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Ok, how much trouble am I in?

First off, allow me to say "hello" to everyone as this is my first post here (though I've been lurking... and hopefully learning). Second, this is far from my chosen profession and therefore I my knowledge in the matter is extremely limited (yes, I'm a HO). It sounds rather odd to admit that in such terms... but whatever acronym you guys like! :^)

The problem started Sunday night at 11:30 when I realized it was quite cold in the house. Having a major Northeaster the previous 2 days I didn't worry too much (and probably should have). I checked the thermostat and it showed 62. I then checked the 'ol Utica oil boiler (original I'm sure... house was built in '79), and it was stone cold. The reset button only fired the boiler for 15 seconds or so before it shut off again. I guessed the lines leading into the house (tank is exterior) had frozen (gelled I believe is the appropriate term). After several hours of working with a torch in -3 degrees I gave up and went to bed (after turning on two space heaters on the first floor bathroom and utility sink area). Upon waking the house temp was 52 so I thought I was safe.
The fuel oil service guy tuned my Utica (replaced the nozzle and strainer) and it fired up with no problem. I thought I was out of the woods. I didn't think too much of it when I didn't have any hot water that evening. I assumed it would take quite a while to heat the house and water in the booster tank. The house was warming up so I just went to bed.
Today upon waking and attempting a shower... I was rudely assualted with very cold water (a quick shower to say the least). I checked the booster tank and all incoming and outgoing pipes were cold. The serviceman came out again and after watching my water meter running and then turning off the hot supply to the booster tank from the Utica that I have a burst pipe under my concrete slab.
Now, this may very well be true (unfortunately). But I have a few questions. If I had such a burst pipe why is my hot water pressure still good? Secondly, how could such a pipe freeze when the house temp didn't go below 50 and no other pipes froze and burst? I looked all over the house (mostly the first floor walls with known plumbing) to inspect for water damage and found none. Given the amount of flow shown by the water meter I would expect a massive amount of water damage to be apparent after 2 days of flow. I also looked around the foundation outside.. especially the approximate point where the copper enters the slab for any signs of water or thawing... but found none. So, just how screwed am I? If there is a rupture under the slab how does one fix it? Or do I just bypass the underground portion and have a chase installed?
Opinions and theories from all would be greatly appreciated as I'm frustrated to the point of burning it down and starting over! :^)


  • gerry gillgerry gill Member Posts: 2,668

    for slab leaks you either jackhammer down and fix it or reroute the pipe..leak detection (location) is more art than'd be best to have a company such as american leak detection or someone like that locate the leak, then your plumber will take it from there..

    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • hrhr Member Posts: 6,106
    Probably not related

    takes quite a while for pipes to freeze under slabs. ground temperature that deep runs in the 50-60°s.

    Copper has been known to fail in, and under, slabs. Could be a fitting, or just a hole from corrosion or contact with rebar. Any cracks or movement in the slab?

    If rerouting it is not a big deal, it's probably going to be less expensive than a leak detection, slab chop, and repair.

    If in fact the slab or other conditions are going after the copper you may be in for more repairs. Reroute above the slab would be my advice.

    hot rod

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  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8

    My thoughts exactly HR... installing a new chase (re-routing) sounds like the best plan. I've also considered the idea of the concrete reacting with the copper causing wear... but the coincidence with the boiler failure and cold weather sure makes one wonder. On the other hand... the pipes should NOT have froze in the first place as I previously mentioned and you seem to agree. I guess it doesn't matter why (other than the fact that I'm very curious by nature and like to learn from such experiences). I'll have to re-route. Won't be easy... but probably much simpler than finding the leak (and I'll avoid any future problems that way). Thanks!
  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8

    Oh, forgot to answer the question regarding movement. None that I can see... everything looks solid.
  • WeezboWeezbo Member Posts: 6,232
    Water follows pipe.

    so if i put pipe in a ditch,and it leaks at the house it will run along the pipe down to the street and down along the pipe to the fire hydrant and sometimes resurface along the side of one of them in frozen ground and everyone Thinks the fire hydrants "leaking".
  • ScottScott Member Posts: 5,884
    weezbo right

    it could be following the pipe back away from the house.

    When you shut off the meter, the dial on the meter stops moving ? You said you had no hot water to the shower but had good preasure ? Where was the preasure good, you said the pipes at the tank were cold ?

    What I am getting at is, can you isolate where the pipe is frozen ? Which fixture ?

    A split and leaking pipe is one thing, a frozen pipe that does not allow water to come out of the shower is something different all together. You may have two problems.


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  • tim smithtim smith Member Posts: 2,226

    Just finished replacing underground return system, overhead feed with 5 drops into slab. House was just remodled 1.5 years ago but the old main returns failed. Located all drops in walls, opened up walls and ceiling and repiped in copper at ceiling. Put balancing valves on all returns when we got into boiler room so we could balance to the remaining old overhead returns. Took 5 days and now they are sheetrocking. Worked out great. Good luck.
  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8
    A bit more...

    ... information that may help (or may not). Yes, when I turn off the water main the meter stops completely... so the leak is on my side (or under) the house. The water pressue throughout the house is unchanged.. odd as with such a leak I would expect a drop in pressure. Note that I'm getting water from both the hot and cold thus the pipes are not frozen (as that would indicate no flow) but more likely split (since I still have flow)in the hot pipe and possibly the cold as well (as turning off the hot water does not completely stop the water meter but slows it). I guess it's also possible that I could have a small leak or split in the hot water heating system as well (also goes under slab at points) and that would explain the continued meter spin.
    I have a plumber coming out in 30 minutes... hopefully I'll know more soon!
  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8

    Well, it's official... I'm in a world of hurt. My fears were correct and the leak is under the slab. Really odd since I still have pressure but I guess it's a leak...not a full rupture. Anyway, I'll have to re-route the pipes! Thanks all for your help. Now, it's time to find a good boiler installer... I'll check the "find a pro" link.
  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8
    Insurance woes and boiler questions

    The nightmare continues as now a well named insurance company (ok, it's Allstate) is refusing to pay for any pipe repairs as the leaks are underneath the slab where they say freezing isn't possible. While I agree it's less likely to freeze under concrete I don't believe it was a coincidence that my heat went out due to the fuel oil turning to gel and suddenly I have no hot water after the boiler is back on. They argue that I would have had additional burst pipes throughout the house. Probably true... if I hadn't put space heaters in all bathrooms and halls believed to contain plumbing (I'm not an idiot... but now I wish I was... maybe then I would receive some compensation!). Any thoughts, opinions or experience with frozen pipes under a slab? Allstate believes it doesn't happen and my plumber is not willing to give an opinion. Which leads me to ask... any good/great plumbers with boiler installation experience in the Fairfield County CT area? Thanks all!

  • Matt J.Matt J. Member Posts: 13
    Just a couple

    of guestions does the copper that goes under the slab have any insulation around it where it goes through the floor? I've found the copper no insulation concrete and hot water running through it don't mix. Typically at or just before below the slab is where it happens. Water leaks under a slab or anywhere under ground came be tough to find water will travel where there is the least resists (ditches for the under ground plumbing anything that ben put under the slab. Plus if the ground is froze outside it can travel along ways. Is there anyway to reroute it above ground.

  • I would not be surprised that the burst points happen where the tubing is #1, not encased in concrete and #2, in the least likely place to freeze.

    Ice forms elsewhere in the pipe, which puts pressure on incompressible water, which bursts at the weakest point in the pipe. I.E. where it's not in concrete, most likely, if it can.

    I couldn't prove it for you in a court of law, but I don't see your situation as that unlikely, unless I'm reading something wrong.

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  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8

    Yes, I certainly plan to re-route. The problem is getting the insurance company to help pay for it! They don't seem to understand that water can freeze prior to the pipe entering the slab and put additional pressure on elbows and/or unions (the weakest point) under the slab.

    No, there is no obvious insulation over the pipe entering the slab. And yes, I'm aware of the reaction between copper and concrete... especially with hot water pipes. However, I somehow can't discount the fact that the weather was so cold it turned the fuel oil to gel. Pipe freezing had to play a role at some point... and this is what the insurance company wants to ignore.
  • V. BowmanV. Bowman Member Posts: 8

    Exactly my opinion Rob (at least I think that is what you are saying)! The point of freezing is not always the point of rupture. Certainly ice takes up more volume than water and thus an increase of pressure would be exerted upon the water further down the pipe. Makes sense to me.

    Now, who on earth do I turn to for local help in this matter? Apparently most plumbers are simply too busy to sign on for such a job (though I don't think re-routing would be terribly difficult and will probably do it myself... however I know better than to attempt a boiler installation!). Such fun!
  • ConstantinConstantin Member Posts: 3,782
    I have heard several people recommend as a good franchise to find leaks in water systems. It may be worth a try. Good luck!
  • Larry WeingartenLarry Weingarten Member Posts: 1,177

    Hello: If you can find the leaky pipe and have a look it might help. A burst pipe looks completely different than one corroded through. Photos in place might help prove the case. This would involve cutting out concrete. :~(

    Yours, Larry
  • stevesteve Member Posts: 185

    Is it possible that this leak has been there for some time... you did mention that you had no noticable pressure drop in your domestic.

    The only way you found out, was because you lost heat and now assume the leak is from freeze up.

  • David EfflandtDavid Efflandt Member Posts: 152
    Example of burst between freeze points

    While living in an apartment and pipes supplying hydronic baseboard froze (wall overhang at -25 F,-80 F wind chill), it did not burst where it froze. The pressure from ice moving in from both ends burst the middle of the baseboard. Due to the frozen ends, no water came out of it at that time other than the initial shot when it burst.

    After burst baseboard was repaired, it did not start flowing hot water through the baseboard for a couple of days (sunny temperatures near freezing). I imagine that if I had not been there to hear it burst, and not had it repaired, it would have gushed water all over my bedroom when the pipes thawed.

    That is besides pump seals blowing out every spring over laundry room when they left the system running with no heat demand. So I am happy to have 1-pipe steam now.
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