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rballard 12-29-2008 10:14 AM

Water main freezing intermittently
I own a three unit apartment building. It has one apartment on the first floor and two apartments that are side by side on the second and third floors. Each apartment has its own water system. The three water mains travel from the street to the house (about 35 feet) in copper lines buried at four feet. Once the lines enter the house, they switch to pex lines running through a crawl space (about 40 feet). The pex lines are bundled together, wrapped in heat tape and insulated. I've twice now received calls from the downstairs tenants about their water not working. It appears that somehow, somewhere in the main line (plumbers and the water company can't find the source) the feed for the downstairs apartment gets frozen. It then thaws out in 8-72 hours, depending on the temperature outdoors. Right now I have the tenants keeping their sink dripping, but I need a better long-term solution. FWIW, the upstairs tenants are home all day using their water, while the downstairs tenants are rarely home. My hypothesis is this is how one of the three lines can freeze while the other two function. I'm concerned the tenants will "accidentally" turn their water off, so I'm looking for a solution that doesn't rely on them to do anything. Maybe some kind of water circulator? Any ideas?

Skipperjj 12-29-2008 10:26 AM

Your freezing problem is most likely happening in the crawlspace and not in the buried section of pipe. My first place to check would be the point at which the water pipe for the first floor unit enters that unit. If the pipes are all wrapped through the crawlspace but not wrapped as it enters the unit, or even a couple feet into the unit, that may be your problem. The entrance hole for the pipe should also be caulked or foamed/insulated to stop air movement as well. Hope that helps!

rballard 12-29-2008 10:39 AM

no access
I forgot to add... access to the crawlspace is very limited. The only way in is through the top... so I would have to move furniture, pull up carpet, pull up floor boards. I can do it if need be, but I'd prefer not to.

Skipperjj 12-29-2008 10:55 AM

The restricted access to the crawl space would make me want to get in there even more to see what is wrapped and what is not however O understand not wanting to pull up floorboards. You could cut an inspection hole, maybe 1' by 1', where the pipe enters the unit (perhaps in a kitchen cabinet?). This would allow you to actually see the pipe in the crawl space and to see if it is wrapped well. At some point you, or someone, will have to get in that crawl space to verify whats insulated or not...also you may have some animal activity where they have chewed the wrapping off in certain spots as well. Best of luck!

majakdragon 12-29-2008 12:00 PM

I agree with Skipper that the problem is probably where the lines enter the building. Doing an inspection now will save you doing it later, should you have a prolonged deep freeze and need to replace broken lines as an emergency measure. A circulating system will not be cheap.

Termite 12-29-2008 03:47 PM

I pretty much assure you the problem is in the crawlspace. I'd look into installing an electrically-heated wrap (not the same as foil heat tape) around the length of pipe in the crawlspace to keep it from freezing.

rballard 12-29-2008 04:49 PM


Originally Posted by thekctermite (Post 203923)
I pretty much assure you the problem is in the crawlspace. I'd look into installing an electrically-heated wrap (not the same as foil heat tape) around the length of pipe in the crawlspace to keep it from freezing.

Maybe terms are different around the country (I live in PA), but the heat tape I'm referring to is an electical wire wrapped around the pipe and plugged in at the end into an outlet. I'm not sure what foil heat tape is, but it sounds like I have what you're suggesting, right?

DUDE! 12-29-2008 06:06 PM

You might want to check the power source for the heat tape, make sure the breaker didn't trip. Four feet under should keep the pipes insulated but I dont' know your area. Of the two devils, broken pipes, or opening up the floor, I'd go with opening that crawlspace up, or make a permanent entry point for future use.

4just1don 12-31-2008 02:05 AM

how about in the washer dryer room,,,I agree you will need to get in there in a hurry and not be able to. OR in a closet,,,cut and box enough floor joists to get in easily,,,put a couple drywall screws in it so it doesnt rattle when you walk on it. never under a finished floor like good big carpet. Was thinking closet carpet could be seperate???IF carpeted at all

How do you know for REAL sure the heat tape is even working??? How did they get a heat tape on there if its so restricted?? OR as LAST resort,,,access to outside thru foundation and window well type thing???

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