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Frozen heating pipes

Michael GMichael G Member Posts: 21
The pipes in one zone of my hot water heater system are frozen.  It's a very long run from the boiler to the room where the baseboards are and many of the pipes are hidden in walls and under eaves of the roof. When this happened the last time a few years ago, I bought an amazing device called Thermguard and it solved the problem by triggering hot water through the pipes every few minutes, thus preventing the water from freezing in any potentially exposed vulnerable areas.  However, I forgot the change the batteries on the Thermguard and now I have the frozen pipes. I have plumbers here who are trying to heat the pipes using some sort of HOT SPOT to send electric current through the pipes to heat them and see if it will melt the ice, but so far, no luck (many hours). It's difficult to identify where the ice has formed and the pipes run a long way through the walls of the house from the boiler.

1) Any other ideas?

2) Any creative solutions for how to prevent this in the future? I have read about using a Gycol mixture, but I am not sure who would know how to do this or the correct dilution?


MIchael (cold in half my house),

Hastings on Hudson, NY


  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,930
    they need to make sure it is not

    refreezing in one spot as they are thawing in another. To prevent it you need to Insulate the pipes. As for the antifreeze, a qualified Professional should have no issue in determining the proper amount of antifreeze and how to put it in. The type of antifreeze is determined by the components of your system.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Frozen pipes:

    In my minority opinion, insulation without dealing with the underlying cause is a band aid on an infection. You need to either re-route the misplaced pipes, which were installed improperly in the first place or be sure that the heat in the zone is set to a temperature that will keep the pipes from freezing by the zone running regularly. The best way to resolve this is to turn the system temperature to the lowest point that will keep the house warm. Flowing water will not freeze. It seems that many people turn their thermostats DOWN when it gets cold when they should be turning them UP. Especially when it is at night or it is windy. Set back thermostats can be the kiss of splits.

    If it is zero outside and you have the thermostat set to 70 degrees, and the thermostat is keeping the zone at 70 degrees, there is more than enough heat available to that zone. If you turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees, you have just manipulated the outside temperature to -15. Plus the the time it takes the zone to recover. When it gets cold outside, you shouldn't be trying to save money by dropping the temperatures inside, you need to keep them as is or raise them. Especially in a zone that has had freezing problems before.

    Whatever you have theoretically saved by keeping your heat low, has been eliminated by the guys having a problem fixing your frozen pipes. Hopefully, they don't break.

    If you want to discuss where the leaks come from, post information where your house is located and how it is constructed. There are few ways that we here don't know where pipes are located and when/how they freeze. And we do not look forward to fixing them. No one budgets for frozen pipes and we have to wait to get paid. Never an experience that we look forward to.
  • Michael GMichael G Member Posts: 21
    frozen pipe update

    We have found the spot where the pipe was frozen...actually 2 spots....and could be more.   Replacing the copper pipe section and not able to replace the fins around the pipe. So far the source of the frozen pipe is very poorly insulated area of the corner of the room (I'll post photos later) underneath built in furniture!  There were to frozen areas on the pipe, each on one side of the corner where the insulation was very poorly done.  It seems that we will need some more insulation at a minimum and maybe some insulated heating pipes. Is it possible to insulate the pipes in some way that they don't freeze?
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,930
    I usually agree with you Ice

    I am just saying I have seen many times a little pipe insulation keeps the pipes from freezing if other things have already been addressed. We had a section in my Father's own house his help ran the pipes to the second floor in an outside wall. 16" of pipe insulation and no more frozen pipes in the last 10 years after suffering with them for 30 years. Two lessons learned, 1- never trust help to work without oversight. 2- if you need to oversee ever move your help does you do not need help.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    No disagreement:

    No disagreement here about that. I wasn't saying that insulation woouldn't help. I've seen people run insulated pipes in cold spaces where the insulated pipes froze anyway.

    When I did new houses, and I ran pipes up outside walls, I used a 2 X 4 block nained between the studs, and a 3/4" van hanger. With insilated tubeing. The van hanget and block bade it so there was no way the insulator could run his 3.5" insulation in front of the pipe. He had to cut it in behind the pipe. Plus, I always went back to check to see where the screw ups were. Like how they cover electrical boxes.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,881

    They won't freeze if... there's glycol in the circulating fluid... or... you keep the circulating fluid circulating...

    And insulation helps (and can save you a good bit of money) if, as icesailor says, it's done right.

    If this project is anywhere where the outside temps get significantly below freezing and stay there for any length of time, I would definetly put a glycol mix in.  As Charles says, any reasonably competent heating man can do that.  Why?  Because if you don't have a generator and the power goes off for any length of time, and for some reason you aren't Johnny and the spot to drain the whole system down, you are going to have a VERY expensive catastrophe on your hands (I've seen burst heating pipes totally destroy a very nice house).

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    unconditioned spaces:

    Unless there is wind blowing into these spaces, keep the heat turned up during windy and cold times. You won't have to worry until you get it fixed.

    Remember that the fin tube is thinner than regular Type M tube. It usually freezes and breaks on the end. The fins are designed to remove the maximum heat out of the water in the pipe and transfer it to the air around it. Therefore, it will work in reverse. It will pull the maximum cold off the floor in the space and transfer it to the cold water in the pipe. If the water isn't flowing, it will freeze and break. Turn up the heat in the zone. Or make it run for 15 minutes out of an hour. Its cheaper than a freeze up service call. Find the infiltration and stop it.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Glycol solutions:

    Jamie is absolutely correct about Glycol. Its just that I so hate to work on any system that it is filled with. It is an unbelievable PITA to do anything with it.

    But if you have pipes that freeze due to infiltration, you should fix the leaks. It's cheaper than the wasted fuel. My Scots heritage makes me loath to be spending good money heating the outdoors.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,930
    Wow that's three Scots on one thread

    What did Poor Mike do to deserve this many Scots at once.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • HenryHenry Member Posts: 757
    Great White North

    We have had a week of -30C or near -20F night weather. Many apartment blocks run piping on the outside wall. You have to insulate from the cold and not insulate the pipes from the warm! The pipes need to get heat from the rooms and continuous circulation is needed. Nearly all apartment blocks run continuous circulation. The only one we have problem with, is steam heated that have supply and return on the outside walls!
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,435
    Proving once again

    that you can't fix stupid.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • Steve WhitbeckSteve Whitbeck Member Posts: 669

    glycol is hard on the pump and zone valve seals. expect shorter life spans.
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    built-in furniture

    Can you insulate the floor underneath (or the adjacent outside wall) with sections of sheet goods?
  • John1961John1961 Member Posts: 10
    New Insulation System to Prevent Frozen Pipes FREEZEBLOCKER

    I am a forensic engineer and investigate causes of frozen pipes for the insurance industry. Regarding insulating pipes from freezing, I'm of the opinion that the code direction or any other specification as to HOW to properly insulate pipes against freezing is very poor. Also, there is no product on the market designed to protect pipes from freezing. Wrap insulation is intended to keep hydronic water pipes from cooling for energy conservation reasons only. Also modifying house insulation causes compression and air leaks that make pipes vulnerable to freezing and is a use that the insulation was NOT INTENDED for.

    I hold patents on a special pipe insulation design called FREEZEBLOCKER tm that is made of rigid EPS foam and is an system of insulation components that coordinate the location of the pipe in the unheated building cavity or space and insulates in with a matching component for each specific installation condition that simultaneously insulates it while converging transient building heat into it.  

    FREEZEBLOCKER has been tested by the NAHBRC and The Underwriters Laboratory and outperforms the current practice of trade.

    I have worked with a fire protection company in commercializing the concept and am still looking for a partner company to commercialize it for the plumbing and heating industry.

    For more information see [u][color=#0000ff][/color][/u] or find us on LinkedIn or Facebook.
    FREEZEBLOCKER tm - Engineered Freeze Protection Piping Insulation
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 3,561
    edited September 2013
    Interesting product


    How does your product deal with irregular conditions and odd joist spacings? Any idea of the pricepoint?

    In my climate I would never consider putting water pipes in any exterior wall or attic, period.

    The new fire sprinkler codes are going to tempt people to put pipes in some bad places. Don't even get me started on the use of domestic water for fire suppression. Can you say legionella outbreak?

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • John1961John1961 Member Posts: 10
    edited September 2013
    Frozen Heating Pipes


    As seen in the power point link on the website, there are two basic components of the FREEZEBLOCKER system. The first I call "Slot on Block" of FBB is the one depicted insulating a straight run of pipe in an exterior wall or cathedral ceiling. It comes in straight lengths and can easily be cut and fit to piping in the field.

    The same is actually true for the second "Attic Module" system that being the one depicted in the photograph I posted. These are the FBT-C and FBT-T Tenting Modules. Those photographs show the interlocking modules that encapsulate and "snug" fit between joists in an attic.

    IF... we had uneven joists, these would be insulated by a piece of the same geometry as the modules but a long/stock length cut to fit snugly in the space between the joists. A second component that would fill the gap between the two pieces and lie on top of the joists would be provided and set in.

    Pipe in an outside Wall? No problem. The FBB insulation block protected piping in a simulated wall to -40 F at a reduced thermostat setting. An outside wall is easy.

    Price is dependent on volume and a number of factors. Part of the challenge I'm trying to address now is to get sprinkler and plumber contractors to understand the system and let go of traditional methods. I can say though that I have never heard of the insulation manufacturer held liable for frozen pipes. Usually the insulation or plumber contractor is first scrutinized. Pipes, full of water, under pressure in building cavities and spaces prone to freezing.. Protected by altering house insulation for a purpose that was never designed for. No wonder house damage due to frozen pipes is second in The United States only to Hurricane Damage.  
    FREEZEBLOCKER tm - Engineered Freeze Protection Piping Insulation
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    No you can't. It won't happen. They've done simulated testing on it and it doesn't seem to happen. Yet.
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,515
    edited September 2013
    Never say never

    For the last eight years of my working life (after my real job went to China) I was sentenced to work at the post office as an eletronic technician on the mail sorting equipment. I worked at the main facility in Boston (almost 1,000,000 sq ft), one building was from the 30's and the other from the late 60's. In the mid 2000's we had an outbreak of legionella that made several people very sick. It turns out that an old pipe was capped off years ago and that stagnant water leached into the potable water near a drinking fountain. The CDC was called in and they had all the piping flushed in the building and removed any pipe stubs they found.

    It seems the key is that piping has to be flushed out from time to time to keep something like this from taking root. In commercial buildings the sprinkler systems are flushed out on a regular basis, the question is how would you be sure this happens in a private residence? I don't know that I would trust a check valve to stop a microbe from crossing over. People ignore codes all the time because of ignorance, this could become a real public health issue if it's not thought out.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • John1961John1961 Member Posts: 10
    edited September 2013
    Insulating pipes against freezing.. Old vers. new

    This is an example of how pipes are presently protected against freezing when they are installed in an unheated attic. No real code direction, no real product designed to prevent freezing and the contractor thrown to the wolves...
    FREEZEBLOCKER tm - Engineered Freeze Protection Piping Insulation
  • ZmanZman Member Posts: 3,561

    Interesting enough product.

    Two thoughts,

    Pipes should not be in the attic or exterior wall to begin with. You are asking for trouble. The product is only as good as the installation.

    The foam blocks will work great in normal installations. I think as soon as you get to an odd condition you will be at the whim of the installer. Any little gap and all bets are off. There will be field cutting and modifications. All the test data is irrelevant.

    I agree what you have designed is better than loose laid fiberglass. The smart choice is to keep the pipes well within the heating envelope.

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • John1961John1961 Member Posts: 10
    RE: Pipes


    Carl.. I agree if you can, you should avoid problem (aka boundary) areas. That said, is this always an option?


    Open floor-plan houses which are popular today increase the need for routing plumbing through outside walls or similar locations.  I’ve seen many frozen pipes in ranch style homes on slab foundations that the plumber had to route the plumbing through the attic since no other path was available. (it froze)


    Fire protection piping often needs to be installed in attic locations due to the limitations of side pendant sprinkler heads in certain larger sized rooms. The attic tenting modules depicted were initially intended for fire protection systems but will work with any other type of piping as well. The FBB Insulation block is as I said in a previous post  “easily” protects pipes in exterior walls or cathedral ceilings.


    As far as gaps and leaks, yes fitting and air sealing is important and an inherent benefit with my system but the way the system is built, they have a precision fit. Think of air drafts in an outside wall or through an attic space. Isn’t fiberglass or cellulose air permeable and capable of letting air through? FREEZEBLOCKERS insulation blocks are sized to snugly fit into standard framing and for odd sized dimensions, standard stock allowing the installer to cut and install insulation block in the field is easily done.


    Without any type of sealant during laboratory testing with conditions of -40 F outdoor and reduced thermostat settings inside, the system performed as depicted. If additional “sealing” is wanted, easy enough with closed cell foam gap filler like “Great Stuff”. That said, you don’t need it.


    As to the whim of the installer that’s what we’re trying to address. Whims in August give birth to Disasters in January. FREEZEBLOCKER coordinates the PLACEMENT of the pipe on, along or within the framing members and matches this installation location with the appropriate insulation component. This makes MAXIMUM and PREDICTABLE use of transient building heat essentially sealing and creating a thermal “short circuit” path directing this heat into the piping.


    We have developed pieces for every frame size and  pipe placement direction and location. If there are odd places that don’t fit into the system then reverting back to previous methods could likely be used. That said the entire system would be more thermally resilient if the majority of it was insulated in an enhanced manner and I am of the opinion that installing Freezeblocker insulation block is not only more effective but easier than fitting rolls of batting insulation under, around or on top of piping.


    Finally, if a pipe freezes, they come looking for you, not Owens Corning.
    FREEZEBLOCKER tm - Engineered Freeze Protection Piping Insulation
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,881

    Interesting product.  And I quite agree, much better than casual fiberglass or whatever.


    Maybe I'm just a born pessimist.  I'd rather think I'm a realist.  The power does fail.  At least around my place -- and I'm not in the back woods -- we can pretty well count on having the power fail for over 24 hours at least once, if not a couple of times, every winter.

    If you do not have someone present in the building, it is going to get below freezing in there.  It may anyway, if you don't have some way to either get auxiliary electricity or auxiliary heat, but it you don't, it's guaranteed.  And, if you don't have someone to drain the system, and the system does not have antifreeze in it, it's going to freeze, and pipes are going to burst.

    I quite agree with Ice -- systems with glycol in them are a pain to work on.  And if the seals etc. aren't compatible with glycol, that could be a problem.

    However, as I said before, I have seen houses which were totally destroyed by the after effects of frozen heating pipes.

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • John1961John1961 Member Posts: 10
    Well again.. yea but..

    Hi Jamie


    Yes, I agree, if the power goes out and no-one drains the pipe, unless your burning wood to maintain heat, the pipes will freeze.


    Remember this though, of the causes of frozen pipes, they are interrelated.


    The more thermally efficient a pipe is insulated with FREEZEBLOCKER:

    -         The longer it will take to freeze in the event of a power failure than with current methods.

    -         The lower (NOT OFF) a thermostat can be set than with current methods saving fuel costs like in unoccupied buildings.

    -         More time is available for a repair person to return a boiler back into service before pipes freeze.



    From a performance point of view, I think that FREEZEBLOCKER is “almost” like moving the pipes into the interior conditioned space.. without actually doing so..
    FREEZEBLOCKER tm - Engineered Freeze Protection Piping Insulation
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