View from a Plumber

Ok now we are talking about a subject that I actually know something about. Namely plumbing, more specifically all those poor souls that have frozen main water pipes and no water for the past week or so.
Firstly a little bit of an explanation:
By Ontario Plumbing Code your main water service from the street to your house should be buried a minimum 5ft underground. In a normal winter the frost will get down around 18 – 24 inches. This winter I would guess with most of Ontario temperatures staying down below minus 10C and as low as minus 30C, on occasion for most of February and a good chunk of January. I bet the frost is down around 3 feet or more. That should not bother most home owners in Collingwood. Where people have been having a problem is a few property’s mainly on the east side of town have shale at the street a couple of feet down, making it impossible to dig the original water main deep enough. I have witnessed these situations myself and the only solution is to cover the pipe with a couple of layers of 2 inch Styrofoam insulation. This is a good solution in a normal winter, but this winter, probably not. Also when the water main was originally installed your local building inspector does not watch every part of the installation process, he checks the depth at the street. What happens between that connection point and the house is the responsibility of the person installing the pipe. Usually at that stage everyone is in a rush to get the trench filled in and get the ground levelled off, so mistakes in the depth of the main can be made. Especially if your friendly local plumber plumbs like I write blogs.

So what do you do if you wake up one morning and you have no water and its negative 20C outside? The first thing to do is go and knock on your neighbors house and see if they have water. If they do and you get along with them, ask if you can hook your outside hose bib onto their outside hose bib. Your normal everyday garden hose has a female threaded connection one end and a male connection the other. Both hose bibs on each house will be male threaded connections. To solve this problem, take one of the hoses from the back of your washing machine to make a female to female hose connection on the garden hose. Hook the hose between the two houses, turn on hose bib drain valve that you turned off and drained in the fall, then turn on both hose bibs, turn off house main shut off valve, leave one tap in your house running to stop the hose from freezing and bingo bango bongo you should have water.

Ok now you have water and you’ve solved the immediate problem. One way to thaw the main water pipe is by running an electric current through it, only possible if it’s steel or copper pipe. If its plastic, I have heard that there is a machine that will spray super heated water down the inside of the water main but I would very much doubt if that piece of equipment is available in Collingwood. So assume there is nothing you can do except wait. What can supply enough electric current to thaw a copper water main? A welding machine. Let’s assume your main is copper. You have to dig one end up at the street with a back hoe (too frozen to dig by hand). You put the negative ground on the street end of your water main and clamp the positive cable at the main shut off valve in the house, then crank up your welding machine at full voltage. It will thaw your water main in around 30 minutes. You have to be careful not to leave it on too long because the current will melt the solder in the copper fittings.

Once you have the water back on you have to leave a tap running to stop further freezing. Expose your main the following spring and find out where it is not a minimum of 5ft deep. If you have to wait for the big thaw, make sure when you leave the house your main shut off valve is closed to save a flood. Open it again when you return home so you know when the water comes back on.

The above advice is worth around a hundred bucks. I selflessly give this to you today free of charge as a public service to the good people of Collingwood. 🙂


4 thoughts on “View from a Plumber

  1. View from a Nobody owns a plumbing business. I read there are a lot of people in Collingwood with frozen pipes. My hairdresser is one of them.

  2. Well, thank you Mr. Nobody, I have printed out the page and taped it to the inside of the lower cupboard door. We have been lucky here, we lost cold water for about an hour one cold night and hot water for about 20 minutes on another. The man of the house simply used a hair dryer on the pipes and once the water started running, he turned it down to a fast drip and left the lower cupboard doors open which worked well for us. We didn’t get a letter from PUC and only read about the frozen pipes on FB and the EB. One friend said tonight they are going into the fifth day of no water and refuse to shower at the swimming tent. They shower and collect water from good friends, which are people who will let you use their facilities. The PUC also mentioned that they would compensate people for the extra water they use by leaving their taps running but they will probably only get pennies since people have been known to fill their swimming pool for under $30.00 🙂 That’s a story I’m sure you remember.
    Thanks for the post and the information 🙂

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