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.

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