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Dennis M. Smith
Dennis M. Smith, Construction Consultant
Category: Home Improvement
Satisfied Customers: 1712
Experience:  Over 40 yrs. as General Contractor for new const. & remodel - retired with time for you.
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How to thaw frozen PVC pipes, septic 3ft below ground?

Customer Question

We live at 10,000 feet altitude, back side of Rocky Mountains in the Terryall range. It's cold. The freezeline is between 4-5 feet or more. This septic is only down 3 feet. It's frozen. It has pvc pipe. Need to thaw. Is there anything we can stick into the pipe to thaw. Digging up isn't possible till next spring. This area is mostly rocks.
We are rather poor people. Backhoes & plumbers aren't a very good idea either. They have to come about 100 miles.

Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: Home Improvement
Expert:  Dennis M. Smith replied 10 years ago.

Hi (Customer) ... Unfortunate situation to say the least. Here's a method we used to use several years ago here in Iowa to dig footings for homes in the dead of winter. Worked surprisingly well and I believe it will work for you. Corn cobs, straw and kerosene. We piled this along the line of the intended footing and let it smolder several hours. I recall doing this one time when the temperature was 8 below zero. Your problem is most likely the waste line pipe from the house to the tank and not the tank itself. The chemicals and heat generated in the tank should not allow freezing. If you can't find corn cobs look for something similar. Old oil, old tires, dense tree limbs, etc. Anything that will smolder and not burn out too quickly.

Dennis (cut2it)

Customer: replied 10 years ago.
I would like to reply. None of the links work??? I would like to know if the kerosene cooks the corn cobs & the straw? Do you light the kerosene? If the US were divided into ten grids for wind, 10 being the windyest we would be a nine. We can't set anything on fire. Where in the world did you find enough corn cobs for 30 feet of frozen pipe?

Expert:  Dennis M. Smith replied 10 years ago.

Hello (Customer)... Corn cobs??? You bet.. We got plenty of them. I live in Iowa. With out the ability to have an initial fire to get some sort of debris smoldering I suppose some other approach will be needed. It was the intention of the kerosene to get the straw and cobs "glowing" (cooking as you say) which happens just after lighting it on fire. Then another question comes to mind. Even if you were able to unthaw this pipe what will keep it from just freezing up again? Have you asked anyone that lives in a similar location what they do with their septic system in the winter?

I'm going to send this message back to you as in "information request" which will in effect keep your question open for all of the other experts to see. Perhaps someone will have a "creative" thought other than a fire.

Dennis (cut2it)

Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Relist: I still need help.
Well since fire is out of the question. We went to Fairplay & purchased some straw. Borrowed some black plastic concrete blankets & purchased the local lumberyards recommendation for a product simular to RidX to put into the septic tank. This product is supposed to grow bacteria that will be warm. We believe the septic heater is on the fritz. We have a new one ordered. We tried to dig to the pipe & the pick just bounced. Man! it is frozen here. Rocks too. We believe this home owner is driving over his septic pipe & it's only down about 3 feet at the driveway.
Customer: replied 10 years ago.

Today it was about 40 above & we got the lid off the septic. We 12 sledged the ice inside & found the old heater. Installed the new heater & covered the septic tank. We still have the straw & black plastic concrete blankets on the top & the line to the cabin.

We decided to give an old sprayer for bugs on bushes a try tomorrow, along with a couple of long lengths of garden hose & the cabin owners hot water. We will attempt to spray up the PVC in the direction of the cabin. Don't know if this will work. We will be taking the pressure washer along to try too. We turned up the Hot water heater before we left today.

Expert:  Dennis M. Smith replied 10 years ago.

Sounds like you may be on the road to recovery with your solutions. When you use the pressure washer if there is any way to get hot water to it would be a great help.


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