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Is this water pump house in danger of freezing?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by yurij, Nov 12, 2007.

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  1. yurij

    yurij New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2007
    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Catskill Mtns, NY
    Hi - This is a bit of a story so please bare with me. I have a house in the Catskills Mountain's , NY. The house gets its water from a well which is housed in an "pump" house. This pump house is a wooden structure (no heating) on a 10x10 ft concrete slab, with a 5x5 hole on it that is concrete lined. this hole is about 6' deep. The well pump is situated at the bottom of the hole, on a 1/2 foot pedestal. The well line comes out of the floor (of this 6'foot hole) for about a foot, and then goes horizontally through the concrete walls and then underground to the house.
    My family has owned this property for a 45 years and we have always closed up the house for the winter. That included draining the water from all the water lines, including the line from the main house to the pump house. I have rebuilt the house for use in the winter and want to know what to do about this pump house.
    I am concerned that the water will freeze in either the pump or the line to the main house. The frost line is probably about 4 feet in this area. And even though the pipes are below that line, they are exposed to air in this hole/cavity. The cavity is covered with a large wooden trap door and the entire thing is enclosed a wooden shed, but we have prolonged cold during the winter, sometimes weeks where the temperature does not go above freezing, and i think that the pipes would freeze there. The water would not be running for weeks at a time since i would only use the house on weekends at most 2x per month. I believe that the previous owners of the house (built in 1880) did spend the winters in the house so the water lines in the pump house could not have frozen, but they probably used the water daily.
    So what do people with a similar situation do in this situation? I could wrap "heat-tape" around the pipes/pump, and i could insulate the cavity and put a heater in there, or is any of this really needed? help!
    Of course there is a twist, and its really a separate issue. I recently noticed a large crack in the wall of the cavity, about 2 feet down from ground level. The crack is not serious enough for a structural issue, but when it rains, plenty of water accumulates at the bottom of the cavity, 5" last i looked. That water eventually drains through the a drain in the bottom of the cavity, but I am pretty sure that I need to seal up this crack. I don't want to dig up the outside wall of the cavity since near this wall runs a drainage ditch which has running water when it rains. I fear that if I disturb the natural course of that water, then the drainage ditch will drain toward the wall with the "repaired" crack. And since its unlikely the repair will be 100% this might make matters worse. I should seal it from within. What should I use? Hydraulic cement? Roofing cement? I should probably chip away at the crack to get a clean edge. However, as long as the water drains away, do i even need to do anything here?
    Thanks for reading and looking forward to suggestions. -yurij

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  2. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2005
    Messages:
    917
    Loc:
    Deltaville,VA
    Is the well pump a jet pump? Is the bladder tank above ground in the pump house?

    Most pump houses I've seen are insulated and sealed, and use a 60 watt light bulb out there for heat.

    A pic would be nice.
  3. yurij

    yurij New Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Catskill Mtns, NY
    I can't post a pick of the interior until next weekend, when i visit again. but here is picture of the exterior.

    Attached Files:

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  4. stonehouse

    stonehouse New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2007
    Messages:
    80
    Loc:
    Hudson Valley
    Welcome to the hudson valley and its' strange water.
    I think we have so many issues because supply the city.
    Youre not alone but I don't know what to tell ya.
    I'm outside new palz. Where are you?
  5. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    I think you need to insulate the pump house and provide heat set to say 40 degrees. and seal up any holes and insulate them heat tape on the pipe is useless if the pump freezes
  6. TMonter

    TMonter Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2007
    Messages:
    1,493
    Loc:
    Hayden, ID
    Best insulation for a pump house believe it or not is straw. As the straw decays it lets off heat preventing freezing. I have a friend who insulates his pump house every winter in this manner.
  7. triptester

    triptester Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2006
    Messages:
    271
    Loc:
    S.E.Wisconsin
    Most larger commercial and industrial buildings use what is called a meter pit for their fire protection water supply. These pits are about 6 feet square and 6 to 8 feet deep with a steel manhole cover and never a heater.
    In over 30 years I have never found one that froze . Some of these pits have been around for over 100 years. These are most common in northern climates.
  8. yurij

    yurij New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2007
    Messages:
    53
    Loc:
    Catskill Mtns, NY
    First, thx everyone for responding. I'll answer in order as best as I can:

    Sandor - I have no idea what type of pump it is. But I am pretty sure it is in this cavity and not at the bottom of the well. My uunderstanding is that new pumps sit at the bottom of the well and push the water up, whereas I believe this one sits at the top of the well and pulls the water up (that probably limits the height of the well, does anyone know what that is?) In the cavity is a 1Hp motor which drives a piston like device via a belt (much like a table saw). The entire structure is make of iron had that 1920's look with its curves. The motor is relatively new (i remember it being replaced 20 years ago), the pump is ancient, but has never stopped working. Its a pretty large volume to heat with a 60watt bulb, 5x5x6, but if its insulated and well sealed it would probably work. unless of couse the bulb burns out.

    Stonehouse - I am between Hunter and Tannersville (12485 zipcode). And yes, the DEP is the local, absolute tyrant. what they say is law. And some of it does not make sense (even in extreme situations). I had a very difficult time with the septic approval.

    Elkimmeg - I was hoping that since the cavity floor is about 6' beneath ground level, and the pipes/pump about 5' feet, I am beneath the frost line and the water would not freeze. I am relying on the ground to do the heating (for a change). However, this is pure speculation. If I do insulate, I would use the sytofoam panels (2" thick?) against the concrete on the walls, and also put it on the underside of the trap door. I wouldn't do the floor. I would seal the corners with foam. Again, this is just a guess. Not sure what to do for heat, light bulb can burn out so might have some sort of timer with a heat plate (for reptiles). Just needs watts dumped in there. Maybe heat tape wrapped around the pump also?

    TMonter - Straw! Would I put this witin the cavity, or sitting on top of the trap door? The shed has no insulation. Its a nice idea (very natural, etc...) but i am not sure if the heat is enough. And if its at the bottom of the cavity, the cleanup might be a pain after awahile.

    triptester - I was/am hoping that my "pit" is one of these and everything will just work. The fact that the meter pits are used for fire water, does that mean its not used most of the time? I.e. it withstands prolonged period of still water? That would be exactly what I am doing. But again, seems like its difficult to rely on this.

    I seems clear to me that I need to monitor the temperature in the cavity (for my own peace of mind). Does anyone know of a setup that I can buy to do this? It would record the temperature, and I would be able to monitor this on the web, or it would email me if the temperture drops below T. I would need this for the house also incase there is power failure, etc... At least I could drive up there and start a fire in my high-efficiency fireplace and keep the house warm.
  9. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Loc:
    Northeastern MA (near Lowell)
    Absolute maximum you can lift with a suction pump is 33 feet, and efficiency drops drasticly the more suction head you have, starts getting real nasty after about 10-15' of lift, so I'm guessing your water table must be about 5-10 feet below the bottom of the hole. If your pump is at the top of the well, then it has to be a suction pump AFAIK.

    I would insulate the heck out of the tank cover, and the walls of the tank that are above the frost line. Below the frost line, the ground temp is usually pretty stable, stays in the 50's year round, and should be enough to keep your chamber warm enough. Possibly some heat tape on the plumbing and a heater in the space as insurance, but I don't think you'd need them. I'd also consider insulating the pump house as well.

    Not sure how well that would work, but I would guess in the building, stacked around the walls.

    Again, it depends on if everything stays below the frost line, and you limit the heat loss out the top.

    There are all sorts of temperature monitoring setups out there which can be programmed to do either live monitoring feeds to a website, e-mail you, or even call you on the telephone (at multiple numbers perhaps) - some of these can also be tied into burglar alarms. You could even make a deal with someone local to respond if needed? The monitoring part is probably one of the easiest things to solve, just takes throwing a moderate sum of money at the problem - how much depends on how fancy you want to get.

    Gooserider
  10. JustWood

    JustWood Minister of Fire

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    3,524
    Loc:
    Arrow Bridge,NY
    I have a well house similar to this but no structure over it . Just a water tight cover. In 15 years have never insulated it and have never had a freeze up. We do get up to 4 feet of snow which does help insulate the cover.
  11. freebird77

    freebird77 Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2007
    Messages:
    282
    I useddd to have a similar setup with my jet pump. Had to have heat tapes and a couple heat lamps, which work, and fortunatly, the power never went out when it was very cold Good luck
  12. yurij

    yurij New Member

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    53
    Loc:
    Catskill Mtns, NY
    Thanks for all the responses. I attached a picture of the inside of the pump house. I have decided to
    1) seal the crack around the foundation so there is no leaking. The builder dug aournd the pump house to expose the crack, cleaned it out as best he could, and filled it with hydraulic cement. Inside and out.
    2) i will insulate the walls and the ceiling of the trap door with 1 or 2" of polystyrene (or something similiar)
    3) i will add a small heater there in the pump house
    4) i will NOT put heat tape around the pipes or pump, i figure the small heater should be enough.
    5) i will put some sensors in there to record the temperature. to make sure that what i've done is enough.

    btw, the town of hunter code inspector tells me that several years ago it was so cold one winter that the frost line was 8'. he said several water lines froze (his also) for several weeks. so much for the 4' rule of thumb.

    Attached Files:

  13. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Sounds like a reasonable plan... Should provide protection aganst all but the sort of winter the inspector was telling you about - if you get one of those, there isn't going to be much you can do about it, so not much sense in worrying...

    Gooserider
  14. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    All that you need is an extension cord and a clamp on aluminum light. Last year we had a freeze up on the 1/4 inch line on the points. Dad told me I have to plug it in when it gets close to zero. We had below zero weather for about 4 days and thats all it took. So when Its cold, I just plug in the heat lamp and it does just fine. On occasion just peek to make sure there is light. Works like a charm.
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