Basement Toilet freezing in the winter

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by mhb22079, Oct 24, 2006.

  1. mhb22079

    mhb22079 New Member

    Aug 31, 2006

    My basement toilet backs to the rear wall of the house. The water line tends to freeze in the winter. Is there anything I can do to prevent this that does not involve ripping out the drywall, keeping the toilet running, or turning if off all together? As with most toilets I have about 6" of pipe including the shut-off valve. I've seen the heat tape but will that also warm the pipe behind the drywall?

    Thank You!
  2. plumber1

    plumber1 Plumber

    Aug 7, 2005
    Is the ceiling open? Or do you know for a fact that it's freezing in the wall?
    Is your basement bathroom a finished bathroom?

    The fix may be to run an exposed supply.
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  4. mhb22079

    mhb22079 New Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    It is fully finished. I'm pretty sure it is the rear wall because I hear the ice move when it melts.
  5. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Sep 1, 2004
    Yakima WA
    Water pipes in an outside wall are prone to freeze. I really don't care much for the heat tapes myself, and to use one, you'd have to open the drywall. I don;t know for sure, but a heat tape inside a closed wall probably isn't code and would be a fire hazzard. The easiest fix is to run the pipe inside the room along the wall.
  6. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Jun 12, 2006
    They make foam pipe insulation for each diameter pipe. You'll, of course need to open up the wall to get at the pipes in order to use it. Another alternative is to keep a space heater going all the time in that bathroom.
  7. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Nov 8, 2005
    Hansville, Washington
    If you're reeeaally lucky, you might be able to wrap a short piece of heat tape on the exposed pipe, and rely on convection to circulate the heated water up the pipe. There are, of course, other ways to heat that short piece of pipe, but don't burn the place down. Is it copper pipe?
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2006
  8. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Sep 1, 2004
    Yakima WA
    Problem with the insulation idea is that insulation will only slow heat transfer, not prevent it so if the toilet sat unused for a period of time, the pipe would freeze even with insulation around it. If you open the wall and can get insulation between the outside wall and the pipe with nothing between the pipe and the drywall, you might trap enough heat in the cavity between the insulation and drywall to keep the pipe from freezing. That's assuming you keep the bathroom well heated. You don't have to keep the cavity at room temp, just above 32. It might work if you could get inside air circulation in the wall cavity.
  9. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    Take out the drywall and check out the wall and its insulation. What is the normal room temperature in that room?

    If the pipe is towards the outside of the wall, move it towards the inside as far as you can and use the best insulation you can get in there between it and the outside wall. This is likely foam. If the room temp is high enough, and you get good insulation in the wall, and move the pipe as close as possible to the inside of the wall, you might keep it from freezing.
  10. Master Plumber Mark

    Master Plumber Mark Master Plumber

    Feb 6, 2005
    Sensitivity trainer.. plumber of mens souls
    indianapolis indiana - land of the free, home of
    I bet that is one cooooold seat.....

    I have gotten away with this little trick before
    to keep hose bibs from freezing up inside walls
    going out the side of slab homes .....

    cut a hole in the wall right above the toilet supply

    maybe about 6x12 inches long ways up the wall following

    the pipe upwards behind the toilet.......

    then try to insualte behind that water pipe

    Then go get a dummey heat vent screen loover from LOWES for
    about 3 dollars and screw that over the hole you have made
    in the wall

    what this should do is allow heat from the
    inside of the bathroom to get into that wall and
    keep it from freezing

    sometimes it works pretty well
  11. ToolsRMe

    ToolsRMe New Member

    Mar 12, 2006
    There are a lot of good suggestions posted by others.

    What has not been mentioned is that that pipe is likely to burst. Generally, it will burst on Christmas or New Years.

    This year I bought a house. The pipes to the kitchen were in a wall similar to your configuration. The previous owners managed to keep the water from freezing by deliberately having a drip in the basement. Awful odor.

    I couldn't take the odor any more so I turned off the drip when the weather was warm. I missed one cold night and the pipes to the kitchen froze. I got lucky: heating the pipe with a blow torch worked. I don't recommend this.

    Fortunately, I've done a kitchen remodel. Even though the new walls are 6-inch framing, I still moved the plumbing inside the house.

    A thought occurred to me: You might have a pinhole leak in your exterior sheathing and siding. That could cause your pipe freezing problem. I'd carefully look for nailholes and plug with caulk or foam.

    I had a pinhole leak in a former house. The leak was in a crawl space and was a good three feet from the pipe but it was enough to cause the pipe to burst. Ugly mess.

    Nonetheless, even though I am not a plumber, I strongly suggest that you deal with the problem before it becomes a PROBLEM. Ripping out a small section of drywall and repainting is a lot cheaper than having a pipe burst and having wet insulation and god-knows-what else (mold?) that you would have to deal with.

    Remember, if that pipe bursts in your wall on Christmas, you'll not have water in your entire house and it could ruin your holiday as well as your wallet.

    Another thought: Can you insert a shutoff to the toilet at the main level? Maybe you could then turn the water off to the toilet in the winter?
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