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Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen

 
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Old 01-22-2013, 11:58 PM   #1
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Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


I'm not a plumber by a freak stretch - although we normally keep our hot water line dripping in the barn. Believe this is a "smart water heater" - a shortie that think is GE 30 gal, all copper pipes.

The heater line out goes down through the foundation, underground over to end off, up and out onto a side wall that is (1) room away, so its not a bordering room but at least its still inside the barn. Spigot dumps into a pea gravel basin.

With the spigot frozen solid, so the lever wouldn't even turn (ball valve) I poured a stream of hot water on it for some while. Running a gas stove in the room of the water heater, for about an hour and a half to raise the temp of the copper in case those were solid inside.

After a while, got a gush of hot water, maybe a gallon, then everything went dead, to a slow drip that stopped. Continuing with the hot water trick, I did get an occasional dribble which then went away. The inbound valves to the water heater seemed work fine, nothing seized as if frozen. Also tried the tank pressure release valve, tripping the power breaker. Finally the outbound lines from the heater went cold again after pulling heat from the room.

Is it likely the line is plugged frozen under ground? It's been below 10 degrees here. I guess its possible that our 'preventative dripping' could have seeped into the gravel and frozen deeper around the pipes, kind of counter-productive if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I left the spigot turned a little open, thinking it may release pressure, a feeble attempt to prevent a bursting pipe.

What to do with this? Decided not to use electric pipe warmers.
I can a get the hot water to flow. Horses get thirsty, ya know?

Last edited by artinall; 01-23-2013 at 12:02 AM.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:16 AM   #2
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


I'd have to suspect it's frozen under the slab.

If it's all copper, know where there is a pipe thawer?

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Old 01-23-2013, 12:22 AM   #3
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


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I'd have to suspect it's frozen under the slab.

If it's all copper, know where there is a pipe thawer?
Thanks for the reply, griz.

Hmmm, pipe thawer. Is that something you find at a tool rental place? By what stroke of magic can you manage to reach beneath the slab?


Other thing I didn't mention is that I left the water heater power on, yet don't know if there is water in it. If partly empty could this fry it? I didn't want it to freeze as well.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:44 AM   #4
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


If it runs dry, yes you can burn out an element.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:52 AM   #5
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


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If it runs dry, yes you can burn out an element.
Should I power it off? But then what if the water freezes inside the water heater?

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Old 01-23-2013, 12:56 AM   #6
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


If there is water in it then it will freeze. Tough call. You could always disconnect the top element if you think the tank might not be full. If the tank output is on the top of the tank then it is pressure driven. You can't drain the tank with a top discharge.
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Old 01-23-2013, 01:02 AM   #7
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


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If there is water in it then it will freeze. Tough call. You could always disconnect the top element if you think the tank might not be full. If the tank output is on the top of the tank then it is pressure driven. You can't drain the tank with a top discharge.
I believe the output is on top. So it sounds like that should be safe. Do you agree it's probably frozen under the slab?
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:17 AM   #8
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Good chance. Without knowing the depth of the pipe hard to say for sure. Frost line here is 42", usually freezes down to 18" If it's in that range then it's solid.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:24 AM   #9
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Other big concern is if the line bursts, especially in the ground or slab.
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Old 01-23-2013, 08:31 AM   #10
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Don't they have a thaw device that just heats up the length of pipe? Clip it on each end and put the power to it? I'm sure it's only a plumber owned thing, probably pricey to have/do.

Better than burst pipes though.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:08 AM   #11
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Call in a guy with a portable welding rig.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:45 PM   #12
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Yep I have seen guys do it with a portable arc welder clamp one on each end of the pipe. The guy who I saw do it said as soon as the water starts turn off the welder or you will melt the solder out of the joints. Not make your picture worse but I have seen them freeze here 5 feet down (under drive ways) and not come back on til July.
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Old 01-23-2013, 01:17 PM   #13
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


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Originally Posted by Leo G View Post
Don't they have a thaw device that just heats up the length of pipe? Clip it on each end and put the power to it? I'm sure it's only a plumber owned thing, probably pricey to have/do.

Better than burst pipes though.
This is the machine you are referring to.
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Old 01-23-2013, 03:56 PM   #14
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Rented the pipe thawer and worked on it for a long time, while putting heat back into the room. Didn't work. Thought it would, but unfortunately...
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:22 PM   #15
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Did you establish whether there's liquid pressure [incoming] to the heater, or the heater is frozen? Sometimes the problem is at the other end of the system from where you think it is.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:42 PM   #16
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Only thing verified is that 2 lines valves going in move freely, made me think that it wasn't frozen.

Anyway, believe we came close enough with the pipe thawer, it's now working! A $35 solution as it turns out which is reasonable.

- Thanks for the helpful replies. Appreciate it.
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Old 01-23-2013, 09:51 PM   #17
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Re: Barn Water Heater - Line Frozen


Kewl. Glad to see that you got your water flowing

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