Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to defrost underground black plastic water pipes

I had a hard time finding good advice for this particular situation when it occurred this morning, but what I gleaned from the web worked well, so I wrote this little piece up for other folks to use. 

Situation is, the black plastic pipe from your well to your house is frozen. (Welcome to Maine!)

Black plastic pipe is different from underground iron or copper in that there isn't a special low voltage DC  device to heat up the pipe using electricity (welders work this way too -- old fashioned "tombstone" stick welders). 

Plastic doesn't conduct electricity well. So you need hot water to do the job.

Here's what to do:

Tools and materials: You need hand tools to disconnect and connect pipes, a submersible "utility" water pump, enough feet of small diameter semi-rigid plastic tubing as is needed to reach all the ice in your frozen pipe, unions to fit the pump and tubing together, a bucket, and a working electrical supply (or a generator).
  1. Isolate the frozen part by opening joints and disconnecting unions, probing for ice with a wire or drain snake, and/or using an infra red thermometer. Use logic and trial and error to decide where the frost is, or at least get a best guess.
  2. Turn the well pump off. Turn a tap on in the house.
  3. Disconnect the frozen pipe on the water inlet side as close to the freeze-up as possible. This may require digging. Free up a few feet of the black pipe so you can move it around easily, or add a length of extra pipe to achieve the same.
  4. Set up at the end of the pipe. Place there a bucket of 120 degree (F) water. Put the submersible pump in this water. Attach enough footage of small diameter semi-rigid tubing to reach all the way through the frozen pipe. Hang the end of the black water pipe over the bucket.
  5. Get the water running through the small diameter pipe. Recycle the spillage into the bucket.
  6. Poke the small pipe, with the water running, into the black plastic pipe. Push it through slowly as the ice melts, about a foot a minute. 
  7. Add hot water to the bucket if need be.
  8. You'll know when you reach the other side because resistance will end. 
  9. Be careful of unions and connectors that might impede your progress. You may need to do more digging to get to these.
Enjoy! Good luck.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunny Sunday snaps

Snowbanks get higher and higher.

Our fancy antique well-pump mailbox post took a direct hit. This is a temporary set-up.

Snow drifts well up on the windows. 

A snowflake's eye view of the Roverplow.

Driver's education?

The way to the woodpile.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snowy Sunday snaps

Taking the trash and recycling to the transfer station: The dogs always come with.

A Rover's eye view of our current storm. All wind and not much snow.

The sheep tuck in.

The tractor awaits a more serious storm. Note the battery jumper/charger rig.

Two rows of icicles? Not a good sign. It means that water from behind the ice dam isrunning down under the metal roof. I checked and there's no infiltration to the porch -- the old roof is still doing its job.

Aimee made bread. I had some for lunch!

Playing with Daddy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Storm preperations

As you can see from the map above, our current snowpack is literally "off the charts." The green color shows theinches of depth accoring to the NWS model. We actually have around 30 inches as I found out yesterday, postholing over to our greenhouse to know off some snow that threatened to topple the thing.

But there's more to come! Up to 24 inches in the next 36 hours. I've given up worrying about snow load on the various house roofs. With the baby, there's just not enough time to keep up with it. The glass greenhouse is a goner whatever happens -- we plan to demolish it this spring to make room for a berry patch.

Luckily all the snow so far has been cold, light, fluffy stuff. That means no power outages, at least since the four-day one in November.

With the new block heaters, I know the Rover and tractor will start once all this is over. Both are fueled up. I already brought in the trailer load of hay that I'd had stored outside under a tarp. The main things to do today are to bring in enough firewood for the duration, get some fuel for the tractor, and to make sure we have enough bread and milk. I also need to post-hole over to the propane tank and check the level.

In other news, Roo has begun to sleep in her own crib, and to sleep through the night most nights. Eight hours sleep isn't much to ask for, if you ask most ordinary folks, but to a parent of a five-month old, it's a godsend.

Here's a Roo-fix for those who need it. I introduced her to the carving Grandad made of me chasing these pigs here. Ithink she quite liked it.


Monday, February 9, 2015



The weather continues to be normal. Very normal.

Which means snow. Lots of it.

The Land Rover cold starting problem had to be fixed. This is something of which I was aware last winter, but it wasn't a problem back then because there wasn't a snow plow that I needed to use on the front of the vehicle. Now there is.

The solution was the magnetic block heater above. It attaches neatly to the starter motor from either above or below, and puts out about 300 degrees F. I also used it on the tractor, but now I have a replacement cable for the tractor's block heater, so we should be alright there.

Now we have a three day snowstorm with very cold temperatures. The Land Rover starts easily after an hour or so of heating. The snow gets plowed. No problem.

I'm sure something else will happen. It always does. But we're entering the racing days. Not long now.

We'll still have snow until April, but the sunshine will get warmer, which makes life a lot nicer.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A slight problem...

We had another snowstorm Monday, and got another snow day off work as a result. Accordingly we had a nice day taking it in turns to work on college paperwork and lounge around the house playing with Roo. I knew at some point I'd have to go out to move snow, but with the storm lingering into the late afternoon, and forecast to continue to spin much of the evening and night time, there wasn't much point in getting out there earlier.

I'd just taken a shower and was changing to my evening "comfy" clothes of sweatpants and sweatshirt when a commotion occured and Aimee burst into the bedroom holding Roo.

"The snow plow is stuck in the driveway", she said. "Again!" she might have added, since this is not the first nor likely the last time that this particular problem has occurred. Accordingly I pulled a set of insulated coveralls over my sweats and went out like a good husband to see what had happened.

Our driveway is actually a turning circle at the end of a town road. The road belongs to the town, the circle to us. Accordingly, the town plow doesn't actually have to plow our driveway, and perhaps shouldn't, but the truck does have to be turned around, so the drivers often go all the way around the circle for their own convenience. This is good for us, since it reduces the scale of our plowing chore by about two thirds, so we like those times when the circle gets plowed. At other times, with less accommodating drivers, the truck does a three-point turn at the junction with the town road. If the driver attempts to plow the circle, but doesn't know where the road is supposed to be, he can get well and truly stuck. But he can also get stuck doing a three point turn in a narrow road, so "pick your poison."

This time, the truck was stuck pretty much on top of one of my five feet tall snowbanks, having tried to drive straight over it. I found the hapless plow truck driver and neighbor Ham standing around scratching their heads about what to do.

Then ensued one of those Chinese fire drills, wherein five different guys each puts forward some notion of how to fix things, and each one is fervently tried, to no avail.

I wasn't much help myself. Although it was obvious that a smaller more maneuverable piece of snow-moving equipment would be needed to dig the bigger truck out, the cold had penetrated to the starter motors of both the Land Rover and the Kubota tractor. Both were frozen. At least, that's the best guess. The Rover's symptoms were clearer to diagnose -- the motor spinning without engaging the "Bendix" drive. That has happened before.

The tractor just clicked, a symptom that can be caused by anything from a seized engine through a dead battery to a ruined starter solenoid, of a jammed flywheel gear.

Either way, the upshot was I wouldn't be moving any of the snowbanks myself. Hamilton plowed with his old Dodge plow truck, while the plow truck drivers and I dug and then dug some more, stopping periodically to try to rock the truck in forward and reverse out of its snowbank. A second and third town plow arrived, meaning we now had five plow trucks on scene, plus my own Frontier which was just in the way. Eventually we'd moved all the snow that could be moved, and the big truck was still stuck. Some maneuvering of these vehicles was then required to get a second full-sized plow truck in place, with two strong chains, the proper amount of motive force was applied, and the first truck eventually popped out of its snowbank.

The town plow guys were then good enough to plow all my snow before leaving. I went inside for a well-earned dinner of fish pie, which I'd made earlier. I also ordered some additional block heaters online for both the tractor and the Rover. The tractor has one, but I'd lost the cable. I ordered an identical new one to get the cable. For the Rover, I ordered a magnetic heater to clamp directly to the starter motor.

Despite all the unexpected help I had moving snow this time, we were still pretty much snowed in the next day, with no Land Rover and no tractor to help. I began shoveling but was pleased when Hamilton came by and plowed the worst of the snow away with the Dodge. That was Tuesday morning. One of the two block heaters arrived Wednesday. Today, Thursday, we have eight more inches of snow before daylight, so I must go out with a power cord and fire up the block heater and try to get the Rover started and move snow.

I'm happy that I fitted the new heater in place last night, since I won't have to roll on my back in the snow at five am to do that today.

And so it goes. Winter. Another six weeks, says the groundhog.

Bloody old groundhog.