Frozen Pipes

A few years ago I redid my master bathroom.  Not two weeks after I had moved in, my pipes froze up on me.  Since I was redoing the bathroom, I figured I’d head into the floor and fix the problem.  The supply pipes coming up to the bathroom had been installed along the outside wall on the first floor.  Not code.  Nothing I could do about that for the time being, so I rerouted, insulated, and sealed what I could in the master bathroom.  I had known it was freezing there, because the shower and the toilet always worked.  It was only the sink, which ran closer to the outside wall, that was a problem.

Woke up this morning.  Go to brush my teeth.  Turn on the faucet.  Nothing.  Crap.  Had I not actually fixed the problem?  Opened up the sink faucets, opened up the shower, and heard gurgling.  My repair to the sink three years ago was working fine.  We had flow between all the water consuming appliances, so the blockage has to be in the supply coming up the outside wall on te first floor.  Got a spigot outside for a hose fed off the same line.  Put some heat into that with a torch turned way down.  That frees up the cold water line.  The hot water line is still frozen.  I need to keep the taps open to prevent more damage than may have already been done.

At some point I need to reroute 90% of the plumbing for this house to fix the problem for good.  Pretty clearly someone at the township wasn’t paying attention when they built the house.  This was an owner-built house, meaning the guy who built it lived in it.  He didn’t always (usually) know what he was doing.  He’s dead now, and if I knew where he was buried, I would go piss on his grave, except that it would freeze before it got anywhere.  Dang.

UPDATE: Several hours with Bitter’s hair dryer, and turning my heat up has freed the water from its ice prison.  The best part is, there is no torrent of water flowing down my outside wall.  I have several holes in my wall that weren’t there before, however.  I drilled into the drywall with a 1″ auger bit so I could a) locate the pipes, and b) put some direct heat on them with the hair dryer.  Annoying, for sure, but 1″ holes in drywall are a hell of a lot easer and cheaper to fix than burst pipes.  This cold spell lasts one more day.  I’m going to run the faucet on a slow drip all night.  Once the single digit temperatures recede, we should be good.  I will definitely need to reroute all the plumbing for that bathroom to remain inside.  Can’t have pipes freezing up in really cold weather.

14 thoughts on “Frozen Pipes”

  1. This is my first winter in my owner-built house. I haven’t finished it and did not have the crawl-space as insulated as I would have liked. Fortunately we weathered this below zero stuff out fine. At least all the pipes work–haven’t crawled under yet for a look-see. A couple of things I did was always run a couple of faucets and flush a toilet when I got up with the baby. I also loaded the dishwasher and set it to run at about 4 A.M. That at least ran some hot water at the coldest part of the night. I ran five 100 watt light bulbs under the house all week too–that had to add a little heat under there.

  2. I’ve been hearing about quite a few pipes freezing this week all around the Delaware Valley area. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I think I got some air bubbles in my plumbing when I turned on my upstairs sink and shower this morning, judging from all the sputtering sounds that were being made at first.

    It’s just been so cold around this area and so many other places lately – should we blame global warming for this too?

  3. Apparently my house/crawlspace is fairly well insulated. I was just under there running some cable and the ground was damp even w/ the sub zero temps we had. It wasn’t frozen over like I was expecting.

  4. Yah. This cold weather is a bitch. It got down to 36 here and I had to bring the dog in. But everything is good, it got back to almost normal today, 70. Thanks to everyone that lives North of Dallas, so I don’t have to.

  5. Pipes are already insulated. The way the pipes are arranged, makes it difficult to prevent freeze up. They need to be supplied from a source inside the house.

  6. This is exactly the reason I moved out of West Virginia. I had been stuck inside for three days after a blizzard, with no running water. I was out in sub zero weather defrosting my pipes with a blowtorch so I could take a shower to go somewhere. That’s when I realized that there were better places for me to live.

    Fifteen years later, and I enjoyed 80+ degree weather on New Year’s, and right now we’re in a cold snap that has it down to a low of 42 tonight and a high of 69 tomorrow. Heh. I can live with that. It’ll warm back up in a week or two and be back in the 80s.

    I feel for you, Sebastian. And I know there’s trade-offs to everywhere you live. I miss WV something fierce some days… until I realize I’m an hour from a beach on either coast. Just remember, you’ve got positives to living up there. It’s just hard to see right now.

  7. You;d be better off putting an induction wrap pipe heater on the lines, and putting it (or them) on a thermostatic switch. That’ll keep it from freexing up, and not waste water; and they don’t use TOO much juice.

  8. You can get a heating wire that wraps around the pipe and keeps the outside pipe warm enough not to freeze. Easy fix and can be done quickly without reroutung pipes. The plmbing work can wait until it is warm.
    These wires are avail at Home Depot

  9. I was there when you discovered that the pipes running along the outside wall were supply pipes. Many colorful metaphors were said that day.

  10. Except if you’re gonna open up the walls to run a pipe heater you might as well relocate the plumbing.

  11. Mopar characterizes the problem with heat tape. As long as I’m ripping out walls, I might as well just relocate. Another problem with how the pipes go is they run through the slab for the house, and then come up through the outside walls. The run through the slab means it takes minutes for the water in the bathroom to get warm enough for a shower. Imagine how annoying it is to go brush your teeth at night and literally have to wait several minutes before you have hot water.

  12. Where is the water line coming from? Well pump or city supplied? If the pipe is outside the wall than you can use heating tape on the outside portions that will keep the pipe from freezing and the inside won’t freeze. Also open the drywall allows interior heat get access to pipes in the wall and keep them from freezing.

  13. I think your previous owner and mine are related.

    Mine added a master bedroom to the house and did pretty much everything wrong. I will be ripping the siding and soffit off soon and starting over from the outside (the siding is rotting off the house, there is no vapor barrier and the siding was installed incorrectly).

    It is a good thing that we plan on living in this house for a long while yet.

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