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.
Channel Lock Pliers/ or that 5-sided wrench thing
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.
Step 3: The Fire Part
Now we are going to thaw out the meter and lines in the meter box. You only need to use 2 or three sheets of newspaper or an equivalent amount of toilet paper. If you use too much, you will melt or damage the water meter and then you will have a huge flood. This also may result in having to buy a new water meter. (this is less fun than spending your money on a micro controller kit)
Put the sheets in one at a time
***Note: Get permission from your water company before doing this as some water meters are digital and may be irreparably damaged by this. You might even be charged big money to replace the meter. This particular water meter is totally mechanical and the water company gave me permission to do this.
Step 4: Cooking the Meter
Have someone in the house turn on a tap so the water can start flowing. When the first newspaper burns almost out, drop a second one in the box. Try to drop them near the pipe and under the meter. Within about 2 or three minutes the water will start to flow. If you have a marshmallow and stick, this would be the time to make a smore.
If the water meter has not frozen solid and cracked, then congratulations, you are done.
Otherwise proceed to next step.
Step 5: Stop the Deluge
If the meter has cracked, then as the ice thaws the meter will start spraying a ton of water out at high pressure, which will extinguish the fire, ruin your smore and make a bunch of smoke and steam. It will also cause your adrenaline levels to rise in a pleasing manner.
Do not panic! Take the crescent wrench and turn the ball valve somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 degrees and shut off the water.
Step 6: Call Water Company
If the meter is cracked, you will need to call the water company to come out and replace/repair your meter. They will not be excited, as it is 4 degrees outside. They probably won't get to it until the next day.
So, make a fire and melt some snow so you can take a bath.
In the future, during a hard freeze you need to leave a little bit of water running during the night (or all the time if the house is unoccupied) to keep the lines from freezing.