Frozen plumbing vents

Discussion in 'XDTalk Chatter Box' started by cyclescan, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. cyclescan

    cyclescan XDTalk 100 Member

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    Yeah, not really gun related, but I know there are some plumbers on the forum, so I thought I'd throw this out for anyone who might have some ideas.

    I've recently been experiencing freeze-ups in both PVC vent pipes that penetrate the roof (a 4" and a 2"). In the past 3 days, they've both frozen over twice now and I can see ice chunks sticking out the top. Our roofline is about 26' above ground and kind of a scary pitch, so going up there (especially when there is a bit of snow/ice) really isn't my idea of fun.

    Are there any types of boots or something I could add to maybe prevent this from happening? When these freeze-ups occur, our house stinks of sewer gas. Going forward, would insulating these pipes in the unheated attic space help anything, or how about installing an upside down 'wye' adapter so I could possibly snake these vents from within the attic? Maybe even try some heat tape on the pipes in the attic (although that sounds like a potential fire hazard!!) Good ideas - bad? Obviously, this wouldn't be a permanent solution (I don't want to have to snake this out every couple of days necessarily), but would sure beat having to shimmy up onto the roof and pray I don't kill myself!

    Thanks for any insight!
     
  2. Terry

    Terry XDTalk 1K Member

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    This happens all the time up here in Alaska. The best way to thaw them out is to steam the lines from your drain pipe. You either have a pumping and thawing Co. do it, or you can find a rental co. that has a high pressure steamer and do it yourself. Force the steam through the lines until you can see steam coming out of the vents.. You could run a heat tape on the vent pipe from the attic up to the top of the vent pipe. That would make me a little nervous. If you have squirrels that may chew on the wire.

    Install a clean out on your vent pipe so you can do everything from inside of the house. You should not have to go up onto the roof. On a single family home you could try blowing heat ( hot air gun) through a cleanout on your vent pipe.


    I have to steam ours every two weeks. Once you get it thawed out good, the natural heat produced well help keep it ice free. Even at 40 below. I'm also steaming out an apartment complex with 75 unites and three stories high. Total of 25 vents. A lot of natural heat from the sewer lines.
     
  3. cyclescan

    cyclescan XDTalk 100 Member

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    Thanks Terry - no squirrels that I'm aware of, but something about the heat tape makes me nervous too. As for the steam idea, I like it, but I'd have to invest in the equipment myself, as I've had this happen twice in the last 3-4 days, and the bitter cold winter temps. are just beginning. For a one-time application, I like this, but I'm quickly discovering this may be a repeat problem all throughout winter unfortunately..ugh!
     
  4. TKH

    TKH XDTalk 500 Member

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    Try a length of rain gutter heater wire around pipe. It doesn't get hot enough to melt the PVC.
     
  5. thetravlor

    thetravlor XDTalk 2K Member Founding Member

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    I live in MN and have only heard of septic tanks freezing to cause problems. How long have you lived there and has this been a problem in the past? Is it a problem on all the vents? I can't figure out how you would get a sewer gas odor. Are your sinks and toilets draining properly?
     
  6. Terry

    Terry XDTalk 1K Member

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    As long as all of the P-Traps have water in them, you should not get any oder. He may have a P- trap that is leaking and not know it yet, or a sink someplace that has not been used for a while and the water in the trap has evaporated.
     
  7. cyclescan

    cyclescan XDTalk 100 Member

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    Thanks all - this is the first I've experienced this issue as well. However, after speaking with others, I'm amazed at how many others have reported the same thing. Plus, as I drive around now, I oftentimes look to see what others have done with their vent pipe configurations and am noticing quite a few ice chunks and such stuck in the top of vents just like I have. No telling if they also are experiencing the odors though.

    Anyway, we've lived in the house for 4-years, and no, haven't had this happen in the past. I don't know where the sewer gases are coming in at, but I can certainly confirm they are there...AGAIN. The house is not that large, so all of the traps have water in them - even the downstairs floor drain that might go unused. It's a single-bath and single kitchen setup, so there really aren't any hidden/unused components that I may have overlooked. However, an unknown leak is certainly a possibility as was mentioned.

    Currently, it's cold, but very little snow for this time of year. Could it be that in the past, the snow has built up around the pipes on the roof and offered some type of insulation, thus preventing this? It's a mystery to me, but one I need to figure out quick and find a permanent solution.
     
  8. CGT80

    CGT80 XDTalk Member

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    It is possible to have a bad seal at the base of the toilet. I have seen this problem in some restaurants. I don't understand how the vent is icing up. Is there steam coming out of it? Snow or rain freezing to it? Is the vent completely blocked?

    One thought I just had, if this is happening often, is to run a garden hose to the top of the vent at the roof and attach it there. You could then run hot water through the hose to clean out or deice the vent. After you finish unhook the hose and let the water run out the bottom, then leave the hose in place so you can do it next time without getting on the roof.

    You could also try to put a cover over the top of the vent pipe like what water heater vents have. It would keep rain and snow out but still let the air flow through.
     
  9. Terry

    Terry XDTalk 1K Member

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    You say that you have not had the problem in past years. When you had a build up of snow around the vent pipe. Just a thought but what if you where to place some Styrofoam or spray on foam insulation on the vent pipe from the roof line up to the top.
     
  10. uk_pony

    uk_pony XDTalk 100 Member

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    The primary purpose of the vents is to equalize the water pressure in your drains every time you empty water from a sink, drain the bathtub, or flush the toilet. Without them, the pressure would need to equalize through another fixture - so flushing the toilet may mean one of the sinks makes a gurgling noise as the air is forced out of the drainage pipes to make way for whatever it is you are flushing (and having come from the sewers that air is going to smell).

    You should not have any liquid up there to freeze.

    It sounds like you may have a real problem that needs investigating. Lazy plumbers may even dry fit the vent pipes (after all its only supposed to vent air, not liquid). If you have liquid up there, then I'd question where is it coming from, and equally where is it draining to (if the pipework is dry fitted it may be draining some of this in to wall cavities, roof space, etc. Where did the frozen liquid originate - the sewer? Like I said you want this checked out.
     

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