Educate me on frozen pipes and the management thereof

I just dealt with this with the hot water line for our kitchen faucet. I’m lucky in that I have access to the pipe, in this case near the basement door in an uninsulated cavity. I opened the tap all the way, and used a hair dryer to thaw it out. I left it on a drip until this morning when I insulated the pipe and the cavity over the door where it ran. I’m hoping that this will be enough. The cold water line a few inches away didn’t freeze so I’m hopeful that this will be enough.

My old house was around 120 years old, and the kitchen pipe always froze. We had it insulated, but I never trusted it enough to not leave it dripping when the temperature dropped below 28F.

Friends of ours have a vacation house where it gets cold enough in the winter to freeze pipes. The house has a walk-in storage space below, where some of the utilities are accessible (water main, water heater). Since someone is there only occasionally during the winter, perhaps every weekend or every other (or less), they cannot leave the water running, even at a drip, in water-parched CA, and that would risk filling their septic tank as well.

What they do is 1) shut off power to the water heater, 2) shut off the water main, 3) open all faucets and spigots, then 4) open up the drain at the water heater, and let the water from the house drain thru a hose to the outside. They also add some antifreeze to the toilet tanks. Evidently, empty pipes do not run the same risk of freeze damage as full ones. When someone visits during the winter, they must do all those steps in reverse to make the house habitable, and then re-do them when they leave.

Of course, these measures will only be useful in a house that spends most of the time unoccupied.

I agree, and don’t agree with the implication of the link that it doesn’t. I’d even say link is somewhat the wrong way around. If an ice obstruction forms in a pipe where water pressure can’t effectively ‘push the ice’, like in an elbow, then it no longer matters if a faucet is open or closed somewhere downstream. The thermal expansion as the water freezes (ice takes up more space than water) will break the pipe or a pop loose a joint.

The main benefit of letting the water run is under the almost always valid assumption that the small home supply pipe in exposed location is losing heat faster than anywhere upstream in that water’s journey from reservoir to your faucet. The in home supply pipe presumably directly or indirectly exposed to the cold air, and of relatively small diameter so low ratio of volume to surface area. The water mains out under the street are losing heat more slowly because the ground is still warmer than the air (in temperate areas during cold snaps) and the main’s surface area is much smaller relative to its volume; all the more so in the huge reservoir somewhere upstream which will never wholly freeze. So hustling the water through the zone of highest heat loss, the exposed small pipe in your house, by keeping faucets running, minimizes freezing.

So educate me as somebody who grew up in California and never had to worry about this. Whenever it is supposed to get near freezing, I turn off the water supply to the front and back outside taps of my townhouse and open the outside spigots to let the water drain. I’ve never had a problem with freezing pipes that I know of. However, I had to replace a valve on my front outside spigot last summer and apparently the workman tightened it so much that I can’t turn it. Is it safe to turn off the water to the outside if the outside spigot is closed, or should I leave that shut-off open and let it have room to expand toward the inside of the house if it freezes?

My water pipe comes in at the front corner of the foyer, at a “T” intersection. The pipe runs vertically up the wall literally inches from an exterior wall & the third side is the garage wall. So it’s running up the junction of interior foyer, attached but unheated garage, & exterior wall. About the dumbest place they could have put it; especially given it comes up thru the floor further back but then doubles back towards the front of the house where they installed the water meter (so it’s hidden behind the open door). Had they put the meter on the rear of where the pipe comes in, it would be running up an interior wall & a garage wall instead of an interior wall, a garage wall, & an exterior wall. It might not look as pretty, but it would be a hell of a lot better placed.

There is a vertical access panel, 2½" opening & 3" wide, stud-to-stud. There is insulation between the exterior stud (but I can’t tell exactly what # it is), there is also ½" foam pipe wrap. IOW, there’s really no room to put any additional insulation in there. When we get prolonged periods of cold, like now, that pipe freezes. I bought an electric heat tape, but is specifically states not to use it in enclosed spaces; I returned it. I do have a space heater in that room, intentionally pointed towards the middle of the room; it was set at 51° but the pipe still froze.

Between a hair dryer & cranking up the space heater & angling it into the corner, I have water again. I’m keeping a faucet dripping but we’ve got at least another week of this cold spell. When I cranked up the heater & pointed it into the corner, the drywall got warm to the touch; while that might be okay for a short period, I am in no way walking away & leaving it like that for an extended period of time.

Any suggestions for a permanent fix?

Update: the pipes to the utility room are run through an outside wall. The plumber had to cut a small hole in the wall in order to access the pipes and thaw them but they don’t appear to be broken. There is insulation along the exterior surface of the wall but none surrounding the pipes. So I’ve acquired a new project on the home improvement list. Get someone to open the whole wall to wrap the pipes in insulation.

Depending on how the pipes are run, they may not have to break down the whole wall, but just a few holes to install pipe insulation. When we did it at our old house, they just cut one hole, which I later patched.

What I would do: Not easy, not cheep, open up the path, remove the copper and replace with PEX. Spray foam the void the pipe is in. Alas, I doubt doing less would cure the problem unless Al Gore moved in next door with a Olympic sized hot tub.

Since before christamas we have been out each day with frozen pipe calls… fun fun fun. The quickest way to fix a split pipe say to your laundry is with Pex tubing and Sharkbite couplings (quick connect push fittings)

If you have issues with kitchen sinks etc leave your cabinet doors open over night too, that will help.

Sorry, but this advice is for the birds.

Bolding mine

Well, after three days ( :eek: ), with nothing but some old electrical heating tape on part of it, it thawed. I don’t see any evidence of cracks as yet, but I’ll crawl under the house again in a few days, when things are really thawed here, to check again.

I hate winter.

With PEX you can put your junctions in just one central place, and just run straight shots to each fixture. That might make retrofit feasible, it depends on your setup. They make an insulated PEX product that sounds like the way to go. Instead of installing the copper piping then awkwardly trying to wrap each section in insulation, you just crawl through the attic dragging the PEX hose, and you then stuff a pre-cut length down through a hole in the baseboard, towed by a rope, and put in an elbow.

It’s still a massive pain and no small project, but with a combination of pre-insulated PEX, mechanical expander fittings, and some fish tape, you could replace the weak sections with maybe half the effort it would take the old way.

How safe is PEX to drink from? I thought copper was mildly toxic and tended to prevent bacteria from growing in pipes that arent used very often, for instance, and you’d lose that with PEX. Also, whenever I drink from plastic, the water tastes a little, I dunno, stale.

I have PEX piping in the back yard that I put down to irrigate my garden, and it’s great to work with. But I wouldn’t want it bringing my drinking water to my kitchen.

It obviously meets objective safety standards.

If you’re concerned about water quality, you should be using reverse osmosis for your drinking and ice cube water. Is straightforward to install one, and they are about 180 on sale on Amazon. Most brands use standard filters, so you can readily get replacement filters for minimal cost. The membrane itself lasts about 2-3 years and is only about 29 on Amazon, the activated carbon filters last about a year and are only about 8 bucks each.

That protects you from a lot more than just a faint plastic taste, it’ll block most contaminants no matter what screwups the city water system makes (or what impurities your well has, within limits)

Activated carbon gets the lead and chlorine, the osmosis stops about 80-95%, depending on the membrane quality and pressure difference, of everything that isn’t water. Output is basically distilled water, the fancier osmosis systems have a flavor cartridge to add the minerals back.

I work on water professionally, wells and water pumps. I’ve always used a torch when needed and will continue to do so. If you manage to boil water and blow up piping, you really aren’t qualified to be using torches at all.

A lot of the minor(to me) issues it’s just me stopping by the house telling and telling them how to fix it. ‘See that open basement window, close it. Set up a space heater here. In two hours turn the power to the pump back on, if that doesn’t give you water call me back.’ For me who has dealt with this stuff all my life, it’s amazing how ignorant people can be in basic trouble shooting, they didn’t think a open window with sub zero temperatures was a problem and wanted a ‘cat door’

The major issues I’ve been resolving involve excavators and jack hammers to fix the work done by shitty contractors. Burying a line at 3 foot depth in an area with a 5 foot frost depth seems like a great idea in the spring. For some reason they won’t answer the calls for those home owners in the winter. We finally got some real snow cover so I’ll have less to do for a while.