Sunday, May 8, 2011

Burst Pipe

Last fall, I went through the motions of draining the outdoor faucet at the back of my house, but failed to drain it properly. I recall that at the time, it didn't seem to want to drain when I took the little cap off the shut-off valve's drain nozzle -- some sort of surface tension effect, possibly. But instead of investigating and making sure it was drained, I took a stupid pill, shrugged and recapped the little drain nozzle.

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The other day, I needed the use of the faucet for the first time this year, so I closed it outside and went inside to open the shut-off valve for it. I opened the valve and I could hear water rushing through the pipe and not stopping. I'm thinking, "That doesn't sound right at all. I'd better look into this."

I went outside and was confronted with this horizontal fountain.

Not quite the desired effect. I went back in and closed the valve, and went out for a closer look. Here's what I had at an elbow right by the basement wall.

The water left in the pipe had burst the elbow1, so now I had to replace that elbow without setting the house on fire with the torch. (When copper elbows are manufactured, the metal is no doubt stretched at the outside of the elbow's turn -- so that's an elbow's weak point. It's really no surprise that that's where the plumbing ruptured.)

When I made up this faucet installation some years ago, I soldered up all the exterior pieces at the workbench. Then I got everything fastened in place and only had to make a final solder connection inside the basement, well clear of anything flammable. To do it that way again, I'd have to drain the entire system first, and I really dislike having to do that.

So, I made up this sheet metal heat/flame shield and clamped it in place.

At the bottom, the sheet metal is folded back and up for an inch in behind. There's a soaking wet rag tucked in behind the sheet metal to act as a water reservoir.

The job was further complicated a bit by the nearness to the wall of one solder joint; I couldn't see the joint to be certain of its filling with solder, so it was a bit of a 'by guess and by gosh' procedure. I made it easier by cheating and using tin/lead solder instead of the lead-free stuff. I find tin/lead solder to be appreciably easier to work with.

Anyway, it turned out fine. The whole job actually went remarkably smoothly. Here it is all buttoned up and caulked.

The heat/flame shield did its job perfectly -- there's not so much as a bit of discolouration on the siding by the solder joints.

Come fall, I'll blow that pipe out with compressed air if I have to.

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1. How much force did the freezing water exert to do that? Quite a lot. Here's an unattributed quote I found concerning the subject: "the expansive power of a spherule of water only one inch in diameter, was sufficient to overcome a resistance of more than twenty-seven thousand pounds, or thirteen tons and a half."

I have no way of confirming that figure, and I'd love to know how that figure was arrived at, but I can believe it. Freezing water will do and can only do what it must -- expand. There's no containing or stopping it. Talk about a 'force of nature'.

Here's a video of a water-filled iron pipe elbow being quick-frozen. (Go to 01:02 minutes and you'll skip the introductory chit-chat.)

Do not mess with mother nature, and do not take stupid pills.

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