Thursday, January 24, 2013

Water Wars

I have been trying hard not to whine about the weather, which continues to be horrible.  Oh, the sun is out and it looks OK, but the wind just won't stop and the temps are brutal.  We had -15 last night with high winds.  Still, I was trying to be philosophical about it, just get through and wait for it to pass.  That was working OK right up until I found the water line in the barn frozen - again. 

Adequate water intake is paramount to keeping equines healthy in cold weather and I work very hard to make sure that my animals have access to ice-free water at all times.  Water consumption is at it's highest level during weather like this.  The two horses drink 25-30 gallons each day, the donkeys polish off 5-8 gallons a day.   That is a lot of water to haul from the house in buckets.

I might be more accepting of frozen water lines if I had not gone to a great deal of effort during the building process to insure that it wouldn't ever happen.  This is not the result of poor design or a lack of forethought.  I spent years hauling water in buckets and I didn't want to have to face that again.  I knew the hydrant would be a crucial element of my barn design and I had a number of conversations about it with the contractor who put the water line in.  I was skeptical about how the water line was installed, but I was repeatedly assured that it wouldn't be a problem.  Oh, how I hate to be right!  This is the third or fourth time this line has frozen and I have had to dig this hydrant up for repairs several times already - by hand.  I am not doing it again.

I called the contractor this afternoon.  I will admit that I was pretty darn close to being in a towering rage about this, but I managed to remain civil.  Maybe if I wan't so darned civil I wouold get better results.  What I got back fromthe contractor was an immediate ration of grief and excuses.  He told me that I must have messed it up if I had dug up and repaired the line myself.   He tells me the hydrant has to be at least four feet under ground to keep from freezing after all.  I agreed wholeheartedly to this last bit and asked why he hadn't buried it that deep to start with.  When he tried to tell me that he had, I offered to pull up some of my photos of the project....
Do you see the hydrant sticking up out of the ground there on the right?  It is a six foot pipe, there should be no more than two feet of pipe exposed.  For an idea of scale, the horizontal boards are two feet apart.  The bottom of the lowest board is ten inches above grade.  The last time I repaired this hydrant (by hand!), I dug the trench down deeper (with my shovel!) so the spout is lower then the second board.  It still isn't deep enough.

I have invited the contractor to come out and see for himself where the line is now and I am going to print out a copy of this photo to aid his memory.  Anybody want to lay odds on whether or not he actually shows up tomorrow?  And people wonder why I build things myself.

OK, I'll try to stop ranting now.  I just couldn't help it.  Sorry.

In the meantime, with the aid of some hot water and the cold, hard sun we had this afternoon, I did manage to get the water running again.  I don't know yet whether the line is broken under the ground so once I had filled all the buckets and troughs, I turned the main line off in the house.  I also did everything I could to keep the frost out of the ground around the hydrant.  I have hay and straw heaped up around the pipe inside the barn, but it clearly isn't enough so I covered the outside area with about 6 inches of straw and an old toolbox, which will add insulation and keep the horses from pulling the straw apart.  I hope.

A bale of straw all by itself was clearly not going to work with two bored horses in the vicinity so I unearthed the tool box.  I'll bet the mice that have taken up residence inside the box didn't have a very good day either.

At least everybody has enough water to drink and haven't noticed a problem.


  1. Oh my goodness. I am carrying umpteen buckets a day... our pumps freeze when it gets this cold. Carry in the morning, carry two hours later... carry in midafternoon. I sympathize. We are supposedly going up to 40 tomorrow, and then rain this weekend. I'll get a little break, and I hope you get a huge one tomorrow with the contractor!

  2. Frozen water is the furthest thing from fun, especially when you had plans in place to prevent it...I don't know what to say except the contracter was wrong, and if he's worth his salt, he will make it right. I hope you win the water war! Your four legged family doesn't look too upset over the whole thing ;) they are lucky, they have you to make it right. I often wonder about the animals who don't have good owners. What are they drinking in freezing weather, when there is no snow? No need to answer that, I know the on earth they survive, is a mystery to me.

  3. there's never, never any joy in being right... damnit!
    I hardly need to be out at all right now and the cold is still oppressive and it looks like it's going to be around for a while.
    I know you'll hold your ground with the contractor, but wish you didn't have to.

  4. I may be telling you something that you already know, but I'll risk it just in case you don't.
    I live in WY, where frozen is a state of mind for 9 months straight. We have that exact same hydrant. The first winter we lived in our house, it never froze, not even once. The next winter it stayed frozen the entire 9 months. Ya it sucked.
    What I learned this summer is that it doesn't matter how far it sticks up. What matters is what you have going on underneath. At the bottom there is that little drain hole which allows the hydrant to drain each time you use it, and that is what keeps it from freezing. Ours was filling with dirt keeping the water from draining back out and allowing it to freeze. The remedy was to take an old semi mudflap and cut a hole in it. The hydrant pipe goes through the mudflap with the drain hole above the mat. Dirt under neath the mat, then rock above the mat and around the drain hole. A good foot of rock. Then bury the rest. We have not frozen yet this year, and our hydrant sticks up about 3 feet above ground. We have had plenty of -6 or so weather this year too. Also, you might try this, as it is what my trainer did with his. Take some old tires stack them up around your hydrant and then fill it tight with dirt. It will help insulate it some. If your hydrant is draining properly you shouldn't need it, but if it is draining slowly and you can't dig it up right now (obviously ground frozen is an issue)it could help. I hope I'm not coming off as a know it all. I can just say that one winter of hauling buckets was enough for me. I hope this helps you.
    Good luck

  5. Well now that I wrote my very Know-it-all-ish comment I just got schooled by my guy,(TC) and I told you wrong. It actually goes like this.
    Put the pipe in, put a couple of 5 gallon buckets of 1" rock up around the pipe to above the drain hole then put the plastic plate around the pipe above the rocks. Then fill the rest with dirt. Our pipe only stick up about 2 feet. (I thought it was more- I was wrong)
    It is important for the drain hole to surrounded by rock and then the plastic or rubber on top keeps the dirt from going down into the rock. This ensures that your hydrant pipe drains every time. He says that it is absolutely vital that it drains completely every time you shut it off our you will always have freezing issues.
    (this comment is approved by TC as he stood behind me and made sure I was accurate this time)

  6. Cindy is right on. The second year we were in our house, our pipe up to barn frozen and burst under ground. And it was my fault. I left the hose attached to the faucet and hadn't drained all the water out of the line down at our house.
    Since we got it fixed I always drain the water down at the turn on valve beside our house, AND I drain all the water out at the faucet, too. And I never leave the hose attached anymore. Our barn is 500 ft from our house up a fairly steep hill, so I learned an important lesson that winter. Having to haul water over the snow and ice on a sled while the temps were -8 and bitterly windy, got old very fast.

    Something else I also learned, too. The guy who put in our water line to the barn (before we bought the house) buried the line only 4' deep. I've since learned that every state and zone is different. Here in New Mexico, most areas below 5,000 ft can get away with having their water line buried 4' deep, but we're up above 7,200ft elevation where our winter temps can stay in the single digits for a week or more. Our water line should have been buried 6ft deep to stay below the frost line.


  7. My deepest sympathy! Here too. What I have happening is the well water has enough sand/rust so that eventually the weep hole gets plugged. Until this year keeping the hydrant wrapped with heat tape and insulation has worked. Not this year. The hydrant that fills the little tank for the sheep is frozen solid. So, next spring I'll have the whole thing dug up and replace it with a bottom feed stock tank with a float valve. I keep a tank heater in the tank. And in the corral on the other side, where horse and cattle water I'll move the tank to the south facing wall of a shed and do the same thing with a larger tank.
    If the contractor shows up, meet him with several buckets full of water that need to be hauled to the barn.

  8. I don't have water that goes to the barn, I run a hose from the house and use a bleeder tap in the basement to turn it on and off. It's a pain dragging the hose out once a week but it beats carrying buckets! Two years in a row we had our pipes from the well freeze and after digging it up(between Christmas & New Years) we wrapped the pipes in a heater cable that we plug in every winter- it's a just in case move that ensures we always have water. The heated cable might be a nice to have it you have somewhere to plug them in!

  9. I guess the only consolation in this situation is if the pipes aren’t ruined from the constant freezing and thawing. That would just add insult to injury, should it happen. One good way to avoid freezing is to turn off the main during the night so that the water doesn’t have a chance of freezing midway during the drop of temperature at night.