A Frozen Pipe Dream

I went to Vancouver a few weeks ago.

I wasn’t looking forward to trading sunny skies for rainy ones — although the temperatures were going to be much warmer than the -24°C temperatures here.

Before I left, Allan asked me to bring back some spring with me. When I got there, it was indeed spring. Crocuses, daffodils and other spring flowers were in bloom. Small shrubs had leafed out and were starting to bud, although some trees hadn’t put out their leaves yet.

Surprisingly, it didn’t rain as much as forecasted. So it was a nice break from winter. But unbeknownst to me, back home Allan was dealing with spring in another way.

On our farm we have what we call a pump house. This is a small, 12-foot by 12-foot shed that has a basement containing our water storage and pressure tanks. From this building there runs an underground water pipe, which supplies the house with water.

This pipe was buried about eight feet deep to prevent it from freezing. But at the time of installation, the pipe had to be put into the trench while it was being dug because the sand was refilling it too quickly. As a result, the pipe isn’t at an exact depth.

Most winters we have no problem with our water system, but sometimes events happen which are beyond our control and the pipe freezes.

This January we had a long warm spell and this removed some of the snow covering the pipe. At the time there was no indication there was going to be a problem. But the weekend I went out of town the temperature warmed up again. Sometimes warmer weather can push the frost deeper into the ground causing pipes to freeze. This is what happened. Allan woke up to no water pressure. For a man who needs coffee to wake up, this isn’t a good way to start the day.

We weren’t out of water, because the pump house is still heated and it’s where we get water for the animals. But it does mean a walk down the hill and back, carrying a pail of water just to make coffee. It also means whatever work he had planned that day wasn’t going to happen.

Thanks to the help of neighbours and friends he had been able to thaw about 20 feet of it by pushing steam into the ice. But at this point the steam was cooling off too much and it was no longer effective.

A few days later, when I got home, the pipe was still frozen. After some discussion we decided to try an inline water heater we had bought but never installed. We hooked up the heater to the water system in the pump house hoping the pressure would be enough to push the hot water to where it was needed.

After spending an afternoon installing the system it only took about 10 minutes to thaw the rest of the pipe. We left the heater in place just in case we had this problem again this spring. Which is a good thing.

Because yesterday we woke up to a frozen water pipe again. This time it was cleared within hours instead of days.

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