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Thread: Frozen Pipe Lines

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    Member AKFishOn's Avatar
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    Default Frozen Pipe Lines

    Well this is not my cabin but rather my house, having a couple of freeze ups between the well and the house wondering if anyone has suggestions? We are going to have them install some sort of return system that runs water back into the well but it is controlled via a valve in the house and report-ably won't always work for long periods. As of now we are running 7 gallons ever 10 minutes to keep the pump turning back on ever 9 minutes to hopefully keep the pipe open. Perhaps this is too much water or not enough but now I start to worry about the amount of water placed in the septic although it passed and inspection this summer with flying colors that is all I need to stop working too. Seems like this year has been cold and the previous home owner had two freeze ups in the last 5 years but I think two in a weeks time has got me worried.

    Going to get someone out to map out the well line to see where we can bury deeper or even install a new line if necessary but no digging for a few more months afraid so I'm looking for suggestions to make it through the winter.

    Thanks

  2. #2

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    outhouse and some kind of indoor holding tank for water. done. if you are having well issues at your temps. then it was not done right in the 1st place. maybe some sort of heat trace?? or circulation pump with a check valve that doesn't dump in your septic. good luck.

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AKFishOn View Post
    Well this is not my cabin but rather my house, having a couple of freeze ups between the well and the house wondering if anyone has suggestions? We are going to have them install some sort of return system that runs water back into the well but it is controlled via a valve in the house and report-ably won't always work for long periods. As of now we are running 7 gallons ever 10 minutes to keep the pump turning back on ever 9 minutes to hopefully keep the pipe open. Perhaps this is too much water or not enough but now I start to worry about the amount of water placed in the septic although it passed and inspection this summer with flying colors that is all I need to stop working too. Seems like this year has been cold and the previous home owner had two freeze ups in the last 5 years but I think two in a weeks time has got me worried.

    Going to get someone out to map out the well line to see where we can bury deeper or even install a new line if necessary but no digging for a few more months afraid so I'm looking for suggestions to make it through the winter.

    Thanks
    Not much you can do under the current conditions except what you're doing. Avoid sending low volume flows to your septic tho (DON'T let a faucet run at a continuous trickle). That's ok if your on a city sewer line, but bad bad if your on a septic. Doing so risks incremental ice build up, and freezing of the drain line to the septic tank. Better to fill a bath tub and dump a large bolus of water all at once. That will keep the line to the septic ice free, and it's better on the leach end as well.

    Come summer, having a recirculating line installed on the well line is an option. Regardless, you should install the best quality heat tape money can buy, and insulate the heck out of it.

    Good luck. Stay warm.
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    Premium Member denalihunter's Avatar
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    Well, looks like I'm having the same trouble. Had a new well drilled last summer, and wife just said the line from the well to the lodge is frozen... with 12 guests there... argh!! Luckily, they installed a heat trace line, and she has plugged that in, but I'm nervous about it working... They put the line down 6 feet, and I can't believe it froze up. We'll see what happens over the next hour or two...

    Good luck with your issue. I think your doing all you can at this point.
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    Moderator bkmail's Avatar
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    Denalihunter,
    Assuming your pipes are copper and you have a welder at the lodge, you could thaw your pipes with it. I have no idea what it would do to the heat tape though…..It’s an old school method that works well.
    Trouble always happens when you’re away! Now your guests are getting the “real” Alaskan experience.
    BK

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    Premium Member denalihunter's Avatar
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    Ah, good thought on that. I told Jen to plug in the heat trace, unplug the pump and then don't look at it for two hours before trying, then keep the heat trace and genny going for a couple of days at least to warm the ground around it. I was concerned with the well placement because it's right where all the snow machine traffic goes over the line, and of course it's going to freeze twice as deep in that area. Once spring comes, I'm going to dig down two feet by 8 feet wide and the length of the line and cover that area with about 6" of blue board.

    As I typed, Jen emailed and the water is going! Wooo Hooo! Guess she didn't listen to my two hours....
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    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    Hate to say it, but 6' isn't enough if you are driving over it. Around here we bury at a 10' minimum. The foam will help, though. That heat trace should only be 3 watts per foot. It won't heat the ground around it, but the draw isn't much either if you want to run it all the time. Generally, once you've froze you will have to run it pretty much non-stop until spring.

    I have a ton of experience with various wells freezing. Believe it or not, the two wells that give me the most trouble freeze right at the pitless adapter no matter how far they are buried. One is 15' down. The cold travels down the pipe and freezes the line right there. Our cure for when this happens is to simply lower a 100 watt light bulb in a trouble light down the pipe until it sits against the pitless adapter. This light has to stay on for the rest of the year, sometimes into May.

    AKFishon, my lightbulb cure might be your answer too. You are also running way too much water. Generally, if you run it every couple hours you should be fine. What size pressure tank do you have? While having a big one is nice when the power goes out so you have a bit of water, it doesn't run the pump enough. I run a 15 gallon tank and it cycles easily every 1/2 hour with three kids in the house.

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    The well-to-house line I inherited when I bought my place ran about 40 ft from the well to the riser into the cabin, which is on pilings. The line also sloped from the riser into grade in a way that suggested the line kept sloping as it ran that 40 feet; if so, it must have been quite shallow for maybe 20 -25 feet. There was heat trace on the line (with pipe insulation) as it went below grade but I had no way of know how far it ran. My Kill-a-Watt meter suggested not far. Worse, the line ran under a cleared area the previous owner used for parking his motor home and that heating oil trucks use as a turn-around. My pitless also was right at 6 feet, which is the water table in the summer when the line was put in.

    After welder thaws ($$$) were required two different winters, I: 1) put a hose bib adapter on a bathroom sink faucet, 2) ran a hose from that faucet through a window (stuffed the window opening to block air flow), and 3) ran a small flow of warmed water to a suitable low-point outside location. I timed the flow to cycle the water in the well line about every 20 minutes. It was about a 1/3 inch stream at the hose end. Worked like a charm, but heavy ground freeze years I knew I had to keep it running even after air temps had warmed. It takes a while for the thaw to get 6 feet down. Did that for about three winters.

    Last summer I replaced the well line entirely. The pitless is still at 6' of course, but the water line now runs only eight feet to the nearest corner of the house (a bedroom addition put in after the original line was installed). That line is barely sloped toward the well so that where it rises up to grade it is still almost 6'. It then rises vertically into the house through the floor and directly into interior air. I clipped 6 watt/ft (if I recall correctly) Weathergard heat trace onto the line beginning at the pitless and on up the riser through the floor insulation and into the house, then wrapped it in three layers of progressively larger diameter 3/4" - 2" - 4" pipe foam, then capped all that with 4" of blue board over the 8 feet of run. The line is connected to the pitless adaptor with two 90 degree elbows allowing for both vertical and lateral movement, and is backfilled around the pitless and well casing with sand rather than native gravelly clay. The casing is double wrapped in plastic.

    This installation also allows me to open a valve on the well side of the pressure tank to let the line bleed back into the well for extended absences. Even then, however, I leave the heat trace warm. It is self-regulating and wattage drops as the tape warms so it does not spin the meter much at all.

    If I have any problem with this installation I will use AKDoug's 100 watt light solution, because that seems like the only weakness at this point. But given that the heat trace is tacked onto the exterior fitting of the pitless adapter I am hopeful things will stay running. I can certainly feel the warmed water from the underground line as it passes through the line at the pressure tank when the pump kicks on.

    But that temporary gerry-rigged hose did keep me running in past winters and might be an idea in the case of the OP. Avoids issues with septic and drainfield, with the obvious downside of using power and pump life. By the way, when I put in the new line I also put in a new schedule 80 drop pipe and pump.

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    If you don't have a check valve between your pressure tank and well. You can pull your pump up off the pitless and install a metal pipe nipple under it with a 1/8" hole drilled in the side of it. This will allow water to travel both ways, once your tank is full it will drain back into the well not the septic. This is a temporary fix untill you can dig.

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    The problem is that the majority of modern well systems use a bladder tank. When you put a hole in your pipe going to a bladder tank you end up pumping air into your system. You'll end up with other issues then. Also, if your system isn't sloped back to the well the drainback may not even work. The drain back hole works good with an older style pressure tank system that uses an air volume control valve to bleed off the air.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AKDoug View Post
    The problem is that the majority of modern well systems use a bladder tank. When you put a hole in your pipe going to a bladder tank you end up pumping air into your system. You'll end up with other issues then. Also, if your system isn't sloped back to the well the drainback may not even work. The drain back hole works good with an older style pressure tank system that uses an air volume control valve to bleed off the air.
    Thanks for that explanation. I have a buddy in Nikiski with a bladder tank and the inlet line drains out back to the well pump. He has a check valve before the bladder tank then two big auto air vents( like on a boiler only about twice the size). the air is bled out with the auto vents then it pressurizes up. I been up here a long time never seen this before . house was built in the mid 70's.
    Thanks again.

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    Yep, that is a way to make it work. Just an added expense, but cheaper than digging up the line sometimes. Like I said earlier, many of the problems are related to the frost going down the well pipe to the pitless. Another way to fight this is to build a 4x4 well house over the pipe, insulated the heck out of it, and heat it with a 100W light bulb. I have several customers that have done this with good results.

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    Doug, if there is no check valve between the bladder tank and the weep hole in the well, water will continually go out the hole unless the pump is turned off. The principal behind this is not for a drain back system (where water is pumped into the pressure tank untill shutoff pressure is reached. Then a check valve holds the pressure in the tank, an air release valve would then let air into the pipe and allow the water to drain back into the well through a sloped line to the bleeder in the well 20 ft down), but the purpose of the weep hole is to keep water moving back and forth if the line is freezing between the well and the house. Sure the pump will start every time the pressure tank drains back into the well but at least they will have water. The weep hole in the pipe is just a temp solution to keep you in water untill the frost problem can be resolved and the weather warms up.
    Just a word of advice for those of you thinking of putting a light bulb in your well, make sure it is in an inclosed drop light so moisture does not break the bulb and put glass in the well.

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    Member AKFishOn's Avatar
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    We had the plumber install a recirculating setup today like stringEMup referenced, so far it is working and our plan is for a permanent fix this summer just hope I don't have to pull asphalt up. Thanks for the comments. They expanded the driveway on the house a few years back I think in doing so they cut into the bank near the well and the pipe is not down enough, we will find out soon.

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    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    Just a word of advice for those of you thinking of putting a light bulb in your well, make sure it is in an inclosed drop light so moisture does not break the bulb and put glass in the well.
    Use a plastic coated light bulb

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    Premium Member denalihunter's Avatar
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    Okay, Jen is having more trouble with water. Pressure is way down and unable to shower. I really hope she gets that fixed before I get back. The heat trace has been running for days, and got it broke loose initially. Any idea's on what else might be causing this? The only thing I did that was probably the fatal mistake was uncover the snow and tarp off of the well head, which was between piles of coal. I don't think I have a trouble light set up out there to drop down the well. I've never taken the cap off one before. Do you just pop it off and lower the wire down to about where you think the inlet is? I have asked her to cover the well head with insulation, a lot of it, and duck tape it to it.

    Thanks for the help! Doug, do you have a trouble light you can sell me, with some extra bulbs when I get down there next Monday evening, late?
    Experience Real Alaska! www.alpinecreeklodge.com

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    Available at SBS and most reputable plumbing supplyers, is an electical heat line that goes inside your main feed line...submersed in the incoming water. It comes with a tee that you put in below the check valve or pressure vessel. Measure the length you need to go from the tee to about 15' below the depth of the pitless adapter. The line has a thermostatic bulb on the tag end in the well case to keep it steady. The line has to be thawed before it can be inserted and with few exceptions, it is an easy installation. It will prevent freezeups and even in the event of a power outage, when power is restored it will thaw the frozen pipe.

    Caution on the use of welders for thawing lines. Not all welders are capable of extended duty like that. I would not attempt it without the welder being a 100% Duty Cycle Welder.
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    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    I'm not aware that SBS is any longer carrying Arctic Trace and I know for a fact that Furgeson is no longer carrying it. The only source that I know of is DuAlaska in Anchorage. It usually works out to $15 to $20 a foot, so I only get it by special order. I used to be able to stock the bulk line and fittings, but liability is so high now-a-days that DuAlaska will only sell it pre-cut with an end installed by them.

    Claude- I think I can help you out. I'll make sure I have the stuff by Monday. However, I'm not positive that is your issue. If she is getting water, but not much volume, it's not a freezing issue. A frozen line under 30# of pressure will clear all the ice in minutes of running. There is something else going on. I'm available this weekend, so maybe I'll run out there and take a look for you on Saturday.

    Possible problems are a leak at the pitless adaptor, a leak in the line, water level dropping to the point that the pump is out of the water, bad pressure switch, bad bladder tank.... lots of possibilities and it's not like you're around the corner from me.

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    you may be out of water throw a line down the pipe when you put the troublelight down by the pitless and check what you have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AKDoug View Post
    A frozen line under 30# of pressure will clear all the ice in minutes of running. There is something else going on.
    I think you're jumping the gun hereDoug, but I could be wrong. I have my pressure set at 40-60 and I'll get the ice-jam trickle effect if I don't let it thaw all the way, due to the constriction at the elbows. Then eventually it thaws and I'm fine. Sounds like Claude's wife hasn't waited for it to thaw completely, hence the trickle.

    Depends a bit on what kind of pipe he's got, but if it's black PE, the fittings constrict the line so it would be easy to get an ice-jam if it only thawed partially.

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