Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, Inc. ----Discussion Forum

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Hi all - I am looking for advice...My frostless hydrant is frozen or otherwise not working.  And it isn't even that cold.  I could stick my finger in it and feel the ice.  I got the heat tape and after a half day the ice I could feel is gone and the pipe above ground is warm.  But now, 3 days later it still won't turn on. Any suggestions?  I already searched and found one thread on this about replacing the top portion of the (old) hydrant but this hydrant is less than 2 years old so I feel like it shouldn't be broken. I am grateful for any advice.  I hauled water from the basement for 10 years and don't want to go back to it for the next 4 months!

Scott Bayerl: MHWF

Tricia, was there a hose connected to the hydrant when it froze up?


Nope, I disconnect the hose always after I fill the trough and store it indoors.

Sharon Potter
Get some propylene glycol, a food-grade antifreeze, available at Fleet Farm as Keto-Aid, a treatment for ketosis in cattle, $17.00/gallon.

You attach a short hose(3-4 feet) to the hydrant, attach a funnel to the hose, and start pouring the Keto-Aid into the funnel, holding it up as high as you can--or standing on a
mounting block.  Keto-Aid is just a little thick, so prepare to be patient.

I'm assuming the handle will move?  If so, keep it in the up position and have a bucket ready, because when the water comes, it will come in a hurry.  Even if the handle doesn't move, give this a shot.  Also, a propane torch, moved up and down slowly along the length of the exposed  pipe will help if the ice is there....chances are that it's belwo the ground, though...so the propylene glycol is your best bet.
Unfortunately I'm familiar with a few such problems. 
When it was frozen (ice in faucet) did you pull the handle up hard? Sometimes when the rod is frozen and you pull up on the handle the nut that 'grips' the rod will slide...the handle comes up but the rod stays put. Then when you push the handle down the nut now has made a 'path' on the rod....move the handle up and down....does the rod move up and down? If not, tighten that nut. If it's tight and the rod won't budge water is still frozen in the pipe even though you have the top thawed out.
As Scott says, if you had a hose on the hydrant and if you could see/feel ice (it sounds like that may be the case.)...not a good thing. If water can't drain back down into the 'pit' at the bottom of the hydrant (below the frost line) because a hose is 'holding' the water then it will freeze all the way down the pipe. You have a frozen pipe at least 4 foot down and a heat tape will seldom do the job. If you can safely make a tent around the pipe where it goes in the ground and place a heat lamp or heater inside as close to the pipe as possible that can thaw it out but it may take a few hours. 
I've even had arc welders put on pipes and that may or may not work. If the pipe goes into dirt you can dig around the pipe as far down as possible, a foot will do....put charcoal in there, enough to get it hot but not damage the pipe. Again be safe and continually keep an eye on your project. Remember that there may be plastic piping running to your hydrant so be careful. 
Lastly you may have damaged the valve at the bottom and that usually doesn't happen but always a possibility.
Hydrants are wonderful but it seems we have to learn the hard way how easily they can freeze.
Nikki G

Just my two cents.... Our hydrant froze up last year. We ended up redigging the first like 6 feet of it up,wrapped it all in insulation,and heat tape. We havn't had any problems with it since. Maybe a project you want to consider for the summer?


Oh boy.  I will have to try some of this when I get home.  The handle does move but it is very stiff and especially was at first. 

I didn't see Sharon's post till after I posted.....her solution sounds like the one to try first.....maybe she will give us a time frame for the patience?? minutes ?? I also am trying to picture how much of the PG would need to be in the hose to melt the ice before it dilutes too much...so we let it sit for minutes, drain and start fresh?? 
Still would be easier than digging.
Nikki G.

Yea, much easier than digging up!! We waited until everything was thawed of course before we dug it back up. Just wanted to suggest that, so your not dealing with this problem every year. One winter was enough for me!

Tina O.
Are you sure it's the actual hydrant, and not a water pipe? My husband usually has to crawl underneath the house with a blow dryer when this happens. To prevent it, I make sure to run the water each time I go out to the barn regardless if the horses need more water or not. I fill up at least 1 five gallon bucket.  Good Luck!

Well, I considered that because the water line runs from the house to the stable which goes under the driveway - where there is less snow, therefore deeper frost.  But when they dug, it was 4-6 feet and I really felt it was adequate.  I am going to try the Sharon Potter anti-freeze thing as soon as I can get to Fleet and get all the supplies. 

Tricia - No. WI

TriciaK, I would try Sharon's method ASAP.  With the bitter cold in the next few days, I suspect the water lines will freeze if the hydrant isn't used.  I had this issue last winter.  My pump handle froze up and I just thought I'd wait a few days for it to warm up.  Well, the handle thawed OK but by then the water line froze from lack of use.  (It was that stretch last January when it was way below for several days in a row.)  I had to have the plumber come out and run a steam thread into the pipe to thaw the lines.  This year I'm using Tina's method and running the hydrant at least 2x/day, filling a 5-gallon bucket if the horses don't need H20.


Ok.  I am a little concerned because the handle feels pretty frozen - very hard to lift up.  I tried again last night just in case I'd get lucky.  Thank you so much everyone.

Sharon Potter
The propylene glycol is just slightly thick, so doesn't pour like water....but it's not molasses. either.  ;)  I'd also check the items twadwis mentioned, and warm the handle and pipe with a propane torch (best) or hairdryer (next best).

With hydrants, it's important to always, when shutting them off, be sure the handle is all the way down.  There are usually two holes, one at the bottom of the handle and one on the frame, that will line up if it is off.  Sometimes the  handle will stop slightly before that and we think it's off....but it won't drain that way. 

Hydrants work by allowing water to drain back out of the entire assembly, below the frost line.  Sometimes it's a hydrant failure problem, but more often it's an installation issue.  There needs to be a space for water to keep draining, and if the bottom gets dirt or sand packed around it, it can't drain.  Especially in sandy country, it is hard to prevent sand from creeping in and filling the gaps in the stone over time.  Hydrants are installed with a lot of large stones (like 1-2 inches) in a pit around the bottom to allow for drainage.  When sand creeps in far enough and plugs up the rocks, the hydrant will freeze.

The solution?  When installing, dig your hole for the rocks.  Take a 5 gallon plastic pail with a lid (or something larger if you want, but 5 gal. usually works just fine).  Cut the bottom out of the bucket, put it in the hole, and fill it with the stone, as well as backfilling around the bucket.  Next, cut a hole in the lid just  large enough to slide over the end of the hydrant bottom.  Install the hydrant, and let the lid drop onto the top of the bucket.  This allows drainage but keeps the soil from compacting into and around the rock.

Don't ask me how I know this.    Been there. 

Mary H.
Sharon and TriciaK - that is exactly what happened to our outside hydrant a month ago.  Luckily we had that warm up to help but we put a heat lamp right on the pipe and put a metal garbage can over the hydrant and covered that with old horse blankets (a new use for them!).  Within a few days it thawed luckily and we are very careful with it since.  Bill always puts his hand over the faucet opening when turning it off and waits for the suction which says it is ok.  Come on spring.......
Some good ideas shared here.....nothing like experience to show the way.
I will never understand why we install water lines in places like Wisconsin and don't run a heat tape along the whole thing. Four feet is not a magic number, just an estimate of how deep frost/freezing SHOULD/COULD go.The trench is dug, how hard would it be to lay a line next to it?  You don't need to always have it plugged in, it's just there if you have problems. There are heat tapes that are water proof, really tough and meant for such situations but seldom recommended. My neighbor put in a Richie automatic and was told it would never freeze because it was inside a building (unheated). Had it installed professionally and it's froze twice. The water line to it was installed in cold wet weather and although she said she wanted a heat tape they said it wasn't necessary, uh huh. Also was told she didn't have to add any extra protection/insulation, uh huh.
Well now it works fine, has an extra light bulb by the standpipe coming in, the whole unit is wrapped with insulating bubble wrap that you can just slide up and off, the base is caulked and sand is piled around covering the cement pad. When the service guys came back to check it they thought the 'wrap' was neat and were going to tell other customers......hmmm, why if they can't freeze up?
The heat tapes I'm talking about really work well for draining water away from buildings and doorways in weather like we just had.....you have ice in the normal draining areas so the water starts backing up. You can just lay it on the snow/ice and it melts a groove, make sure the tape reaches far enough to slope away and that's it......no chopping and salting. I also use it to keep my sliding doors from freezing shut.
Now why didn't someone tell me to put in overhead doors, especially the ones under the roof line where all the snow slides off ? Sure you still have to clean out the door but those lovely little tracks that the door has to slide over....

Scott: MHWF

I think you mean 6 feet. 4 feet isn't even close to enough in Wisconsin. We actually went 7 feet down, so far so good.

Sharon Potter
  That's why I've got Nelsons....I love those things!  In 20 years and three different farms, I've had exactly one of them freeze (out of about 30 waterers), because a heating element failed,  Nelson was great, they overnighted a new one, I installed it the next day and within a couple of hours, water again.  The combination of ground heat plus the electric makes a big difference.  Nelsons are expensive n the beginning, but the time and hassle they save me is well worth it.

(and all my water lines are at seven feet, too.)

Your right Scott, 7 foot should be the depth to be safe but I hear 4 foot all the time, as in...."bury it below the 4 foot frost line".....sure in some areas frost only gets that far down but
the line has to be BELOW that and maybe that's where get in trouble.
So much also depends on soil type and if the soil gets compacted by driving over it.
Guess I'm kind if anal about 24/7 access to water but water consumption is a huge factor in all aspects of a horses health.


I give a big prayer of thanks every single day when I go out and the waterers are there and in working order.  I've been kind of holding my breath all winter wondering if they would freeze (the chronic worrier in me, and the sandy soil we have here) and so far so good.  I'm going to be more diligent now about making sure the frostless hydrant has sucked all the water back down now as well. 


I am going to show Sharons post about installing to the person who installed.  If I remember right, the layer of rocks were put down but not a bucket to stop the sand from creeping in.  And that would explain why it worked great last year but now froze up.  Hauling two buckets or so a day for drinking is bearable (but icky) but what I really miss is no way to bleach and rinse the trough easily.  I really hate a slimy dirty trough and it takes about 15  5-gallon buckets to do the job right.   

Hi Tricia,
I feel your pain with the hydrant. To prevent that from happening, we bought a big sheet of 2 inch insulation and made a box out of it around the hydrant.  We have a light hanging from the top.  There was one time this year that it still froze with that set-up, but I put a heater inside the box for a few hours and it thawed out.  Good Luck, I hope that you can get it working.
Just got to throw in my two cents worth of praise for the Nelson waterers.  Only have frozen once, and that was when we first moved here.  During a bad storm, I stalled the horses...the waterer was outside.  Froze.  When the guy came out and fixed/thawed it, he said as long as I kept the horses drinking out of it, it would not freeze; and that has held true for 12 years (knocking on all the wood around me...grin).  They are a God sent barn blessing...love 'em!

Any type of frozen pipe or waterline is just a tough situation.  Wishing you a quick and easy fix Tricia.
Scott: MHWF
We have been waiting for that really nasty cold snap with little snow cover before we passed judgement on the new auto waterers that we installed here this spring.

Last night and this morning were that test, so far so good. No frozen pipes, no frozen waterers and the frostless hydrant worked great.

You all helped us get those put in with your donations and help. Today, even more than ever, we are YOUR biggest fans! You made our lives that much easier and on days like today we really owe you all a huge thank you!

I have to triple those sentiments, thank you, you all rock!  My heart skipped a happy beat as I pulled up that handle on the hydrant this morning to get DJs water and it flowed.  :)  We had to use the torch to unthaw pipes and spiggots every day in winter until this year. 

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