

    The coincidence could be that because the water flow due to usage was stopped, that source of heat to warm the shallow place went away long enough to freeze your supply pipe where the pipe was too shallow. It could be something else, but if the work was not between you and your neighbors, the lack of flow over a period not heating the ground at the too-shallow place is my guess.
  14. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,798
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    Keeping constant heat on something, and then keeping a blanket over it, does much more good than a quick fix with a torch.
    The pipe may be frozen a little past the meter.

    If the home is as old as that, you may have galvanized piping. A pipe thawing machine would work on that.
  15. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    The water company was doing the work on the main line and I can't get anymore information than that, as they won't tell me what they were doing (and pretty much have stopped talking to me altogether).

    I'm just outside of Indianapolis and it has been quite cold; however, not that cold when my water stopped maybe a low of 15 the night before.

    The pit is about 10 feet from the street in my driveway which is gravel. The line proceeds under the street to the main on the other side in the first few feet of the neighbors yard. No valley what-so-ever over the distance of the whole line.

    The meter is approximately 30 feet from where the line goes into the basement.

    As for who repairs what, it may be my problem to repair (still confirming this) from my foundation to the water main (that includes after the meter) according to the terms and conditions.
  16. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    Again I appreciate the help, as I've been getting the run around from the water company and it's nice that someone (even over the internet) wants to get my water back.
  17. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    I have asked about a pipe thawing machine and the plumbers I've talked to that do have one don't have cables long enough as the only two accessible points are the pit and where it enters the house. I do have a plumber coming out this evening and I'll see what he can do or what he recommends. I may be giving a heat lamp a try, but I'm doubtful.
  18. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,812
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    You may be confusing, Before the meter and after the meter. Or I am confused. lol

    You are responsible for after the meter.

    Before the meter is the City side.

    They do want you to have water, so you will pay your water bill.

    I think they need to come back and fix their screw up.


    Good Luck.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
  19. shadowjfaith

    shadowjfaith New Member

    Messages:
    33
    Location:
    Indiana
    DonL I wish this was actually the case, but it's not. The supervisor told the tech (who has been working under this assumption for 24 years) that I am responsible for the pit. This prompted me to start looking into the matter to find out what I really am responsible for and it does say according to their terms and conditions that they are responsible to the public right of way, which I believe is where the main line is. So they have the main line and the rest falls to me. I've checked with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and they have confirmed that this is what the are responsible for, but what they couldn't tell me was where my public right of way is (I need to contact the assessors office for that).

    I did say after the meter on that post when I meant before.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
  20. Terry

    Terry Administrator Staff Member

    Messages:
    14,798
    Location:
    Bothell, Washington
    If I had a long cord, I would be running a lightbulb out there and cover it with insulation. Just saying.
    Even if someone thaws it, you're going to need to keep it warm until things thaw out.
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