Digga we musta. Again.

Right. So back in late December we learned to our displeasure that the plumbers hired to install a whole bunch of water equipment at Ian’s Cave had taken it upon themselves to remove my shut-off valve from the tank at the top of the ridge. This meant that I couldn’t fix the relatively simple leak at the Lair’s yard faucet until I drained the whole freaking tank.

I turned the water pump off a couple of weeks ago and have slowly been using up the contents since, hoping that an empty tank will coincide with workable weather. March is not really known for its predictable weather here – April’s not a lot better, but one can usually get some work done. No problem – I’ve gone whole winters without running water. Can’t do a thing with the actual plumbing until the tank’s empty. Tobie and I checked the tank this morning and it’s well over half empty so we’re getting there.

Now, if it were only a matter of a split faucet the actual repair would be simplicity itself. I’d even be tempted to try it with pressure in the pipe. But it’s not that simple. At a minimum I need a new shut-off valve, which may as well be put at the logical place at the Lair itself. And a spreading circle of wet ground around the pipe told me that the faucet wasn’t the only thing that split during that cold snap. Probably I was going to have to replace the upright. Which means digging the whole thing up. Again.

And it’s a nice warm day with nothing else scheduled, so it’s time to start digging.

As soon as I cleared a little dirt from the upright I confirmed that the PVC is indeed split. If I have to do the whole thing I’m really tempted to just put in one of those “freezeproof” hydrants at last. But those things cost the world and aren’t actually freezeproof at all – in fact they seem like fairly constant maintenance items to my neighbors, while I haven’t had that much trouble with my cheap expedient PVC-wrapped-with-black-insulation. Y’know – before now, anyway.

I have the new shut-off valve and a new cover. I have everything I need to replace the faucet and pipe. So it’s just a matter of finishing the chore of digging it all up while gradually draining the tank. Then another hour or two of muddy labor and I’ll be good till something happens again. Last time I dug it all up was five years ago to the month. That was the time both shut-off gate valves failed at the same time. Replaced them with expensive ball valves, one of which apparently went home with the plumbers.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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4 Responses to Digga we musta. Again.

  1. Jim Price says:

    What kinds of problems are your neighbors having with their hydrants? I have frost-proof hydrants that have been in place for over 25 years trouble free. You have to make sure they are installed with the valve below the frost line. I believe mine are 3-4 feet down.

    A cheap alternative would be to install a ball valve in the water line in a meter box below the frost line and upstream from the above ground tap. Shut it off and insulate the box prior to winter. That’s how my irrigation system is protected.

  2. Arnold says:

    +1 to Jim Price’s meter box idea, but it cannot hurt to put it another foot below grade, or two if the pipe allows for it. Actually, unless there’s need to access it, the insulation can remain year round (FYI, polyisocyanurate is R-5 /inch, Underground – aka: 25 PSI rated – styrofoam is R-5/inch). And, put a second valve inside the box to allow draining the pipe downstream.

    And, as long as the tank is empty, maybe an “emergency emptying valve with outlet” somewhere upstream might be a good idea in case it ever needs to be emptied again and you’d prefer the mud was somewhere else.

    As for insulating your above-ground piping, I have found common 4″ PVC drain pipe works – measure from spigot to 1 ft underground, drill 1/2″ holes about 5 inches apart 180 degrees opposed on its length, cut lengthwise, spread and wrap around the pipe, and center the 4″ around the exposed pipe. Inject 2-part closed cell spray foam – R 6.5/inch – through the holes until it comes out the holes opposite and above. then move up and continue. That gives you about R-10 around the pipe and I’ve not had an exposed pipe freeze down to overnight temps of 10F. Colder than that, or forecast 24 hour temps in the low 20s means I have to drain the exposed pipe anyway.

  3. RCPete says:

    One hard winter, I had all three of my “freezeproof” hydrants freeze up. I know that two start 3′ below ground, along with the line from the pumphouse. I don’t know about the third, but in all cases, I’d been using them a bit, briefly. I think that with short usage and really cold weather, ice was building up on the walls of the pipe, and eventually there was enough ice to block the valve. Perhaps, if I ran the water for an extended time, the interior ice would melt. Come Spring, all worked fine. Haven’t tried long runs in the winter since.

    I got foam pipewrap, backed up the adhesive with zip ties, and stopped using them unless absolutely necessary when it’s well below freezing. So far, so good. Of course, the past two years, we haven’t gone subzero all winter. Our record cold happened about 12 years ago when we hit -28F. The day before was about -15 when I discovered that the insulation for the house cutoff had been knocked out of place. Didn’t lose the valve or the pipes, but needed a space heater before I could get flow. Did fine the next day with the -28 and the insulation blanket properly located.

    Oh yeah, uninsulated ball valves can go south if they have water in the hollow ball when they’re turned off. Some have a weep hole to drain that residual water, but these didn’t, and I lost a couple of 3/4″ valves. Now I make sure the line is drained before closing the valve.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s hard to tell without feeling it, but that soil looks like it’d be pretty darn good with the addition of organic matter.
    If I were you, I’d become a pear mogul and pay some sucker to fix the plumbing.
    My path to plumbing peace involved getting my wife involved. Now all I have to do is call out the problem on my way to the pool and it gets magically fixed. Eventually.

To the stake with the heretic!