Monday, May 14, 2012

Keeping the Water From Freezing.

     A blogger friend, "Evano"    asked how I plan on keeping the water from freezing if I am away from home for prolonged periods of time. I am happy to share. This is all my own planning that went into all this and I am really hoping that it works for me. I think it will, but you just never know.  This time of year we all know I probably don't have to worry about these things, but winter is coming alot quicker than I want it to. I am assuming you are talking about the indoor plumbing, but I will also mention the cistern water storage outside also.

      To start with, I am going to have in totall 4 different heat sources to choose from for different occasions and times of the year.  I know it sounds kinda crazy for such a small house, but I really hate being cold. I have installed two 15,000 BTU propane heaters. They are both direct vent type heaters meaning that they bring in combustion air from out side and send the exhaust to the outside. IMPORTANT! I'm not a pro at this stuff, but I do know that propane appliances might  not be allowed in basements in all areas. You will have to check with your local permitting offices I guess. (Propane is heavier than natural gas and will pool at the bottom and could fill a basement and  create quite an explosion if ignited, whereas natural gas may dissepate more easily out the windows and doors etc). They're both dangerous as far as I am concerned.

     I chose to go with the two smaller heaters instead of one 30,000 BTU one, because with the lower BTU, they can be installed in alot of different tighter spaces. (Closer to a corner, closer to window, mounted up higher on the wall etc). Also a bigger heater was kind of hard to find with a direct vent that would work in a basement. A bigger heater would have meant running another chimney (B vent). It's a long way to the top from the basement, and chimneys take up more of my space. Also, the B-vent type chimney requires me to bring in outside air for combustion, which makes me feel as though I am defeating my purpose a bit. Although, I might have to do that for my wood stove, but I'm not real sure yet, I may be able to modify it to a direct intake.

     Anything water is all at one end of the house, whether it be up stairs or down. Most anything that I need to worry about is in the basement, but upstairs will be a kitchen sink that is practically right over top of one heater, and on the other side is the bathroom vanity and toilet over the other heater. I'm pretty confident that I would be able to leave the house for days without worry in the colder winter days. However, if it is -40 outside for a prolonged period, I find from experience in my shack that these type heaters probably are'nt going to put out as much as they should. Propane movement really slows down. At -42 I think it is, propane no longer vapourizes, so I sure hope that it don't get that cold for very long if I'm not around. However with a 1000 gallon tank that I now have will be alot better than the 100 pound tanks that I used to use. I will top up the big propane tank once every summer so that has a good percentage of product for the winter.

     If I were to leave for a month or so, I would winterize the house something like you would do to your RV. Draining everything that should be drained and run plumbing antifreeze through all the lines etc.

    I plan on experimenting with all my different sources of heat to find what works best for different situations. I think if I stoked the wood stove and turned it down before leaving the house that the forced air furnace will be able to keep things warm for a couple days after the fire burned down,  without charging the batteries. However, this all depending on how often the furnace cycles, but I know this house is very well insulated and I'm thinking it will hold it's own heat for a long time on average temperature days.  But if the sun is shining and there is'nt a big amount of snow on the solar panels, it would probably be able to keep the house warm, as this would be the only electrical power being used while I am gone. The MPPT charge controller that I have installed in my electrical system is supposed to really shine in the colder weather. If my batteries will run the furnace, this would be the most economical heat source, but if the  battery voltage goes down to my preset voltage then the inverter will shut down until a preset voltage is present again.
   Eventually I may be installing some kind of AGS(Automatic Generator Start), but I will experiment with what I have first.
            Then when all else fails and the furnace does not want to run, the two space heaters in the basement should kick in and hopefully do their thing.

The photo below shows one of the two propane heaters on the right.

The above photo is a quick drawing of the the Basement and Main floor plans to show the location of heat sources lined up with vulnerable water areas. The two space heaters are drawn in red. As a comparison, the direct vent heater in my shack is 22,000 BTU. I have slept in the shack when it was  -35-40. It was'nt too bad in the top bunk, but I have had pop cans explode in the middle of the night. They were sitting on the floor. lol. The shack is'nt real well insulated and is built with only 2x4 walls.

When I am at home, it will not even be a chore to stoke the fire. I say bring on the cold.  

As for the water cistern outside, I am really hoping the water don't freeze up too badly in there. I do expect to see a thin layer of ice develope on the surface of the water at times, but hopefully it won't be a problem. I do have an insulated lid on it, and I will bank snow around the top part of it sticking out of the ground. There was about 2 feet of water in it all last winter. I checked it in the early spring and seen no ice. That could possibly be the solution is to not fill it right up to the top. There is heat that comes from the ground and the water way down there does'nt seem to freeze. The cistern is about 11 feet deep and 8 foot diameter. With this diameter of pipe, I was told that for every meter of pipe you will hold 995 gallons of water. Half full would be about 1500 gallons, and that is alot for me. I don't think I would have to worry about it freezing if  kept it at around this level.  

I had no heat in my house all last winter, and the sump in the basement had about an inch of water in it. I had some insulation over top the sump and that inch of water did not freeze all winter either. It was a fairly mild winter if compared to some, but it was still pretty chilly at times.

This is what my plan is for things, but that does'nt necessarily make it the right way to do things. I am not a pro, and I am also learning as I go. I guess time will tell if it's all going to work for me, but I do expect to be doing modifications on things as I go if need be. I'll be alot smarter after the next winter hopefully.  

This is a personal blog, mainly for my own use. I am building a house with my own two hands, but I am learning alot of things as I go. I do not claim to know what I am doing, or if anything I do is even close to being done correctly or safely. So please, if you are planning on using any of my ideas or methods for your own use, please get professional advice before actually following through with your actions. I will not be held responsible for any injuries or damages of any kind caused by information or comments from this blog.


  1. Nice answer! Very well thought out too. Thanks.
    I have some thinking to do now too....I am liking the small propane heater idea though. I have hydro, but it is not too reliable (occasionally goes out for a week).
    I also am liking the big pressure tank idea too-more volume also means longer to freeze as well as less stress on the pump by cycling less.
    I'd better get busy!

  2. Ya, I think those heaters are going to be the ultimate backup plan myself. They can run a fan also, but the fan is'nt required in order for the heater to work, unlike some heaters out there. I'm not sure, but I think a water line would burst and drain the tank long before the tank would freeze, but I could be wrong. But the bigger tanks will be nice.

  3. Just throwing this out there, as you may find it usefull. We live in the same area so have similar heating concerns. Now I Heat with wood only. I heat my house, and hot water with a modified Blaze king fireplace ( cat,bypass, and thermostat model). There are times( fall, spring) when you dont want to start a fire for a little heat. A aladdin lamp works great to take the chill off. I cant say enough good things about these lamps.I estimate that just one lamps puts out 500 watts of heat, and the fuel use is little.
    Now weld up a low wide base that holds about 3 gallons, drill the top out so you can screw the burner on, and you will have a heater that if turned down from max, so its maybe puting out 200-300 watts will run for maybe 15-20 days( est) I have only used mine for 5 days 24/7 when I went away once. Use low odour paint thinner, not keroccen as the stuff now days stinks to bad.
    Anyway, works for me, and is dirt simple, will keep the pipes from freezing.

    1. Thanks analogmanca. That is kinda interesting. That's probably all I would need down in the basement to do the job. I wonder if it would set off the co alarms though. I tried a kerosene lamp in my shack once shortly after I moved in here, and it set off the carbon monoxide alarm shortly after. This is a small space, and the alarm was above the lamp, but still.

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