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Mark
Mark, Union Plumber
Category: Plumbing
Satisfied Customers: 292
Experience:  32 Years Experience in Commercial, Hi-Rise, Residential Construction, 4 years Project Management
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We appear to have a frozen pipe somewhere in our house, temperatures

Resolved Question:

We appear to have a frozen pipe somewhere in our house, temperatures at night over the last week or two have been as low as -20 degrees with an average most nights of -9. The first time it froze we noticed around 7am, although water was running ok at 4am (I work nights). Water came back on around 2pm that day. The next time it went off at same time and didn't come back on till 2am the next day. This time we have been without water except for the main tap at the kitchen sink (where the water pipes enter the home) for over 48 hours. This is despite leaving the heating up high all night!

In all cases the main tap in kitchen (cold) works fine as this is where the main inlet to the house is. For other cold taps they will run with some water coming out for a minute or two but they don't run very fast and bizarrely they run hot water out of them for a minute or two before stopping (hot enough to stand running over your hand but still very warm). Hot tops don't run at all now but did originally, were told not to run them.

Since the last time the pipes froze I have kept the heating on 24/7 to try and keep the house warm. We have gas central heating with a combi boiler, called local plumber who is far too busy visiting people with burst pipes, and he advised keeping heating on and hot water on and waiting for it to thaw.

So far I have tried everything, we have the central heating on and have space heaters etc where we think the pipes run (new house 6 years old so we can't see any exposed pipe and very difficult to even guess where the pipes are!). The house has been like a sauna for 48 hours and almost at the stage where the wallpaper is going to start sliding off the walls!

The only exposed place we can see pipes is under kitchen sink but water is flowing there. I had a fan heater down there for hours yesterday after removing the kickboards blowing air on that as I hoped it might make a difference but no luck.

Now xmas eve of course and no one in the family been able to shower etc for 2 - 3 days. As I said I have no idea where pipes run, there doesn't even appear to be a water tank in the loft where I would think would be the place to start as the house is so warm and always has been for about a week.

Our house is on 3 levels - ground floor kitchen where water enters the house, we have a utility room with combi boiler and sink, small WC (where in the past we have known things might be getting better because water generally runs here first). Second floor has closet with big tank (presumably hot water storage), smaller red tank about the size of a basketball or bigger with a gauge on it etc and 2 WCs. Third floor has a shower, WC in it. That WC has been problematic with overflowing recently and we have taken to turning the valve off on it on the pipe as after flushing it kept running water in. It needs a new washer in there but this might be completely unrelated!

As far as I can tell pipes don't run anywhere exposed, they do run along side of outside wall after coming in to kitchen where we have had the fan heater on them but then they go out of sight. I can see areas in our house where I think water pipes go up and down (two in our dining room at opposite ends of the room I suspect) and maybe a third in the hallway sort of middle of the house. We have space heaters etc at the points along with on each landing.

I'm at my wits end with christmas coming up, beginning to wonder if problem is now an airlock or something else or if there is anything I can do to speed up the process!!
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Plumbing
Expert:  Mark replied 3 years ago.

Mark :

This is a tough one but, I would open every fixture in the house hot and cold and leave it open until you get flow out of something. I think you're correct in regards XXXXX XXXXX toilet's flush valve/ flapper needing replacement being unrelated. When you have flow to a fixture, shut it off to a drip and let it drip. The 3rd floor shower I would leave open hot and cold and throw some heat in the utility room if it isn't already. Do you have a basement or crawl space underneath the house?

Customer :

No basement or crawl space at all, everywhere in the house is heated right now

Mark :

Then open all the fixtures you can and leave them open until you get a some flow. Hopefully, the pipes will thaw enough and give you some water. I've been hearing about the freeze over there and I just can't believe how severe it's been for you. Open all the cabinet doors on every sink also.

Customer :

Is there any way to estimate which pipes or what general area they might be frozen? I know that generally speaking we usually see more flow downstairs, we have plenty of space heaters etc so I would like to concentrate them where they might make a difference?

Customer :

cabinet doors are open already, kickplates off under cabinets in kitchen too. Those are the only pipes we can see and can see maybe 4 foot of pipe and then it goes into a wall, no idea where it goes from there!

Customer :

also does it sound as if we shouldnt have a tank in our loft? I've been googling all the types of plumbing systems and I'm confused, I cant see anything in our loft but it is in an L shape so possible it is out of sight, but I really doubt it!

Customer :

I only ask as part of loft I can't see is above a bedroom which is ALWAYS cold, if something up there was frozen it wouldn;t surprise me much!

Customer :

seems off house is so hot I can't sleep yet pipes still don't seem to thaw ;)

Customer :

seems "odd" I should have typed ...

Mark :

Generally, the pipes that freeze first are closest to outside walls so I would concentrate on those. I wish I could physically see this so I could better assist you and typically It's my understanding that yes your tanks are usually in the loft.

Mark :

Do you have a drain on the tank on the second floor?

Customer :

Not sure, what would the drain look like?

Customer :

I have one large tank, in an airing cupboard. There is a smaller tank higher up which is red and has a gauge on it. Lots of pipes in and out of here

Mark :

If you have a tank above the bedroom where it's not accessible and it's cold, that could be the culprit.

Mark :

The larger tank should have a drain that a hose attaches to.

Mark :

The smaller red tank is probably an expansion tank for the storage tank.

Customer :

from that cupboard I have 4 pipes running up to the third floor

Customer :

going in to the ceiling

Customer :

not sure that helps much

Customer :

let me check for a drain

Mark :

The pipes that go into the ceiling, is it conditioned above that ceiling or cold?

Customer :

warm up there as its 3rd floor where my office is

Customer :

I don't see anything a hose could attach to

Customer :

do they really put tanks in places where they can't be accessed?

Customer :

e.g. our loft?

Customer :

the pipes that go up are grey/plastic and are different from all the ones going in/out of the cupboard/closet - those ones are all copper by the looks of things

Mark :

No valve or drain? Is the storage tank warm? Tanks should always be accessible.

Customer :

storage tank is warmish, nice and warm in that closet too

Customer :

there are quite a few different connections of different types, I have no real idea what they are - can I upload a pic on this?

Mark :

If you can feel the pipes check them for temperature with your hand. If you have a camera please do. Take as many pics as you think relevant.

Mark :

Also check the temperature of the pipes coming off the storage tank for warmth.

Mark :

Make sure all sink faucets are on while you're doing this.

Mark :

Take your pics in the highest resolution setting.

Customer :

ok pics taken one sec while I put them somewhere you can see them

Mark :

Click on the tree icon and upload them.

Customer :

Full Size Image

Customer :

Full Size Image

Customer :

Full Size Image

Mark :

Definitely a hot water storage tank. Open the valve with the green handle and see if you hear water.

Customer :

Full Size Image

Customer :

wouldnt it be open already?

Customer :

and presumably open is turn anti clockwise?

Mark :

No. Open is parallel with the pipe.

Mark :

It should turn counter-clockwise.

Customer :

ok one sec

Mark :

Standing by.

Customer :

I heard water

Customer :

gurgling anyway ;)

Mark :

You have flow. That's a good thing. Are all your faucets open?

Customer :

yes

Customer :

sorry 3 floor house takes a while

Mark :

No hurry. I just want to get you hot water.

Customer :

should I open bath/shower too?

Mark :

Open the green handled valve again and let it run for a bit.

Mark :

Yes bath and shower.

Customer :

can you define a bit? 30 seconds? minute? less/ more? ;)

Customer :

and am I draining hot water tank here or something else? if so should I make sure hot water heating part of boiler doesn;t come on?

Mark :

Leave the bath and shower open until you get water if, you get water.

Mark :

If it's gas or electric, yes turn them off.

Mark :

I see what looks like another valve attached to a stainless steel flex. Is that water also?

Mark :

If so, open it also and see if you get water.

Customer :

that ones goes in to the red tank with the flex on it

Mark :

I think that is your expansion tank. Open that valve and see if you hear water.

Customer :

I opened the green one for about 15 seconds, (slightly worried I would drain tank and hot water heater would come back on!) and lots of gurgling running water but nothing from taps

Mark :

This may take some time but leave everything open until you get water somewhere.

Customer :

ok opened the valve on flex couldn't hear anything at all

Customer :

funny my wife said when water came back the second last time this happened was a lot of noise in that cupboard at one point before it came back on. I didn't know that

Mark :

The green valve excluded. I'm not sure what the function of that valve is. Just wanted to check it out. What kind of noise?

Customer :

still only water in main kitchen tap, I havent turned that faucet on by the way as I know cold comes out and its mixer tap

Mark :

You have water at the kitchen?

Customer :

noise could best be descriped as a kind of rumble then a bump

Customer :

Yes have water at main inlet

Customer :

always have though

Mark :

Open the hot and cold and let it run for awhile about half open.

Customer :

kitchen one? ok

Mark :

Is the kitchen closest to the main entering the house?

Mark :

Yes the kitchen faucet.

Customer :

yes, kitchen is the main one

Customer :

at least I assume so, that is where we can turn the water off inside the house

Customer :

it always has cold water from that tap which I guess is better than nothing ;)

Mark :

Check the pipe on top of the water tank and see if it's warm. Well we know the problem is within the house and not outside. Run the hot also on the kitchen faucet.

Customer :

ok, this is the the pipe on very top of the tank? in pic 3?

Mark :

That's the one. Copper pipe.

Customer :

not hot, not cold either...

Mark :

Not good. Do you have hot water at the kitchen faucet?

Customer :

no hot water anywhere last I checked, hang on I'll run down and see now

Customer :

to be fair though, hot water has probably not been on for about 7 or 8 hours now, its on a timer

Mark :

That's fine. I just want to know if you have flow.

Customer :

no water coming out of any hot tap currently, kitchen or otherwise

Customer :

only tap with water is cold from kitchen faucet

Mark :

OK. Leave the hot side wide open and let the cold water run in the kitchen sink about half volume. Bypass the timer and start heating the water.

Customer :

stupid thing is a mixer tap so best I can do in kitchen is probably half/half

Customer :

actually I'll work something out

Mark :

Leave everything else open hot and cold. Do the toilets flush and refill? Then, open it half way. Better than nothing.

Mark :

Flush the toilets regularly is they work.

Mark :

If they work.

Customer :

toilets dont flush either, they will start refilling if water comes back as they have been flushed

Customer :

ok HW came on anyway (timer was for 8 which it is now)

Customer :

I checked all the pipes

Customer :

sec let me upload another one

Mark :

Standing by.

Customer :

actually I dont need to

Customer :

pic 1 where the green valve is

Customer :

that pipe coming out of the tank, where the blue ring is, that one is warm

Customer :

just warm atm, not hot

Mark :

That's good and it should get warmer now. Whichever fixture is closest to the water heater make sure the hot side is wide open.

Customer :

would it go down or up from the heater? or on same floor?

Customer :

main bathroom is closest physically on that floor

Customer :

below it is downstairs wc

Customer :

I have them both open hot/cold anyway

Mark :

The top of the heater should be the hot water supply to the house.

Customer :

so the one on top of the tank should get warm now?

Mark :

The pipe with the blue ring should be the cold water into the heater. Yes the one on top should be getting warm. Heat rises.

Customer :

hmmm

Customer :

the one with the blue ring that pipe is getting pretty hot now

Customer :

the one on top, no change

Mark :

Do you have a valve anywhere on the tank to bleed any air out?

Customer :

where would you expect that to be? top... bottom? side? lol

Mark :

Top.

Customer :

I'll check

Mark :

It's a long shot.

Customer :

about 3/4 of the way up on rhs you can see in pic 1 where pipe goes in to that big black part

Customer :

that, the blue ring and the pipe coming out of top are only things I can really see on it up the top

Customer :

that has T8P relief valve written on it, that part is actually getting pretty warm there too

Customer :

should I turn off my kitchen faucet by the way?

Mark :

Open the relief valve and bleed the air or water out. No, leave the kitchen sink on and check if the water is getting warm.

Customer :

that pipe where it is black ring etc, comes down to a pipe that sort of stops

Mark :

That's your T and P valve.

Customer :

and then theres a gap and a kind of cup below it, where the pipe carries on

Mark :

Perfect. open it up until you get water.

Customer :

ok

Customer :

counter clockwise?

Customer :

also I assume I can't break anything badly by doing this? :)

Mark :

I believe so. Different type then here in the states. You shouldn't hurt anything and they should be tested periodically anyways.

Customer :

ok

Customer :

I did that for about a minute, lots of gurgling, there is a driblle of water coming out in to the bottom pipe/cup

Customer :

I should keep going? or that is enough?

Customer :

It is like I can hear every few seconds a massive bubble coming up

Mark :

Let it rip. We're trying to get water moving any way we can.

Customer :

just keep doing that then?

Mark :

Yes until you get good flow.

Customer :

ok

Customer :

I should still have taps open and kitchen tap running at same time while I do this?

Mark :

Absolutely.

Customer :

ok

Mark :

We want to get hot water to the kitchen sink below the heater and the shower above.

Mark :

The pipe on top should get hot when you bleed the air out of the T and P valve

Customer :

ok did that for good 5 minutes, no more than dribble came out at any time, still sounds like every 5 seconds a bubble comes up

Customer :

in the meantime I found two more pipes hidden behind stuff at the bottom

Customer :

one says primary flow one says primary return

Mark :

OK. A couple of things are going on here. If there's no pressure out of the tank, then the pipes are frozen between the kitchen sink and the water heater. An airlock is possible also but, I think that is less likely based on the weather you're having. Leave the shower and tub wide open on both the hot and cold sides until you get water back. Let the kitchen faucet run slowly until it thaws in the rest of the house. Other than that and not knowing exactly how the house is piped, I'm not sure what else you can do. It's a waiting game now until the pipes thaw and hopefully a pipe hasn't burst somewhere from the freeze.

Mark :

One other thing. Are the primary return and supply pipes warm that you discovered?

Customer :

ok, so I should concentrate any space heaters etc between the kitchen sink and the storage heater? I've just worked out that the storage tank is above our garage, which is internal to the house but not heated

Customer :

and yes both return and supply are very hot pipes right now

Customer :

there are no exposed pipes in the garage, but that might partly explain why the house is so damned warm for 2 days but no thaw yet?

Mark :

The supply pipe to the heater is is in the ceiling of the garage? Starting to make more sense now and I think you're correct.

Mark :

The pipes are very hot probably because no water is making up in the storage tank.

Customer :

I'm not sure if its in the garage or in the utliity room, the supply and return pipes both go downwards to the ground floor level

Customer :

I think that if I'm right, that is either in to the garage or in to the utility room beside the garage wall

Mark :

I think that's where the problem is.

Customer :

some water must be going to storage tank I think? because that valve 3/4 of the way up the pipe is hot there too?

Customer :

but with thos return and flow pipes being so warm, wouldnt they heat up that space even if it was close to the garage?

Mark :

That could be the heat convecting back because it has nowhere else to go.

Mark :

Hot water freezes before cold water so, not necessarily.

Customer :

so I should concentrate any heater etc towards the garage - and around that area? water would come from the main to that tank first or go elsewhere?

Mark :

I just don't know to be honest because I'm not sure how it's piped. My educated guess is yes it should feed the boiler and tank first and that any pipe in the garage may be frozen. Throw heat in the garage if you think there's any pipe in there at all.

Mark :

Let the kitchen faucet continue to run just a little more than a drip and leave the shower and tub faucets wide open.

Customer :

Full Size Image

Customer :

ok, circle is the storage tank

Customer :

boiler is in the utility below

Customer :

if I put a heater in the garage, heater in the utility and heater in the hallway downstairs, that sounds like my best plan?

Mark :

Where does the water service come in?

Customer :

kitchen, roughly where the N is in kitchen in my sketch

Mark :

I would concentrate the heat in the garage and kitchen. The utility room is plenty warm correct?

Mark :

The hallway wouldn't hurt either.

Customer :

Full Size Image

Customer :

updated, box with / in it are sinks, B is for boiler

Customer :

the utility room is warm, but the back door is there gets opened a lot

Customer :

downstairs WC always very warm as it has its own radiator

Mark :

Heat that entire area then and be patient. Hopefully it'll thaw out. I assume the garage is gets real cold.

Customer :

yup, theres snow on the ground in there that blew in under the door... so its real cold in there

Customer :

Thanks so much Mark

Mark :

You're very welcome and I hope you guys get a break from the arctic blast you're getting.

Customer :

no water yet but hopefully you gave me the areas to concentrate on if there is anything I can do to speed this up other than waiting till Monday when it is supposed to get warmer (although only to around freezing)

Mark :

I hope I helped. It's after 1:00 AM here and I have to get up at 6:00 AM so I'm going to have to call it a night. It's been a pleasure and thanks for the opportunity to help. Happy Holidays! Mark

Customer :

Happy holidays :)

Mark, Union Plumber
Category: Plumbing
Satisfied Customers: 292
Experience: 32 Years Experience in Commercial, Hi-Rise, Residential Construction, 4 years Project Management
Mark and other Plumbing Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Mark, just want to say about 2 hours after moving storage heaters in to more logical positions we had water again and it was still -11 outside. I closed air vents in the garage and put one heater in the hall right beside where the boiler would be on the next floor and put a fan heater blowing across kitchen floor and below kickboards and it seems to have done the trick (or everything we did earlier was the secret and something just worked its way out!). Either way I think I will be leaving a couple of taps running over the holiday period just to be safe! Wishing you and your family happy holidays!
Expert:  Mark replied 3 years ago.
That's wonderful news! Nothing worse than not being able to take a shower over the hoildays when you have family in town. Thanks so much for letting me know and wishing you and your family Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year! Mark

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