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jcdill, Handywoman
Category: Home Improvement
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Experience:  Over 40 years experience as a DIY handywoman and gardener
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How to thaw frozen water pipes underground?

Customer Question

Is there a way to clear a frozen pipe buried under ground without digging it out?

Submitted: 9 years ago.
Category: Home Improvement
Expert:  jcdill replied 9 years ago.

I have some friends who successfuly thawed a pipe from their house to the barn by following these steps:

1) Dig down to the pipe on one end.
2) Dig a basin under the pipe.
3) Put a bucket with a sump pump in this basin.
4) Run the sump pump discharge hose away from the basin to dispose of the water that will accumulate in the basin as you thaw the pipe.
5) Cut the pipe.
6) Connect a hot-water-safe garden or RV hose to a hot water tap.
7) Use the hot water to thaw the ice in the pipe. As you thaw into the pipe, thread the hose into the pipe so that it reaches to the ice blockage. Be careful that you don't burn yourself with the hot water! You can use tap water but it takes much longer to thaw the ice. You can also get a tap mixer that mixes tap and hot water and then feeds warm water into the hose.
8) The hose needs to be as long as the frozen section of the pipe plus the length needed from the pipe to the tap. Slowly push the hose into the pipe as the hot water melts the ice in the pipe.

This may not work if the length of frozen pipe is too long for you to feed the hose into the pipe, or if the pipe is too small for you to feed in a hose. You may be able to buy a smaller hose - e.g. a thin flexible tube of hosing - to insert into the pipe. This also won't work if the pipe has any turns in it, it only works on a straight run of pipe. If the pipe has just ONE turn in it you may be able to clear it by doing this from each end. When you have cleared it, keep warm water running thru the pipe until you are ready to repair the cut. After you have repaired the cut you need to keep water flowing thru the pipe at all times as long as the ground is frozen, to keep it from freezing up again.

Good luck!

Customer: replied 9 years ago.
this is approx. 350ft black 3/4 inch pipe buried about 14 inches down and our skidster couldnt break ground. We had in mind renting heavier equiptment and digging anther line in. I was hoping that there was some king of snake or snake heater or something else out there that I could rent or buy.
Expert:  jcdill replied 9 years ago.
I have not heard of any device like a snake heater. You could try using a snake to feed in a thin water tube. I would buy 400 feet of thin tubing and use zip ties to attach it to the coil end of the snake. Stretch out the tubing and snake together on the ground so that they are paired together and ready to follow the snake into the pipe. You might also want to zip-tie the tubing to the snake every 20 feet or so. Use adaptors as needed to attach the other end of the tubing to a hot water source, and proceed as above. Do not attach the snake to a power driver - manipulate the snake by hand or use a brace to turn the snake so you can control exactly how fast and how far it turns so you don't kink up the tubing as you turn the snake. You should only need to turn the snake occasionally as the snake itself isn't dislodging the ice - the hot water in the tubing is dislodging the ice. You would only turn the snake to help it dislodge if it gets stuck in a joint along the pipe - it should only need at most 1 or 2 turns to dislodge. Turn it back and forth rather than turning in the same direction each time.

Snakes are usually used on sewer lines - I would soak the snake in a bleach solution for 30 minutes before you insert it into a fresh water line to reduce the bacteria that can be carried into the line with the snake. But I wouldn't count on this getting every last bit of bacteria. After you get the line clear, run fresh water thru it for a while before you use the water for any "fresh water" purpose!

Expert:  jcdill replied 9 years ago.

I've found some information on pipe thawing devices. Unfortunately, I haven't yet found one that reaches 350 feet. This one reaches 175 feet - perhaps it would work on your pipe if you thawed from each end.

Here is a system that has a special nozzle for the water tube. This works much like the solution I posted at the beginning but you wouldn't need a snake to feed in the tube because the water pressure draws the tube into the pipe and up against the ice blockage.

Expert:  Edward replied 9 years ago.

If this is a metal pipe the Electric Water Pipe Thawing Machine will do what you need to do. These apply a voltage to any metal pipe and will heat the entire length of the pipe. Your local rental store will have these to rent. If the weather is very cold these may be hard to locate since all can be out on rentals. There are many different types of these machines available. A longer pipe will take longer to heat. Since these machines must be connected to both ends of the pipe you would need at least 350 ft of the welding type cable these machines use. I have seen a portable electric welder used to thaw the pipes but extreme care must be used since, if the pipe is heated to fast it can cause the pipe to actually explode due to the steam building up inside. I do not recommend a electric welder be used. Many times the actual problem is in the pipe that is not buried. These pipes can be heated with various types of heaters to thaw them. I have included several links below with other information on the topic.



Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Should you require further clarification, never hesitate to ask.

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