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Somewhat urgent--friends' water tank is freezing up! Ideas?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by snowleopard, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. snowleopard

    snowleopard Minister of Fire

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    I have a friend who said that her water tank is turning to serious slush--can't pump any more water out. It's not the pump, it's not the plumbing, it's the tank, and it is crystallizing in there big time. If they can't reverse this, they end up w/an 800 ice cube. And yes, the tank is buried. That's a little spooky--never heard of a buried tank freezing!

    Ideas welcome . . .

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  2. Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle

    Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle Minister of Fire

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    How do they know this?
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Minister of Fire

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    Thick, unsuckable slush forming in tank when they take off fill tube cover and look inside. Pump hasn't been able to pull water out of tank for four days. Reaching critical mass. Or that lilypads-in-the-pond-doubling-every-day thing . . .
  4. Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle

    Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle Minister of Fire

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    They bury tanks? Mine's in the basement, the holding tank, that is.

    Not being much help here, sorry.
  5. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    This is a drinking water tank? How deep buried? Temp outside? Need quite a bit more info to provide any help other than just guessing what's going on!
  6. homebrewz

    homebrewz Minister of Fire

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    If they have enough access with the fill tube, perhaps they can get a heating element in there temporarily. I think they make such devises for water buckets for horses.
  7. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Agreed, heat is what they need. Find what is safe and available. Thinking dipstick heater, trough heater, livestock tank heater, etc. The problem being that most of the heat is going to remain at the top of the tank unless the heat is applied low in the tank.

    Got to ask, is this with an insulated tank? What is the frost level in this area? 4 ft?
  8. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    I've never even heard of a buried water tank.

    Where is this?

    Can heated air be blown into the tank and the water circulated? Or circulate water in and out from a water heater? How do they heat their house & DHW? All sounds kind of weird to me.
  9. mayhem

    mayhem Minister of Fire

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    So what has changed to cause this to happen? Either this is an existing tank thats been there for some time and they never had this issue before and something has been done to disturb the system and allow heat to bleed out, or its a new install and something has been done incorrectly.

    My water pressure tank is in the basement and the piping from the well is buried way underground below the permafrost layer so it can't freeze. Whats your friend's setup and where the heck are you located?
  10. hemlock

    hemlock Feeling the Heat

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    This does seem a bit odd. Maybe they will have to rent a small boiler/steam generator and blow a bit of steam into the tank to thaw it out. But I really can't envision this set up....
  11. backpack09

    backpack09 Minister of Fire

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    The great thing about freezing water is that it floats... you only need to keep the top warm and it will never freeze throughout.
  12. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    You may be able to purchase an aftermarket "block heater" from an auto parts store, especialy considering your location.
  13. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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  14. eclecticcottage

    eclecticcottage Minister of Fire

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    My aunt and uncle had a buried potable water tank at their cottage. They would get their water delivered in a big tanker, kind of like a milk truck. It was seasonal though so I don't know if they ever had freeze issues.

    I agree on a stock tank heater, although I would also try to figure out why this is suddenly happening for the future.
  15. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    A possible off the wall cause that was the bane of solar hot water systems is reverse thermosyphoning. Most solar systems have insulated tanks in the basement full of warm water, during the day time the solar panels heat up the tank and a check valve keeps the water from flowing backwards. If the check valve fails, during a cold clear night heat rises up to the solar panel which radiate heat and then drops back down to the tank. Eventually the tank drops below freezing and then something fails. On solar systems it was usually a heat exchanger on the domestic water side.

    If the water tank in question has piping attached to it, could there be some sort of this effect occuring so that the tank is being cooled indirectly by outside air? It doesnt take much for thromosyphoning to occur on a cold clear night.
  16. snowleopard

    snowleopard Minister of Fire

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    Thanks for all the responses.

    Further info: we're in the Fairbanks, AK area. They're in a low spot, so lots of -40 weather this year.

    The water tank is for household water use, delivered by tankers, and buried. Agreed, Dix, that in-the-basement tankage has a lot of advantages (except when they age out and have to be replaced--been there, done that!). However, they don't have a basement, so like many houses, this one has a buried tank. I've never heard of a buried tank freezing, either, and it makes me kind of nervous to hear that this is possible, as mine is also buried. I don't know how deep their tank is buried, or whether it was insulated. This should not have happened.

    The access to the tank is through a fill tube, probably about 2-1/2" in diameter, so those other heaters won't work. They used to make a copper tube heater that could be poked down into tanks, but alas, someone sued them for something, and they are no longer made. And I've lost mine in a move.

    They heat their house with a boiler and a Toyo oil heater, and probably have an electric HW heater. Pretty standard fare, at least around here.

    I called them up last night to offer the use of a handpump I have that fits in a fill tube (I bought it in the event that I lose power and still need to access water from the tank) and I was told that they rented a 7-hp pump to empty out the tank. Haven't spoken to them yet this a.m. to see how that went.

    Dune, that block heater idea is a good one. That might be small enough to fit in the tank hole.

    Dang, the adventures never cease. Thanks again, all, for your ideas.
  17. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    As a short term solution - it would be possible to get a heating element from a hot water heater down the 2.5" tube. You would have to use extreme caution to not drop the element below the connection of the electrical. If you get an element for a 110V heater you could wire it to and extension cable and plug it into an ordinary outlet. It should pull no more that 1500W.

    I would consider this an emergency use option - only. Use with extreme care
  18. raygard

    raygard Member

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    Salt?

    If you consider the water in the tank unusable, because it's freezing and you are trying to prevent an ice cube, then add several bags of salt. That will melt the ice and allow the tank to be drained. If there is not enough room to mix it in the tank then you have to mix the salt up outside and then pour the solution through the hole.
  19. Delta-T

    Delta-T Minister of Fire

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    I'd add Kool-Aid...still reduces the freeze point, but is tasty to drink...and gives you a colorful moustache.
  20. snowleopard

    snowleopard Minister of Fire

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    That salt (or Koolaid) solution is just the kind of out-of-the-box-off-the-wall brilliance I knew I could find here.

    And it's a good one. If all else had failed, that might have done the trick.

    I just talked to her, and they were able to drain the tank with the pump they bought. So $350 (for the pump) and $80 (for the 800 gallons of water) later, they have an empty tank--but no solution yet as to why it froze up.

    When I was house-hunting, that place was on my short list, but the cathedral ceiling made me shy away from it; they ended up buying it. It's a pretty place, but I'm really glad I didn't have to deal with this problem.

    I like the Koolaid idea, and am picturing how that might play out with laundry and showers. I lean towards blue, but that's the Celt in me.
  21. Frozen Canuck

    Frozen Canuck Minister of Fire

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    Not sure what you may have in the way of farm supply up there Snow, I would be going to the local farm supply & buying an immersion type heater that fits down the hole. They're made to get wet. Think big stainless steel dildo & you will know it when you see it. Sorry could not resist. :)
  22. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh suuuure. And no comment on the McGyver quality solution from Jags. ;-P
  23. raygard

    raygard Member

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    ROFTL. McGyver is the one dude who could defeat the whole Russian army with a paper clip and a coke can.

    Ray
  24. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I thought about that one, but am adverse to jerry-rigs that have the penalty of death if not extremely careful, so I nixed it.
  25. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Naaaa...thats what fuses are for. %-P

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