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Q.Is there any way to thaw a plastic waterline when it’s buried below frozen ground ?

A.Don Birchard responds: When a waterline is not buried deep enough, it often freezes in an area that is kept clear of snow (a driveway, for example). Lacking the insulating blanket of snow, the frost drives deeper into the ground.

Whenever possible, I thaw the frozen section of a pipe from inside the building it supplies. After shutting the power off to the well pump, I disconnect the plastic waterline at the pressure tank. I chuck a small drill pump on the end of a variable-speed drill, then pump a steady stream of warm water into the plastic waterline. The recirculating warm water nibbles away at the frozen plug until the line is cleared.

The drill pump has inlet and outlet connections sized for standard garden hose fittings, and can be purchased at most hardware stores for less than $10 (Flotec, 273 Wright St., Delavan, WI 53115; 800/365-6832). I reduce the outlet of the pump with a 1/2-inch insert fitting, attach a length of plastic tubing, and feed the tubing into the waterline until it reaches the frozen section. A 2-foot length of garden hose attached to the inlet side supplies the pump (see photo).

Holding the disconnected end of the waterline over my container of warm water, I carefully pump warm water into the plastic pipe. When the pipe fills with water, it overflows into the container, creating a "loop" of water.

Typically, it takes about 20 minutes to melt the ice plug. Unheated water will work in a pinch, but the thawing process will take longer.

Don Birchard is a plumber in Montrose, Pa.

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