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Author Topic: New home, frozen pipes, slab foundation.  (Read 4587 times)
cordex
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« on: February 06, 2007, 04:25:05 PM »

Last week my wife and I closed on our new home.  Upon taking possession last Thursday, we found that there were frozen pipes despite the furnace being on.  We have water in one bathroom, but nowhere else in the house.  I figured that heating up the home would solve the problem and turned up the temperature.  On Friday there was running water around the home.  When we stopped by on Saturday, the pipes were frozen again - despite the heat remaining on.  We moved in on Sunday and I had some knowledgable friends and relatives look around to see if they could figure it out.  We got plenty of "hit it with a hair dryer" and "leave your cabinets open", but the problem is I don't know exactly where the frozen pipe may be but I suspect it is under the house somewhere.

I found the main shutoff for the water and started punching holes in the wall.  The plumbing I see at the shutoff area is as follows:

Supply line -> Shutoff -> Pipe A -> Shutoff -> Pipe B

Pipe A is the primary house line.  Pipe B is for the outside spigot.
Pipe A splits almost immediately inside the wall, one line running directly into the bathroom that has water and the other running straight down to the floor and presumably into the slab where it wanders into the rest of the house.  We've attempted applying a heat gun directly to the water shutoff area and I've had a space heater running in that closet for a couple of days with no results.  Not even a drip anywhere else in the house.  The shutoff is located in the back wall of a closet near an exterior wall but the pipe doesn't seem to be frozen above ground (it is not significantly colder to the touch than the obviously functional pipes).

I'm not entirely sure how the pipe could become and remain frozen under a house with plenty of heat, but it happened.  Temperatures have bounced around between 0 and 20 degrees for the past few days, but indoor temperatures have been pretty steady at around 75 degrees.

So, any thoughts on how to thaw frozen pipes buried in a slab foundation?  It is getting awfully tiresome having to run over to friends houses every day for a shower and I don't think we're going to get a thaw around here immediately - global warming or not.
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Hugh Damright
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2007, 04:59:09 PM »

I don't think it could be frozen under the slab ... and if it isn't frozen as it goes under the slab or as it comes back up to the cutoff, then my guess is that it must be frozen somewhere past the cutoff.
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cordex
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« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2007, 05:48:16 PM »

Hugh,

As far as I can tell, the pipe runs just past the cutoff and down into the slab.  From there I can't vouch for anything for certain except that it wouldn't make sense for it to do anything but head towards the middle of the house where all the water would be used (kitchen, bathrooms, etc.)  The shutoff appears to be the closest section of pipe to an exterior wall and if it isn't frozen under the slab then the other possibility I can see is that it is frozen where it comes up in the middle of a home that has been cooking along at around 70 degrees for almost a week.  As well, we know it is frozen at some point before it branches out to the kitchen hot water heater and upstairs bathrooms because none of them have water.

There is a laundry room across the house in the opposite corner.  I suppose that would be similarly close to an exterior wall, but it would be bizarre if the pipe ran past the kitchen, all the way over to the washing machine and then back to the kitchen.  In other words, I could see the water not working at the washing machine but I can't figure out it not working anywhere except one bathroom.

We called a plumber out yesterday and his advice was to wait it out.  It just seems like we've done an awful lot of waiting without result.
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Bogie
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« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2007, 09:17:46 PM »

Cordex, where is it?
 
Where I grew up, we had a kitchen with a sink on an outside northern wall. A steady dribble (more than a drip) keeps 'em open.

Consider a retrofit to a slabtop hydro wood-fired external heat unit.

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280plus
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« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2007, 09:44:02 PM »

There is a device (that your plumber should know about) that you hook to the pipes on either side of a frozen area. It looks for all the world like a battery charger including clamps to attach to the pipes. It will trickle a charge through the pipes and warm them up. I've never used one for under slab pipes but I don't see why it wouldnt work. Hope this helps.

Here's a link to one version...

http://www.pipethaw.com/
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cordex
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« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2007, 12:24:42 AM »

Bogie,
This house was built in 2004 and according to the plumber, building code does not allow pipes to be run directly in exterior walls.  I'm not certain where the freeze is, but I know it is after the T that supplies the one bathroom that works.  After that T the pipe goes into the slab and then presumably to the middle of the house to supply the rest of the faucets.

We'll be keeping a trickle of water on in any cold weather ... next time.

280Plus,
Thanks!  How long of a section of pipe do those things work on?
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280plus
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« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2007, 12:40:13 AM »

Just about any length I think. IIRC theres a knob on there to control the amount of heat so the longer the pipe the more you turn it up. Be careful though, you don't want it so hot you melt the solder.  shocked

I'd call around all the local plumbers and see who has one. Somebody should.
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JonnyB
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« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2007, 01:32:52 AM »

Just about any length I think. IIRC theres a knob on there to control the amount of heat so the longer the pipe the more you turn it up. Be careful though, you don't want it so hot you melt the solder.  shocked

I'd call around all the local plumbers and see who has one. Somebody should.

If'n there's water (or ice) in the pipe, you can't get it hot enough to melt the solder. Ever tried soldering a pipe that has had water in it? What a pain. You have to get *all* the water out to heat it.

In the "old days" you'd simply hook up a portable electric (gas or diesel powered) welder to the line and run it 'til the water flowed. A 400-amp unit will thaw a long water line.

Note: don't use a welder on a plastic line; it doesn't work.

jb
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280plus
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« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2007, 02:25:51 AM »

Never say never...

Yes, I got in real big trouble one time for using bread to stop the water long enough to solder the pipe. I had to go against the boss' orders and do it anyways to get it done. He was PISSED!! So what if it worked.  rolleyes

 cheesy
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roo_ster
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« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2007, 02:35:54 AM »

cordex:

Man, you'd think that by 2004 they'd have hte slab-thing worked out.


280plus:
I understand why your boss was pissed.  Sometimes the bread gets all carbonized & plugs up the spigots, causing all sorts of more work*.  The time spent to get the water out the pipe is well worth it.

* BTDT.  Won't go there again.
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roo_ster

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ilbob
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« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2007, 03:34:00 AM »

It is not unheard of for air infiltration to freeze pipes in unexpected places. I would look for some place with a cold wall that you would not expect. you would need to take steps to prevent cold outside air from getting to the pipes.

sometimes it is easy to find these things, other times it is not obvious.
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bob

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Bogie
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« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2007, 04:26:28 AM »

Heck - when we bootleg-installed a new service on a rehab (started digging the hole out by the street at about 5:30 on a Friday... with two big vans parked by it...), we froze the STREET with a bunch of dry ice. Gave us enough time to cut the pipe, and put in a new valve and new big line to the house.

Water was "off" maybe 15-20 minutes...

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280plus
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2007, 05:16:09 AM »

Quote
I understand why your boss was pissed.  Sometimes the bread gets all carbonized & plugs up the spigots, causing all sorts of more work*.  The time spent to get the water out the pipe is well worth it.
I know what you're saying but it wasn't possible, the shutoff valve was leaking so it was continously dripping and we would have had to shut the whole building down which was a major expedition. Sometimes you just got to take a chance. Screw him, I quit a few weeks later.  cheesy
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Matthew Carberry
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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2007, 05:49:08 AM »

If the pipe was frozen when you closed, did the seller disclose that?  Have you gone to your real estate agent to see if there's any recourse to have the seller fix the issue?
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cordex
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« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2007, 06:47:31 AM »

Quote
It is not unheard of for air infiltration to freeze pipes in unexpected places. I would look for some place with a cold wall that you would not expect. you would need to take steps to prevent cold outside air from getting to the pipes.
My biggest problem is that I can't figure out anywhere that it would make sense for a pipe to freeze.  The most obvious place (bathroom adjacent to exterior wall) has plenty of running water.  It is the rest of the house (downstream from that bathroom) that is without.

I've been going on the assumption that this is a frozen pipe problem.  Is it possible that there is something else?
If the pipe was frozen when you closed, did the seller disclose that?  Have you gone to your real estate agent to see if there's any recourse to have the seller fix the issue?
My agent doesn't think there is any recourse as the home was bought with an "as is where is" clause.  I had a home inspector out a couple weeks before we closed, but the weather was warmer then.
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Matthew Carberry
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« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2007, 07:07:05 AM »

Well, there you go.  undecided

I'd call in the plumber, if anything they can cut the pipe and physically check where the blockage is.

If the bad section is under the slab and it wouldn't be too much trouble it might be worth abandoning that section and rerouting.

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cordex
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« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2007, 08:39:59 AM »

carebear,
I called a plumber Monday.  "Yep, it's not working.  Nothin' I can do without charging you a few thousand bucks and even then ...  That'll be $49.99."  Not even a "Sorry I was four hours late."

"The Punctual Plumbers" my rear end.

So, does anyone in the Indianapolis area know a good, reliable plumber?  Preferably one with one of those electrical thawing machines that 280 posted?
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roo_ster
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« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2007, 09:57:48 AM »

I have never found a plumber worth a plugged nickel.

Bad plumbers drove me to learn to sweat pipe & other plumbery.

I am sure there are good ones out there, but I haven't found one yet.
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roo_ster

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280plus
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« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2007, 12:07:51 PM »

Best you can do is open up the yellow pages and start calling. I usually pick the closest first. Just ask them if they have the electric defroster for pipes, one of them is bound to have one. I'm assumimg the pipes ARE copper and not plastic?  As previously mentioned, plastic doesn't conduct electricity too good so it will not work on plastic pipes. grin
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cordex
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« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2007, 12:34:39 PM »

280,
I guess I get to start calling tomorrow.
The pipes are copper.
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280plus
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« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2007, 01:57:25 PM »

Yup, whenever I have to choose out of the phone book I always go for the closest first,,,and cross my fingers.
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cordex
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« Reply #21 on: February 08, 2007, 05:01:47 AM »

Got it working!

I called several plumbers who gave me variants of "Sorry to tell you this, but you're screwed."  Finally got to A&J Plumbing and had Jerry Hood come out to see me.  For $150.00 he traced out the pipes, brought in a Hot Shot electric thawing machine and threw a salamander heater in the garage for giggles.

The problem?  The jokers who built this home placed the manifold on a wall adjacent to the garage and failed to properly insulate the pipes.  The pipes had then been drywalled over with no access port.  The water was fine coming into the home and fine (as far as I can tell) under the slab but in the garage it had frozen solid.

We still don't have water in our laundry room which also shares a wall with the garage, but I think I can fix all that with some direct heat.  So far it doesn't look like we have any burst pipes, but I'm keeping an eye out.

Thanks for all the advice.

Anyone in the central Indiana area who needs a plumber, I highly recommend A&J Plumbing.

Jerry Hood
A&J Plumbing
(317) 745-1890 - Office
(317) 745-1891 - Fax
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280plus
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« Reply #22 on: February 08, 2007, 06:40:36 AM »

 grin I love it when a plan comes together.  grin
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Matthew Carberry
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« Reply #23 on: February 08, 2007, 07:09:03 AM »

Your garage isn't heated?

Oh wait, Indiana.  Never mind.

Although a gas-fired unit is pretty efficient and can keep the temp about 50 on the cold days and nights.
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cordex
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« Reply #24 on: February 08, 2007, 01:46:40 PM »

Carebear,
The design of our new home is going to allow for some creative remodeling of the garage come summer.  There will at least be a portion that is heated.

280plus,
Me too.  Thank you again.
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