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Old 12-07-2013, 07:23 AM   #1
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Our first winter "snafu" ......

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. It was just a matter of time, I just wish it had happened sooner OR later.
Before I get started I want to say that, even the best laid plans are subject to unknown failures. Sometimes, things just break!

So hunting season finally gets here to South Central Kansas and off I go to "Deer Camp" to meet up with the boys and have a nice long weekend telling stories, drinking cold beer, hot liquor, sleeping in the woods and doing a bit of "gathering" on my part.
It's colder than it's been in quite a few years this time of year ( no thanks to the massive Artic front coming in from Canada, really making it feel like Winter for a change) So I accommodate my wife the best I can before I go. Both 100 gallon propane tanks are full and I emptied & flushed the black tank. (thinking that I'd only be gone 4 days so she wouldn't have to "mess" with either)
Not 1 full day into "camp" and I get a frantic call from her at 9am, "I think the pipes are froze, there is no water coming out from the fixtures" UGH!... Luckily, Deer Camp is only about 100 miles from the house. Don't get me wrong, the wife is pretty handy, but for her it's a work day (I'm on "vacation") and I never really expect her to get out in the cold and mess with things like this! (that's why she married me, right?)
So, I pack up and head for home. Expecting (and finding) the worst.
Just a little bit of a back story here.......

We were VERY prepared for winter as far as the water source was concerened. Our main is just 8 ft from the Airstream, so for the upcoming Winter I dug a shallow trench from the main, to just below the water closet at the rear of the trailer. I lined it with plywood and used a short piece of 4" PVC to create a vertical column for the lines to come up into the connections. Wrapped with foil, heat tape, and rubber pipe insulation, I laid it all in place, put a lid over the trench and covered it with the gravel rock we have around our pad here. Mostly proud of the job I had done, and it WAS quite a bit of work, I was certain it would be the one thing I wouldn't have to worry about this Winter. (that should have been the dead giveaway right there)
Upon arriving home, sure enough, the line was frozen from the connection at the trailer all the way to the main shutoff, ???? How could this be? Yea, it was cold out.... But this line is wrapped, insulated, heated and BURRIED IN THE GROUND! Regardless..... it's frozen. So I proceed to undo the whole process. Needing to get back down to bare hose so I can bring it inside , get it thawed and see what went wrong. This was NOT a fun time, and to make matters worse is what I found the problem to be.
It may sound obvious and one would assume..... The heat tape had failed, or was done incorrectly and the line froze. Well the heat tape WAS working, initially this is what confused me and made me think I'd done something wrong. Upon complete disassembly of the whole process I come to find that while the heat tape was working.....it was only working for the first 12 inches of the tape. After that nothing but cold wire and frozen hose!

Off to Lowe's I went. Another heat tape, more pipe insulation, and a milkhouse heater.(for the housing I built around the main shutoff and filters) Went through the whole process again of foiling, wrapping, taping, insulating, and burying the hose. ( this time I verified that the heat tape was functioning throughout the entire length of wire) Cleaned up my mess and went inside and took a nice HOT shower.
This morning we woke up to 5 degree temps, with wind chill making it feel like -8 degrees! Needless to say I was almost afraid to touch the faucet, out of fear that it was NOT going to flow any water and I'd be out in the cold again working on that damn hose again. No such "luck", the water flowed like it was supposed to! Now I'm left wondering how long it's going to take me to stop being paranoid about the water line.

Moral of the story......

IF you are "unfortunate" enough to live in a climate where the temps drop to below freezing in the Winter and have to use heat tape to insulate your water supply hose...... Make sure the tape is WORKING before you wrap everything up & bury it all below the ground! It might just save you from 6 hours of frustrating work in freezing temps.
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Old 12-07-2013, 07:37 AM   #2
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I would say a lesson well learned :-) So did you kill any deer?
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Old 12-07-2013, 07:56 AM   #3
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No. I had a nice Buck sneak out of the woods behind me, but a shot was never presented. It was hard to resist spinning and attempting a shot being that he was so close(100 ft) but I was hoping he'd wander into range. He never did. An hour later I packed for home.
Today with the lower temps and higher winds, I'm learning I hate the cold more than I LOVE Venison!
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:05 AM   #4
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You did overlook one thing in all this. You say you dug a "shallow trench" and covered it with gravel. What exactly is the average depth of the frost line in your area? As you discovered, pipes buried above the frost line still freeze.

But I think you also altered the depth of the frost line over your pipe by using gravel. Gravel is porous, and allows cold air to penetrate, meaning that you lose the benefit of the thermal mass of soil. That pushes the frost line deeper wherever you have the gravel. Instead of gravel, you probably ought to have used sand, or for easier excavation a sand/gravel mix, so the sand could fill the void spaces between the stones in the gravel. That would give you a thermal mass more-or-less equal to that of the surrounding soil, so that the frost line at your pipe is the same as the frost line in the surrounding soil.
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:18 AM   #5
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My experience with heat tape has not been all that good. The normally available ones at places like the home centers tend to fail in a short time. The only one I have any real confidence in is the one which has two wires which run down the side, and a plastic material loaded with carbon between, so the material heats up, not the wire. The heat output is about 3 watts per foot. One big advantage is that as the temp goes up the heat output goes down, all automatically. When the tape crosses itself, it automatically cuts the heat output down so it does not burn out. It is all encased in a metal wire sheath which is grounded for safety. The stuff is not cheap (several dollars a foot) but it is much more effective and long lasting. Sorry I can't tell you the name, maybe someone else here has that and a location to purchase it. Sometimes it is available at a very large hardware store. Sold by the foot too, so you can get any length you want and it can be field cut to length if you get too much.

All I can say is "been there, done that" to your original story.
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:24 AM   #6
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Frost line here is like 18" and my "tunnel" is only about 12". But I gotta say the burying of the line was not to keep it from freezing, more to keep it out of the elements and aesthetics.
It is literally a plywood tunnel under the gravel that is connected to the water closet on the trailer side and to a heater "box" on the other end where the filters and main are located. It's not filled with gravel, it has a plywood top over it. The gravel just "hides" it.
If I owned the land we're staying on however, you bet I'd have dug that trench 2 foot deep, filled it with sand & dirt and brought me up a water line right next to the water connections.
With some luck, this will be the last Winter we ever have to spend in Kansas! (knock on wood!)
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:28 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by truxpin View Post
With some luck, this will be the last Winter we ever have to spend in Kansas! (knock on wood!)
THAT I can understand! I grew up in Oklahoma, but I've heard people who don't like Oklahoma say that the best reason for Oklahoma to exist is so you can detour around Kansas!
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Old 12-07-2013, 10:54 AM   #8
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18" in Kansas? I struggling with that. It's 32" in Illinois...and I'm talking central Illinois.

Edit: Yahoo answers says 24" for Kansas.
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Old 12-08-2013, 07:00 AM   #9
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Yup, 24" I stand corrected.

My only real concern however is the frost line in Tucson, AZ. which is 0" !
(But code still requires 12" deep for water lines to protect them from shovels etc....)
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Old 12-08-2013, 07:15 AM   #10
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If you're only temporary, consider buying a few hay bales and putting them over the water line. Here in Northern VT, the frost line is 4 feet. If you can't dig that deep, a 2" piece of rigid insulation will reduce the frost line by 1 foot. Lay it in the trench and back fill over it. Frost goes down, not sideways, so the width of a hay bale will keep ground from freezing hard under it.
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