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Plumbing - cold water problem

FiggyFiggy Fighter of the night manChampion of the sunRegistered User regular
edited January 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
Today my fiancee told me the downstairs toilet wasn't working. Indeed, the tank wasn't filling up with water, so I started messing around in there for a few seconds. The overflow pipe snapped right off with very little help, so it must have been on its way out. I still couldn't see any problems that would prevent the toilet from filling, so I checked the taps.

Water. Ok. Strange. Then, as I turned off the hot tap first, I noticed the cold tap wasn't working. No water, no spittle, no noise, nothing.

So, my main floor half bath is not getting any cold water. Water goes to every other area of the house except here. I ran over to Home Depot and grabbed the parts to fix what I broke in the toilet, but the guy there said he had no clue what could be causing my cold water problem, and he said it was very unlikely an air lock, which is what google is telling me.

So, any ideas? I've tried turning off the water main completely and bleeding the system, then turning every back on. Water everywhere except for the cold to that bathroom.

Also, when I came back from work (3-4 hours after first fiddling with the damn thing) the shut-off valve under the toilet seemed completely seized. I turned it off before I left just in case (since I broke the overflow pipe), but now it's somehow frozen off. Am I looking at frozen pipes somehow? This bathroom gets used every day at least 4-5 times, and we keep our house at around 70.

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    Seattle ThreadSeattle Thread Registered User regular
    edited January 2010
    That shut-off valve (called a Stop, by the way) must be damn old, because it happens. A lot. Take a pair of tongue-and-groove pliers (a/k/a channel locks) and slowly wrench it open... the handle is plastic, though, so use caution.

    Is this bathroom on the edge of the house? i.e., are the fixtures plumbed against an exterior wall? And has it suddenly become very cold lately? Because as implausible as it sounds, pipes do freeze internally, especially if the job wasn't done right. And a lot of jobs aren't done right, the way the plumbing industry is today.

    Unless the pipe is broken before the bathroom, in which case you have a much bigger (and much more obvious) problem on your hands.

    Seattle Thread on
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    FiggyFiggy Fighter of the night man Champion of the sunRegistered User regular
    edited January 2010
    I got a wrench and managed to open the stop, but still no water. I've since taken the tank off to fix the overflow pipe (for which I bought the wrong part).

    I've gone and triple-checked the main shut off valves in the basement. There are three:

    1 coming from the pipe coming out of the floor, one above the water meter, and one on a thinner pipe shooting out from the main pipe. I'm assuming the smaller pipe valve is for the outdoor water faucets? I've shut that off, since I'm sure they should be turned off during the winter.

    The bathroom is on the side of the house, and we're on a very very windy area. I'm starting to think it definately is a frozen pipe problem, but currently we aren't seeing any breakage as far as I know. The basement is fully finished (except the laundry/furnace area and a small crawl space under the stairs) so I can't visually inspect the pipes going to the bathroom, but no leakage as far as I know.

    The bathroom definately has been very cold lately, and temperatures have reached their coldest today. We've got a space heater in that bathroom right now to maybe warm the pipes behind the toilet.

    I noticed that if I pull away the little metal disc that hides the hole in the wall where the water supply pipe goes behind the toilet, there is a cold draft blowing through. So, clearly there is something going on.

    The house is ten years old and we bought it this past August. Have the previous owners simply put up with frozen pipes in that bathroom for the past ten years, or is there something we could be doing to prevent this?

    Edit: Also, we have a cold storage room in the basement. Is there something I need to do here for the winter? It's currently very cold in there, as there is a small round vent directly to the outside. Should this be closed for the winter? Am I going to see mould problems?

    Figgy on
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    Seattle ThreadSeattle Thread Registered User regular
    edited January 2010
    That little metal disc is called an Escutcheon, by the way.

    Yep, your cold line is frozen. You are probably going to have to live with it until the weather warms up, which I would likely guess the previous owners did (nice of them to let you know, huh). I'm not sure that the space heater will do much--you're looking at cold winds blowing past that exterior wall, which takes a hell of a lot of heat to combat. And at such temperatures, you risk bursting the pipe.

    If the house it only ten years old, then it has modern insulation--meaning, it's not like the old cotton shit from 50 years ago has finally deteriorated enough to cause the pipes to freeze. Maybe some critter got in there and dug out the insulation to make a nest, but that's unlikely. Maybe the builders did a half-assed job. Probably, since most real plumbers never install anything in an exterior wall for precisely this reason.

    You have a few options, none of which are pleasant.

    1. Live with it. Granted, the expansion and contraction of the pipe as it freezes weakens it, running the risk of a burst. Which ultimately is the most costly scenario by far... you do not want that pipe to burst. At all.

    2. Wrap a line of heating wire around it. This is dubious, since I cannot remember the actual name of the stuff or how it's installed, but it's an insulated wire in tape that adheres to the pipe. The wire has a current running through it, thereby heating your cold line and avoiding a freeze, but the downside is that it runs your heating bill up a bit and you'll never have truly cold water in that bathroom. Oh, and your toilet will sweat, but that's just an aesthetic issue.

    3. Re-insulate the wall, and specifically the pipes themselves. This is the cheapest option overall, but also the least sure. Ideally you would snug that insulation in there and wrap the cold line in foam, keeping the heat in and the cold out. If done well enough it could work, but it depends on how truly cold it gets outside.

    4. Re-plumb the bathroom properly. This one has the highest up-front cost, but the longest and most sure fix. You will have to open the walls and the celing below and re-route the pipes away from the exterior wall. Drain lines will have to be moved, too, which can be brutal if you aren't close to the main stack. I have a feeling that you might be, though... check the room in the basement directly below the bathroom and see if you can find a stump of a pipe with a screw-on cap around there. The closer you are to the main stack, the easier it is to move that shit around (and vice-versa... if you're a long way from the stack, you may as well plan a bigger remodel while you've got everything torn apart). The upside is that if done right, you'll never have to worry about it again.

    5. Move to Cabo and crash at Sammy Hagar's beach house.

    Yeah, it's a big hassle... I feel bad breaking all this to you, especially right after the holidays when everyone is broke. At the very least, try option #3. In my (no longer professional but still trained and educated) opinion, you're probably going to end up opening the wall no matter what, so might as well give the cheap option a shot.

    It might be worth an hour's rate to have a professional plumber assess the situation and see if there's another possibility. Just follow the rule of thumb--don't go with the guy who's got the huge ads in the phone book or billboards or bus advertisements. Plumbers do not make nearly enough money to support that kind of advertising without ripping people off.

    And good luck, I hope it turns out not nearly as terrible as I've made it out to be.

    Seattle Thread on
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    FiggyFiggy Fighter of the night man Champion of the sunRegistered User regular
    edited January 2010
    Thanks for the info, Maker.

    Cold water is still frozen this morning. We've had the space heater going all night, so hopefully that will keep the pipes from bursting at least, even if it's not going to thaw anything out.

    I notice now that when I run the hot water in there, I sometimes hear the pipes under the floor rumble for a second. What's that all about?

    I got the right part for the toilet this morning and that's all fixed. I replaced everything in there since I had it all apart anyway, and the parts total was only about $30.

    I also picked up a tube of mortar compound and went along the outside of the house filling in the cracks. There were several, so maybe that was part of the cause.

    I'm now looking through my condo info to see exactly who would be responsible for this problem. I don't technically own anything "past the drywall," so hopefully the condo will have to foot the bill for any repairs.

    Since I moved in this past August, we've had so much work done by them it's ridiculous. I'm sure they're sick of hearing my name on their voice mail by now.

    Figgy on
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