Instructables

Fire & Ice: or How to Unfreeze Your Water Meter (& How to Keep It From Freezing in the Future)

We are remodeling a house right now and the temperatures have been getting down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit for the last few days. Since we haven't been running water, the water meter froze. This is an effective technique for thawing out the water meter to restore water flow to the house. There are also some other interesting surprises along the way to finally restoring running water to the house.
This Instructable involves the use of FIRE, so be careful not to burn yourself. Use standard precautions. Don't try this on a gas meter or anything like that.

Items Needed:
Channel Lock Pliers/ or that 5-sided wrench thing
Vice Grips
Crescent Wrench
Lighter
Newspaper
Marshmallow
Stick
A Helper
 
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Step 1: Find out where the water is frozen.

When the water stops in the house, you first need to check the main shutoff valve in the house to make sure that it has not frozen there. (If there were Ice here, you would go out to the meter and shut off the valve and proceed to thaw out your pipe inside and prepare for a minor flood. Since it was ok, we went out to the meter to see what was going on. )

If the main Valve is ok, then go out to the meter and pull the lid off and inspect the meter

Step 2: Verify the Meter is Frozen & that the Water Company Didn't Shut off Your Water for Some Reason

Looking at the meter, we don't see a lock and the valve is in the open position. There are Ice crystals everywhere. The meter is probably frozen. Just to be safe, Call the emergency number for your water company and tell them you think your meter froze. Verify they haven't just turned off the water or that something is wrong with the main. If everything checks out, tell them what you plan to do to solve the problem. Or, if you want to be lazy, find out if they have a technician in the area that can solve the problem for you so you can go inside and get warm.

Otherwise proceed to next step.
dpocius6 years ago
This gives me an idea as to how to thaw out the pressure switch on my well. The switch freezes up in the off position, then I have no water until it thaws on its own. The rocket scientist that put in the well didn't see the need to run a neutral wire in addition to the +/- 110VAC for the 220VAC pump, so I can't put in heat trace tape. Hot water would be a bad idea over the electrical terminals on the switch. Perhaps I can rig up a newspaper-and-twig-fueled hot air heater out of some tin cans...
lemonie7 years ago
Hot-air gun?
vatosupreme (author)  lemonie7 years ago
Yeah, but without fire, who would look at this instructable?
Well yes. Sometimes I lose the perspective... This should be added to boy-scout handbooks eh?
Being a plumber, there are a couple things to note: 1. sometimes when a meter freezes, it only cracks the bottom and does no internal damage. If this is the case, some suppliers, that carry parts for water mains, hydrants, etc. may have a replacement meter bottom. Not all homeowners know about this though. Keep in mind though that your local water dept. may not like you messing with the meter. 2. some new meters have plastic isolators to prevent potential electricity from passing from the house through the meter and charging the main. These isolators can melt as we've discovered. If possible, using hot air to thaw is better. Meter's usually don't freeze if (1) they are at least 15 inches below the lid and (2) the lid is on at all times and (3) the ground is filled up around the meter to the lid. I've seen several frozen meters that the top 12 inches of the meter pit were exposed above the ground. In the pictures above, it looks like the meter was too high in relation to the lid. Once it's thawed, try putting insulation around the meter.
vatosupreme (author)  twotyerfryer7 years ago
Interesting... You are right the meter is only appox. 6 inches under the meter cap. So, when you say insulate, do you mean pack the entire meterbox with some pink attic batting? Or do you think that gluing a 3" thick piece of styro-foam to the lid would work?
Fill the pit from the meter to the lid with the pink batting. Unfortunately, the meter shown is read visually by the local water authority/meter-reader. They may put the insulation back after reading the meter, and they may not. I've seen meters within three inches of the lid that were insulated with bat type insulation that did not freeze in sub-zero temperature for several days, sometimes weeks. The insulation helps to keep natural ground heat in the meter pit and around the meter. The correct fix would be a big job (breaking out the concrete surrounding the meter pit, digging up the entire meter pit, digging below the water line so it could be lowered another 12 inches or so and then putting everything back). In some cases, this is the only way to prevent frozen meters. Hope the info helps.
salty7 years ago
in the future for anyone doing this and you know the house is going to be the same temp as outside think before this happens and drain your lines first , get a plug that has a GFI attached to it and just use an ordinary light bulb near the meter it won't get boiling hot but it will be hot enough to keep it from freezing
that wouldwork, but what would be more expensive, the small trickle of water or the power bill for the light bulb?
theRIAA7 years ago
lol
dtitzer7 years ago
I have a good friend who does meter and hydrant work for my local government. THEY favor using road flares.
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