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HELP!? Frozen Plumbing from Well

bdprops's picture

With the ridiculous cold my furnace went out in the barn and the plumbing froze. All the plumbing is shot (busted valves all over the place, shattered frozen toilet, etc...).

A neighbor gave me some advice for dealing with the plumbing. He told me to heat everything up down there, cut the CPVC at the hydrant (a Woodford Iowa hydrant), and warm up the riser pipe and hydrant. He said that hopefully the expansion will only result in water being forced out, not bursting the pipe. My main concern is the below ground pipe in the concrete and beneath the barn. I can't imagine what it would take to fix if that bursts?

I cut the CPVC connection and have had the heater running all day and the hydrant is still frozen open. My concern is that it will thaw and flood the barn while I'm not there. I am very new to wells, and don't want to screw anything up further.

Does anyone know how to deal with such a problem?? 

Thanks, Brian

(post #64203, reply #1 of 14)

Shut off the power to the well.

If your pipe thaws, no flow until you turn it back on.

Life in the country is fun.........

Joe H

(post #64203, reply #2 of 14)

Life in the country is fun.........

So I imagined it until I arrived.  Now there's always something needing repairs, and my restoration project has become a millstone around my neck.   

(post #64203, reply #3 of 14)

yeah, just flip your breaker, and sort out breaks after everything that is going to bust has done so.

(post #64203, reply #4 of 14)


Are you the same fella I remember with the above ground septic tank?

Whether or not........I'm a little confused here. CPVC at a hydrant? Never heard or saw such a thing.

Also confused when you say hydrant is still frozen open? Do you mean you have the hydrant handle in the open position but no water is running?

The supply line running from your well pit over to the barn *should* be buried below the frost level and *should* be at that depth under the concrete as well. Hypothetically, if the pipe is "at depth" then it's only the portion making the vertical rise to the hydrant that is susceptible to freezing......and that riser is part of the complete hydrant assembly. A 5' or even 6' burial hydrant would be normal-ish in your zone (if you're the Minnesota fella).

(And that vertical riser shouldn't be frozen cause it shouldn't contain any water. There's a bleeder valve at the bottom of the pipe which drains all the water contained in that pipe.....each and every time you shut the hydrant off. If that bleeder is working properly, that pipe contains nothing to freeze.)

Are you sure when you jerked this hydrant open that the plunger rod came up with the hydrant handle? If the mechanism connecting the handle to the rod tore loose because of freezing, the rod would still be holding the plunger seal closed and no water could come up the pipe period...even if it's 100F outside.

What usually happens when hydrants freeze is that the plunger rod becomes frozen to the wet packing at the top of the pipe where the hydrant head is screwed on. Rarely would there be frozen water inside the riser pipe or the buried pipe be frozen. There really shouldn't be any frozen water per say....and usually all that's required to thaw out the frozen packing is to pour some really hot water on it or take a heat gun to it.

The actual water flow control takes place in a valve body way down the pipe from the handle. If the handle isn't connected anymore to the rod and consequently hasn't really moved that plunger rod, the plunger is still closed. Is the hydrant handle currently floppy..... offering no resistance one way or the other? Then it probably isn't connected to the rod anymore. Look it over and you'll figure it out. There's a setscrew on the head mech that pinches on the rod and makes the connection between the two. Final adjustment is touchy cause you want the plunger to seal down below without having to force the handle hard when you close it, but you want enough pressure to insure the seal takes place. Just a tad of pressure is all that should be required if the plunger itself is still in good shape. But final adjustments can be made later. For now just check to see if you're connected at all and if the rod has been lifted. If not, hook things back up and give it a pull. See if you get water. Tweak the setting later, but before you leave for the night.

Now if somebody screwed up and didn't bury your pipes as deep as they should could have bigger problems. We'll hope this isn't the case....but I've seen folks cheap out when they encountered alot of limestone..which also doesn't make much of an insulator either.

If you don't get water out of that hydrant yet tonight, I'll hope you've investigated your well pit and found the (hopefully existing) valve that should be there to close off supply to the whole barn. I'll suspect anyway that there's a separate line running out there. All you should have to do for tonight then is close that valve and go to bed. That way you can still have water to the house.

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

Edited 1/16/2005 11:01 pm ET by GOLDHILLER

Edited 1/16/2005 11:10 pm ET by GOLDHILLER

Edited 1/16/2005 11:24 pm ET by GOLDHILLER

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

(post #64203, reply #8 of 14)

Thanks for all the advice. The hydrant thawed last night and flooded portions of the lower level of the barn. After discovering the mess, I was able to shut off the hydrant and, after a few hours with the wet/dry vac and a mop, clean everything up. All is well now I believe.

I would have investigated the well pit for a shutoff, but it's frozen shut (22 below last night). I figured if the faucet hadn't thawed with all my effort yesterday, it wouldn't thaw in the overnight hours. WRONG!

Anyway, GOLDHILLER, you are correct. I am the same poor city boy discovering the fun of country life. I have the above ground "septic system" which the local septic guy had to take a picture of for his website. He actually came up with a good fix... when the ground thaws in August or so, he's going to put in a 600 gallon below ground tank, which he will pump out once or twice a year. He said it will be far cheaper and less prone to problems than pumping the waste up the hill to the main septic.

Since nobody ever has seemed to have seen any of my stuff (septic, hydrant to CPVC, etc.), I have attached a few photos of the septic, the hydrant that connects to the CPVC plumbing system, and my barn (5000 sq ft, lower level is heated and plumbed with more rooms than you could count (used to be used for honey production and beeswax candlemaking, so I have 4 electric panels and 110 & 220 outlets everywhere), upper level has incredible post and beam construction and 12"+ plank floors, plus a large elevator - soon will be woodworking downstairs and party room upstairs...)...

septic.jpg is the septic coming out of the barn and going in to the tank

septic_out.jpg is the septic then leaving the tank and fertilizing our corn fields

toilet.jpg is my new outdoor facilities

plumbing.jpg shows where the hydrant comes out of the floor and attached (before I cut it off) to the CPVC plumbing system that serves the lower level

barn.jpg is my barn

Thanks all, Brian

(post #64203, reply #9 of 14)

Hey, nice lookin' barn. Make sure you get out your paintbrush and keep up the maintenance. Wouldn't wanna loose it.

And now my late night conjecturings have been confirmed........ I think. The CPVC plumbing array was coupled to the hydrant as the source. Handle always up and so riser filled with water at all times. And could and did freeze during your "event". Bummer.

And maybe the pipes under the floor are currently too shallow to prevent freezing also. I hope that ain't so.

You might not think so right now, but life in the country has its rewards.

Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.
Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

(post #64203, reply #10 of 14)


Forgot to say…..thanks for the pics.

And unless my eyes deceive me, that "septic" tank looks like nothing more than a galvanized livestock watering tank with some manner of wood lid on it. If I'm right….shudder, shudder. Possum Lodge arrangement. Definitely time for something, ummmmmmmm…….more conventional. <G>

A few thoughts with your wallet in mind……..

Since your plumbing system out there leaves you vulnerable to the same freezing consequences sometime in the future if you lose power or the furnace chokes again…….I'm wondering if you wouldn't be better off replacing the CPVC stuff with flexible PEX. I *think* it will take a freezing without bursting. Never tried it or had it happen, but I heard or read somewhere that it will. Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

You'd still have to get there in time to uncouple from the hydrant and close that handle so the riser could drain, but that's likely if the area of the barn you're using has some decent insulation.

If the crisis isn't caused by a general power outage, you could also grab a heat gun and warm the hydrant riser to insure drainage if there's any question about whether or not the water in it has already turned to slush when you arrive.

Shut off the supply to the toilet, flush it, sponge out the trap and it should survive, too.

And then the remaining question and vulnerability is whether or not the supply pipe is deep enough under the floor to survive. We'll hope so.

Got enough candles out there that you could light up a few hundred and heat the barn with those? (kidding)

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.
Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

(post #64203, reply #11 of 14)

Actually, that lid is 2 pieces of celotex insulation board with a couple pallets on top to hold it down. Top of the line...

As for the plumbing, the CPVC isn't much of a concern. I didn't need half the plumbing in the barn (for the honey production). A bathroom, mudroom, and craftroom for the wife is plenty. I can replumb all that for a few bucks worth of CPVC and an afternoon's labor. The new solution is two-fold. I bought an alarm that will go off in case of a temperature drop. Also, I bought an extra sensor for a wireless weather station we have that tracks temperature in multiple locations. That way I can always see what the temp is down there.

For now, the hydrant is fine, the CPV is shot, the water is cleaned up, and all is relatively well again. And as for country life, I wouldn't go back to the city for anything. It ain't easy, but it's worth every headache.


(post #64203, reply #12 of 14)

Good deal, Brian.

Would you mind pointing me to that temp monitoring equipment?

Remote sender and receiver, yes? Or are you gonna have to run wire to the house?

(Radio Shack, maybe?)

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

Edited 1/18/2005 11:21 am ET by GOLDHILLER

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

(post #64203, reply #13 of 14) has a lot of that kind of stuff.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #64203, reply #14 of 14)

Thank you.

Will check 'em out.

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.
Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

(post #64203, reply #5 of 14)

Well systems here don't have hydrants; the pump is down the well and all pipe is 100-150# flexible 2". The wire set to power the pump is strapped to the outside of the pipe; usually 4 stranded #10's  or 12's.

I've also never heard of CPVC in this kind of a system. Typically, the supply line comes in to a check valve. Then a reduction nipple to ¾ copper or pex, then a ball valve cut-off; then your HWT supply line branches off from there and so forth.

When a well pump freezes up here, you're usually looking for a steamer to thaw things out. Not a DIY project....


'Y-a-tu de la justice dans ce maudit monde?



How now, Mighty Sauron, that thou art not brought
low by this? For thine evil pales before that which
foolish men call Justice....

(post #64203, reply #6 of 14)

get the neighbour who gave you the advice to recommend someone in the area who is good at fixing this sort of problem

it could entail cutting up part of the floor if the *frost free hydrant burst part way up from the valve at the bottom of the hydrant

usually you shut off the hydrant after using what ever water you need  during below freezing conditions outside which is   the reason for the frost free hydrant

having fixed a number of them  I usually found a dumb installation or  lax attention in their use of them

(post #64203, reply #7 of 14)

Good advice already given and you havent been back. 

I also dont think there is anything wrong with the underground , but your plumbing in the barn looks like its "shot".

Judgeing from yur post , you need a country plumber. I figgure hes on the job today.

Tim Mooney