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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Yoo-taw
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    10

    Default Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    Howdy!

    First post on this board, so I guess I should introduce myself.

    The Intro:
    I'm a fairly handy guy. I've done construction before, and can do plumbing, electrical, sheetrock (but not particularly well) and lots of other things. I'm Air Force, and have a particular job that reinforces the fact that I'm fairly mechanically inclined. When my wife and I moved out to Utah, we bought an older place (built 1972) instead of renting--it's a two-story with the basement 1/2 below grade, and the second story soffit is about 4' above grade. Tom Hanks and Shelley Long haven't shown up yet, but I reckon it's just a matter of time.

    The Question:
    First work we did on the place was to gut the upstairs bathroom and refinish it. With studs exposed, I can see where previous owners 'Frankenstiened' together plumbing, to go from copper, to PEX, to copper again, and back to PEX . . . all on the same run of water line. They ran hot/cold PEX between floor joists, out a soffit & up an exterior wall, then back into an interior wall to the shower valve of the upstairs bathroom. We hadn't used this bathroom when we moved in because the plastic surround was cracked, so we simply used the downstairs bathroom. This is the first winter we've had the upstairs finished, and have been using the bathroom, so we never had any idea things were wrong with the house. We've since torn out the downstairs bath, to get that moving along as well.

    The past few weeks, we had a cold snap and some minor freezing in the PEX lines, that cut off water to the upstairs bathroom. I've insulated underneath and 'outboard' of the PEX lines as best I could from the cold, but on occasion, it will still take 5 minutes of a hair dryer from inside the house to warm them up enough so they flow.

    I don't want to close up the walls without figuring something out, or leaving a bigger problem for later. The upstairs shower's already tiled (did that when it was warmer, before this was a known problem). Any ideas or suggestions while I still 'have time'?

    Thanks
    - Oswald
    EOD - Initial Success or Total Failure!
    DISCLAIMER: All thoughts and ideas put forth in this communication are sole property of the voices in my head. 1998-2013 - 'The Voices' (TM). All rights reserved.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    829

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    don't know what the code in utah is but in the north east it's illegal to run water supply lines in exterior walls for just the reason you mentioned. also, keep in mind that pex is less likely than copper to burst when frozen but it's still very possible.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,381

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    Closing up the wall is actually going to make it worse. The only real solution is to reroute the lines and keep them out of the exterior wall all together. If that is impossible, then you will need to use a heat cable for the pipes. Thats a long thin heater type wire that you run next to the pipe or wrap around the pipe.

    http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/cata...gry=Search+All

    Most heat cables come with a built in thermostat set to some temperature just above freezing and I think they use somewhere around 7 watts per foot. I would suggest that for this application that you run a separate circuit for these wires so that you can switch them off in the summer at the circuit box.

    The big disadvantage with the electric heat cable is that in a power outage, the pipes will freeze.

    EOD, thats like one strike and your out isn't it?
    Last edited by keith3267; 01-05-2013 at 01:01 PM. Reason: add link

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Yoo-taw
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    Quote Originally Posted by keith3267 View Post
    EOD, thats like one strike and your out isn't it?
    Yes, yes it is. I can fix explosives & IEDs, but this house? Man alive, I think I've met my match.

    Quote Originally Posted by keith3267 View Post
    Closing up the wall is actually going to make it worse. The only real solution is to reroute the lines and keep them out of the exterior wall all together. If that is impossible, then you will need to use a heat cable for the pipes. Thats a long thin heater type wire that you run next to the pipe or wrap around the pipe.

    Most heat cables come with a built in thermostat set to some temperature just above freezing and I think they use somewhere around 7 watts per foot. I would suggest that for this application that you run a separate circuit for these wires so that you can switch them off in the summer at the circuit box.

    The big disadvantage with the electric heat cable is that in a power outage, the pipes will freeze.
    That link you posted is actually helpful! I am going to stick a camera down past the medallion into the wall, to see if I can reroute the PEX or not (if I have room). Otherwise, I may have to insulate & heat wrap. are those heat cables able to be hardwired into a circuit (do they make them that way?).

    - Oz
    EOD - Initial Success or Total Failure!
    DISCLAIMER: All thoughts and ideas put forth in this communication are sole property of the voices in my head. 1998-2013 - 'The Voices' (TM). All rights reserved.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,381

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    The come with a plug, but I cut that off and hardwired mine that I use at my well.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Yoo-taw
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    So, on a little more inspection, and a pinhole-camera I used, I found that the PEX lines actually are on an interior wall, but just happen to extend down into the soffit, and then back into the house. I went to the store and grabbed some foam pipe insulation, and am giving it a try. . .

    - Oz
    EOD - Initial Success or Total Failure!
    DISCLAIMER: All thoughts and ideas put forth in this communication are sole property of the voices in my head. 1998-2013 - 'The Voices' (TM). All rights reserved.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    5,103

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    Foam pipe insulation is a step in the right direction, but may not be enough.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,381

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    Pipe insulation may not be a step in the right direction. You need some heat from inside the house to get to the pipes and if you insulate them, you might block that. The key is to get the pipes inside the insulated envelope.

    Maybe you could look into a rigid foam sheet that you could cut up and make a three sided box to inclose the pipes in. Bring the pipes as close to the inside as possible, but do insulate between the hot and cold pipes too. Use a little insulation foam in a can to seal the seams of the box up, or use it to make wrap around insulation on three sides of the pipe.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    South*East
    Posts
    1,168

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    I agree with Kieth. I don't like pipe covering to prevent lines from freezing. As Keith said the covering insulates the pipe from any heat source. Keep in mind insulation doesn't create heat. You can put ten layers of pipe covering on a pipe but if there is no heat source it will freeze.

    John

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Location
    Yoo-taw
    Posts
    10

    Default Re: Frozen PEX lines in a soffit.

    You guys are right, and I leaned in that direction. I told my wife about the "insulation envelope" and how we needed to keep most of the PEX lines on the inside of it. I wrapped the 'furthestmost' PEX in insulation, but even I know it was a quick and dirty method--it doesn't generate heat.

    We have friends with an exact same layout, and they ended up putting a heated wrap around the lines in their soffit. I don't know where they powered it from, but I'm considering running a GFCI outlet to the soffit access panel (inside of it), and plugging in the heat line (like Keith linked to) to that. At least that way A) it's protected on a GFCI line, and B) I can switch off the heater by tripping the breaker from the panel.

    I need to work on posting more so I can hang pictures up on the site to show you what I'm dealing with.

    - Oz
    EOD - Initial Success or Total Failure!
    DISCLAIMER: All thoughts and ideas put forth in this communication are sole property of the voices in my head. 1998-2013 - 'The Voices' (TM). All rights reserved.

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