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Dripping faucets in the freeze

admin's picture

Now I'm all paranoid that my pipes are going to freeze (what next...).

I did insulate more under the house, after the plumber opened it up to deal with the sewer pipe, but maybe I made things worse instead of better, or didn't close it up properly...

Anyhow, I've got a hot-water faucet dripping slowly upstairs, but the picture is slowly forming in my mind that while I sleep the pipe will freeze, the water will back up, overflow the sink, and then cause a ceiling to collapse....

Any thoughts?

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DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

this is when I am glad that I rent.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

The faucet on should keep the inlet pipes from freezing, so now the worry is that the drain pipe will freeze?

If yes, how deep in the ground is the drain pipe?

If more than five feet, don't worry; you're in Maine, not Nunavut.
If less than five feet, has it ever frozen before?

If yes, set an alarm and run a couple of gallons of hot water every two hours.
If no, take a sleeping pill.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

1/2 copper pipes in the evil crawlspace.

The waste pipe should be fine, thank the lord. Not only is it some variety of plastic, I put pipe insulation around it (pink stuff at the bend, though) while it's still above ground (under the house; and it goes underground, 5 feet down, under the house).

I stipulate that this concern may not be rational.

closetotheedge1's picture
Submitted by closetotheedge1 on

it's unwarranted. As long as your water heater is functioning, the hot water pipes are not going to freeze unless they run outside for a good way.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

to deserve being addressed.

Simple fix for tonight is to open all the cold water taps a hair, pretty unlikely flowing water will freeze.

Another trick, used myself a thousand times to keep a car left outdoors from getting to cold to start, is a droplight with a hundred watt incandescent lightbulb. You'd be surprised how much heat that puts out.

Did you ever get that space heater? If so, will it fit down in the crawlspace?

Longer term, get yourself some heat tape. Easy job, spend a buck extra and buy the kind with a thermostat. Hook it up, plug it in and never worry again.

Good luck, pleasant dreams.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

Brilliant. I'm going to do that tonight, since I actually have one.

Seems less risky than a fan, and the area is enclosed (modulo drafts) so all the heats going to be captured.

badger's picture
Submitted by badger on

or put a small electric heater with a blower in the crawlspace, or duct warm air from the furnace into the crawlspace.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

Since I'd have to open everything up and crawl under and then replace everything again.

Byt I could definitely put an electric heater with a blower down there. Great idea. Any risks to that?

splashy9's picture
Submitted by splashy9 on

And it works well. Just make sure that there is nothing flammable within 18 inches or so of it. You could put in a small fan too, to circulate the warm air around.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Should have taken care of this issue when you were down there the last time, eh? Your sin was half-assing the job, and your penance is having to go back under like Orpheus and perform for the underworld gods. It will be good for your soul when the job is finished properly.

I don't like a heater under the house, too much current draw, wasted energy and too high a temperature. I'm sure it can be gotten away with, no offense, but it isn't the safest or most efficient way to go. Heat tape with a thermostat is a decades-long-no-more-effort solution, although an annual inspection is probably a good idea. In my experience I only looked at the tape when I had to go into the space for some other reason and there was never any problem, but I'm lazy that way.

Take a look at the link, follow the directions. I find that running the tape linearly along the pipe works fine and gives greater linear coverage. You can jump from pipe to pipe with the same length of tape; with the insulating foam on top, it only takes a foot or two to provide enough heat for many feet of copper pipe run.

If you have claustrophobia, many people do, ask someone to sit at the opening and talk with you while you're underneath. An hour or two and you'll be done, no more sleepless nights of unreasoning fear.

Not about the water pipes, anyway.

Thought I remembered you have a droplight, so there's a good solution for the short term. Assume at this time you've already committed and gone to bed, but for the record it does have to be an incandescent bulb; fluorescent ones burn too cool to do much good. A 25 watt incandescent bulb is better for this purpose than a 100 watt fluorescent.

Good luck, ask again if there is anything more.

herb the verb's picture
Submitted by herb the verb on

If you drip water too slowly, it can create an icicle within your waste drain which grows and grows, and eventually blocks your waste drain. This is the more common form of "frozen" pipe in these cold, nether regions. It also is why it is especially ill-advised to run plumbing in exterior walls: you can hold the thinner supply lines on the inside of the insulation, but there is usually less room to hold the thicker drain pipe on the insulated side.

Of course this is compounded by colder temperatures and keeping your thermostat low.

admin's picture
Submitted by admin on

The complexity of house, crawlspace, and generations of piping snaking through walls is almost impossible to describe. Actually -- touching wood, here -- I think only a really bad cold snap would get me in real trouble; that's the history of the house.

Excellent point on too slow drip; would a thin stream be better? And maybe run some hot water, now?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

your ground temperature stays below freezing for an extended period, lambert.

you don't need to waste water to protect the pipes.

I'm not a fan of heat-tape 'cause I'm paranoid about electricity and water in proximity, but I'm not an engineer, either. More insulation is never a bad idea.

If you should suffer a frozen line, remember the key thing about thawing: gradual is better! (and cut off incoming additional water if you can.)

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

I assumed any under-the-house outlet would need to be GFCI to meet code.
But YMMV, and I only speak of the damage wet pink insulation that contacts a hot wire can inflict from experience. But that was 1987, dead of winter, under a trailer I was trying to live in with two kids while I worked for the local newspaper an average of 60 hours a week, in Big Spring, Texas.

Warmest thing about that whole stinking week was that shock, actually.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

I'll get you a Taser for Christmas - so you can relive the warm memories on demand.