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View Full Version : Thawing Pipes -- A Public Service Announcment From An Utter Ba5tard



WhatTheFlux!
01-08-2014, 05:14 PM
So, having watched a neighboring house burn I'm spelling it out. Friends in the fire protection service, feel free to contribute. I am speaking as an engineer here.

Older homes, especially in a city like this, are built out of wood treated with oils, sealers and god knows what else. Long ago they'd soak wood in kerosene to kill bugs, it was acceptable to use it as pesticide. Same with other types of chemicals that we know today are seriously dangerous. Add to this the fact the wood has been drying down there for a hundred years in many cases.

Ok so your pipes froze. Lets go down with a propane torch/lighter and try to get those suckers moving. It takes only a second's worth of contact to touch off some of these old timbers, and given the state of most basements, dust... debris, and cobwebs quickly spread the flames. Now your floor is on fire.

By the time the Fire Department gets on scene and secures the utilities, your entire first floor is history and the flames have spread up the walls thanks to the chimney effect. You have a full on structure fire that can only be attacked from the outside. If you're lucky the house is a burned out shell. More often than not the basement lets go, the floors buckle and the whole thing comes down.

You endangered dozens of lives, destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars in property and put people out on the street in this weather. Oh and given the neighborhoods here, damaged the two houses next to yours.

I will repeat it until I die: NEVER use an open flame to thaw pipes. EVER. I don't care if you've done it before, if you use a torch every day at work, or if it's the way Grandpa taught you. DO NOT DO IT. If you do so, you are beyond redemption as a human being -- criminally stupid and unfit to live in civilized society. Harsh? Maybe. But there are just certain levels of ignorance and stupidity that should be punished to extinction rather than coddled.

duckman
01-08-2014, 06:00 PM
I just use my electric heat gun you still have to be careful but its not like an open flame.

PStechPaul
01-08-2014, 06:39 PM
I have wondered if it would be good to send a few hundred amps through the pipe? It won't work for plastic, of course, and it might require different voltage and current levels for iron vs copper. I have some large toroids salvaged from Powerstats and they will put out as much as 2000 amps into a piece of welding cable. They are only good for about one volt per turn, but I'll bet that's enough to drive maybe 500 amps through a four foot section of pipe which would be 500 watts, and it would transfer the heat to the inside of the pipe where the water has likely frozen most solid. But for AC you need to consider the inductance as well as resistance, and you may get less power than you might expect from the voltage and current.

So maybe a DC source like a welder would be ideal. You may want to use good brass/copper pipe clamps designed for grounding, to get a good connection. A car battery might do the trick as well, but make sure the load is high enough to limit the current to a couple hundred amps, and use a DC rated contactor (perhaps a starter solenoid) that can handle the current and the arc that will appear when you open the circuit.

dp
01-08-2014, 06:53 PM
I just use my electric heat gun you still have to be careful but its not like an open flame.

Actually, it is.

http://www.wbiw.com/local/archive/2014/01/thawing-frozen-pipes-sparks-house-fire.php

WhatTheFlux!
01-08-2014, 07:05 PM
Actually, it is.

http://www.wbiw.com/local/archive/2014/01/thawing-frozen-pipes-sparks-house-fire.php

Industrial 1800 degree paint-scorcher is just as bad as a blowtorch. I use a hair-dryer or a wrap-tape... if I can't get it I call for assistance. More often than not it comes down to taking your time and doing it slowly.

J Tiers
01-08-2014, 07:26 PM
And, the most popular type of plumbing has been copper, which is assembled by .... wait for it......... heating with a torch hot enough to melt metal.

Yes, there are some sorts of electric (presumably induction) heaters, but they are expensive and nobody uses them. Not even many plumbers.

Modern construction, and all too many examples of old construction, leave out the "fire stop", a crosspiece blocking the wall space about halfway up the wall.... Kinda keeps the draft down, and avoids the fire roaring up the inside of the wall. lack of same can have the fire all the way up in the attic in as little as 3 minutes.

Also a good plan to block plumbing holes etc with a fireblock.... The foams, maybe, or some other means. Same idea, keep a fire from having a chimney.

Modern constructions, like the assembled beams made of chipboard with top and bottom runners, can allow you as little as two minutes to get out before they give way and collapse. Not like a good 2 x 10. There was a fire in anew apartment building in midtown St Louis... it was like that. Almost instantly into the attic, essentially total loss, nobody allowed back in afterwards to get anything, even in the less damaged areas.

JoeLee
01-08-2014, 07:27 PM
Your best bet is to wrap the pipe with electric heat tape if you can and wait. At least you wont start a fire. If you close to the frozen section it may thaw it.

JL.................

ironmonger
01-08-2014, 07:44 PM
<<snip>>

I will repeat it until I die: NEVER use an open flame to thaw pipes. EVER. I don't care if you've done it before, if you use a torch every day at work, or if it's the way Grandpa taught you. DO NOT DO IT. If you do so, you are beyond redemption as a human being -- criminally stupid and unfit to live in civilized society. Harsh? Maybe. But there are just certain levels of ignorance and stupidity that should be punished to extinction rather than coddled.

+ that, WTF

If your house has metalic piping, thawing with an electric pipe thawing machine is relatively safe. The current passing through the pipes heats it. Make sure you leave a faucet open downstream of the frozen section.... Finding that can be interesting... You need to follow the instructions on it's use. Of course they are not going to be in very good supply at you local rental shop, lots of competition for them right now. They can be used to thaw out underground water services in areas where the service pipe in metallic.

Many of our forum members may have welding machines. The best ones are the old engine driven ones, they had a huge duty cycle. Buzz boxes will work, and any other welding machine machine used within it's duty cycle. Please do not melt the pipe, monitor the temperatures of the pipes as you work. The advantage of hiring someone, if you can find them, is the liability is theirs... :>)

Say safe

paul

jdunmyer
01-08-2014, 08:24 PM
My old buzzbox has a setting specifically for pipe thawing, IIRC, it's about 70 amps, and has a circle around the number on the dial. A local fab shop used to do pipe thawing with their portable engine-driven welder, dunno if they still do or not...

C_lazy_F_Guns
01-08-2014, 08:40 PM
I have wondered if it would be good to send a few hundred amps through the pipe? It won't work for plastic, of course, and it might require different voltage and current levels for iron vs copper. I have some large toroids salvaged from Powerstats and they will put out as much as 2000 amps into a piece of welding cable. They are only good for about one volt per turn, but I'll bet that's enough to drive maybe 500 amps through a four foot section of pipe which would be 500 watts, and it would transfer the heat to the inside of the pipe where the water has likely frozen most solid. But for AC you need to consider the inductance as well as resistance, and you may get less power than you might expect from the voltage and current.

So maybe a DC source like a welder would be ideal. You may want to use good brass/copper pipe clamps designed for grounding, to get a good connection. A car battery might do the trick as well, but make sure the load is high enough to limit the current to a couple hundred amps, and use a DC rated contactor (perhaps a starter solenoid) that can handle the current and the arc that will appear when you open the circuit.

Yes it works great but I’ve never used more than 40 amps DC. There are dedicated machines to do this but a welder with the leads very well attached so they don’t arc and burn a pin hole works well. With taps open attach the leads ether side of blockage, turn to lowest setting and power up. You want to go slow, making steam would be bad I think . . . Soon as I get a solid flow I power down and let the flowing water thaw the ice.


I have a culvert and some underground drains that fill with ice every winter here and flood me out. I put bare copper wire through these and in spring hook my welder to them and they become heating elements to get the water flow started. I got the idea from the State road crews doing it, here at problem culverts there is a rod poking up at each end and in spring they drive around heating these up so the roads don’t wash out.

Doozer
01-08-2014, 08:51 PM
Jerry beat me to it,
but yes plumbers use a torch all the time
to solder copper pipe is old houses. I have
also done plumbing in 200 year old houses
in Buffalo, Allentown, Delaware, Elmwood,
etc. Gotta be careful yes, but so do you
when you are wiring in a 480v panel.
WTF-- Why all the worries? It is done
every day? Just puzzled.

--Doozer

Jon Heron
01-08-2014, 09:01 PM
In northern Ontario, more houses have been burned down using welders to thaw pipes then torches ever have...Be very careful using a welder as it can turn the pipes red hot in the blink of an eye...
The thawing machines are much safer cause there is no guess work on the setting and they have a duty cycle to preform the task at hand.
When I was an apprentice in Northern Ontario we once went 56 days strait where the temperature never went above -35C, averaged around -40~-42. They started airing warnings on our only Am radio station about not to use your welder to thaw out the pipes due to the number of fires attributed to them.
Guess what lucky apprentice got to crawl underneath every single house in Cobalt (all built on bedrock) the next spring to install pyro heat tracing on all the new water lines... Oh the memories... :rolleyes:
Play safe!
Cheers,
Jon

bruto
01-08-2014, 09:10 PM
Your best bet is to wrap the pipe with electric heat tape if you can and wait. At least you wont start a fire. If you close to the frozen section it may thaw it.

JL.................Actually, my ex wife was in fire and rescue for a while, and reported that heat tapes were a major cause of house fires, especially in the supply lines to trailers. Obviously a properly working one won't ignite anything, but I guess they malfunction invisibly. Make sure you know where yours are and keep them in good repair and watch out for rodents.

vpt
01-08-2014, 09:12 PM
I used a torch to melt the ice in a drain pipe for one of our tanks just yesterday. Worked like a charm!

Not one of those little torches either. The kind that goes on a grille or camper type lp tank.

J Tiers
01-08-2014, 09:45 PM
The problem with the welder method is that the pipes lose heat at different rates depending on whether they are in the open or in a wall. The ones you can SEE might not be the hottest.... depending on what's around the pipes elsewhere.

Copper pipes would probably not get red hot.... they conduct pretty well, and the joints would likely come apart long before red heat. But iron pipes might, if you really hit them with current. Of course the first clue would be the massive hissing and slobbering as the steam blows out the rest of the water..... seems like you might need to be rather non-observant to run into trouble.

But never underestimate the ability of some folks of the "Bubba" persuasion to not think of the consequences.

Mike Nash
01-08-2014, 09:59 PM
Indoor plumbing is overrated anyway...




:rolleyes:

But man am I ever appreciative of a warm (or cool!) dry house when it's raining (or cold, or hot, or...)

jhe.1973
01-08-2014, 10:24 PM
This reminded me of something I have heard happening to more than one homesteader that moved west w/o knowing that they had arrived in oil shale country.

Spent the summer building a small one room cabin and a mud mortar and field stone fireplace/chimney. First winter comes and they get a good fire going to warm up and the fireplace/chimney starts burning and takes down the cabin. By the time the oil has burned out of the shale rocks, that's all that's left - hot rocks.

That can ruin a person's whole day!

Doozer
01-08-2014, 10:48 PM
I actually thawed my outside hose spigots
with a torch yesterday. I just heated them
gently, because I know they have rubber
washers and oakum packing, and PEX tubing
crimped on the inside. Too much heat would
melt the PEX tubing easily. Got them going
and left a small drip stream till it warms up
outside.
One problem I did have torching the rear shocks
out of my Lincoln. I got the sheet metal a little
red, and thought bad thoughts. Seconds later
I saw through the windows that the interior of
the car was filled with white smoke. OH NO!
I took a deep breath and opened the back door
and ripped out the bottom back seat cushion,
and got out. I took another deep breath and
went into the car and ripped out the upper back
seat cushion, then got out. I got the garden
hose and put out what was burning. It was the
wiring harness to the radio amplifier and some of
the seat foam. I got it put out but my heart was
pumping. Play safe with a torch.

--Doozer

WhatTheFlux!
01-08-2014, 10:56 PM
I actually thawed my outside hose spigots
with a torch yesterday. I just heated them
gently, because I know they have rubber
washers and oakum packing, and PEX tubing
crimped on the inside. Too much heat would
melt the PEX tubing easily. Got them going
and left a small drip stream till it warms up
outside.
One problem I did have torching the rear shocks
out of my Lincoln. I got the sheet metal a little
red, and thought bad thoughts. Seconds later
I saw through the windows that the interior of
the car was filled with white smoke. OH NO!
I took a deep breath and opened the back door
and ripped out the bottom back seat cushion,
and got out. I took another deep breath and
went into the car and ripped out the upper back
seat cushion, then got out. I got the garden
hose and put out what was burning. It was the
wiring harness to the radio amplifier and some of
the seat foam. I got it put out but my heart was
pumping. Play safe with a torch.

--Doozer

Goodness, glad that worked out otherwise I'd be on here yelling about people thawing cars with torches in Buffalo. ;)

dp
01-08-2014, 11:03 PM
Indoor plumbing is overrated anyway...

I still remember the first time I saw indoor plumbing and being taught how it worked. It had a tank near the ceiling and a chain you pulled. Didn't quite understand at the time what the roll of paper was for, and there was no phone book.

Doozer
01-08-2014, 11:08 PM
Goodness, glad that worked out otherwise I'd be on here yelling about people thawing cars with torches in Buffalo. ;)


I tell ya one thing that works though, when your
brake line blows out in cold winter salt roads,
you can put your transmission in reverse to stop
yourself. Only a small fire when the brake fluid
sprays on the muffler. Just go easy or the drive
shaft will fall out. It is how you get to work on
time living in Buffalo.
Ever tell ya about running out of gas on the skyway?

--Doozer

cameron
01-08-2014, 11:15 PM
If you've got a short section of frozen pipe, you know where it is , and have access, the best way I've found is to wrap the pipe with an old bath towel or two and pour on a kettle of boiling water. It's a lot faster than a small propane torch or a heat gun. I don't know how it compares to a welder, but you can probably have the job done in less time than it takes to set up the welder.

Of course, if you've got a frozen pipe, you might not have any water for the kettle. That would mean you couldn't make tea or coffee and that should teach you to always have water on hand.

cameron
01-08-2014, 11:24 PM
I still remember the first time I saw indoor plumbing and being taught how it worked. It had a tank near the ceiling and a chain you pulled. Didn't quite understand at the time what the roll of paper was for, and there was no phone book.

The phone book in my home town was so small it wouldn't have lasted a week.

EddyCurr
01-09-2014, 12:08 AM
Here we go.

The council office in my home town is so small,
the mayor has to step outside to change his mind.

.

WhatTheFlux!
01-09-2014, 12:50 AM
Here we go.

The council office in my home town is so small,
the mayor has to step outside to change his mind.

.

Town I grew up in was SO SMALL our zip-code was a fraction!

WhatTheFlux!
01-09-2014, 12:52 AM
Ever tell ya about running out of gas on the skyway?

--Doozer

Geeze that was you? I ended up missing my date because of you.

Kidding aside, that must have been QUITE the situation...

elf
01-09-2014, 01:21 AM
I just live where the pipes don't freeze. It's a lot easier that way :)

The Artful Bodger
01-09-2014, 04:11 AM
Signs in public toilets in parts of Australia:

'WARNING water in basin is hot, allow to cool before putting hands in water!
WARNING water in toilet pan is hot, do not put hands in toilet pan!
WARNING water in toilet pan is hot, DO NOT FLUSH WHILE SITTING ON TOILET!

(Their artesian water is very hot as it comes from the ground.)

darryl
01-09-2014, 04:48 AM
Last summer we drove through a town so small that if you looked at one house, you missed the other. It had one sign- it said 'welcome to----- and thanks for visiting on both sides.

vpt
01-09-2014, 08:26 AM
http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/wisconsin-woman-tries-to-warm-van-with-hot-charcoal-starts-fire-b99179468z1-239134861.html

Richard King
01-09-2014, 08:40 AM
That is GREAT info Utter, I am going to send a copy to the local newspaper, it makes perfect sense.

My folks 50 years ago had a mobile home at the lake and when it got cold they wrapped the pipes with heat tape, left the storage doors in the kitchen open and let the facet drip a heavy stream. I recall the neighbors had a local welder come out with his portable rig to thaw pipes and it worked for 1 out of 3.
I live in central MN and it gets - 30 (-40 or more up north) a few times a year and I have a propane blower heater I have had to slide in under a car to warm the oil pan a few times. Just yesterday I needed to to pump up a tire in the barn and I took a heat lamp and put it under a moving quilt shining on the small portable compressor. Went back out there an hour later and I smelt plastic....the damn light melted a plastic motor cover. I was lucky I didn't burn down the barn I now figure. I just hate the winter and when I retire I am going to move someplace warmer...I am sick to death of jumper cables, shoveling snow, picking up dog poop because they look at me as you know they are thinking are you nuts, you want me to go out there and poop when it's 30 below? Oooofff Daahhh - Rich

EVguru
01-09-2014, 10:03 AM
Just yesterday I needed to to pump up a tire in the barn and I took a heat lamp and put it under a moving quilt shining on the small portable compressor. Went back out there an hour later and I smelt plastic....the damn light melted a plastic motor cover. I was lucky I didn't burn down the barn I now figure.

That reminds me of a story someone I used to work with told about when he did National Service. The barracks was really cold and someone came up with the trick of putting a lightbulb in a biscuit tin as a bed warmer. One of the officers heard of this and decided to try it himself. The result was a fire and a very angry officer. The squaddies had to make do with 15 Watt bulbs whilst those for officers were at least 40.

jdunmyer
01-09-2014, 12:42 PM
Heat tape is supposed to be safe as far as fire hazard, but, they do warn you to not ever cross a winding over another. You're supposed to either run it right parallel to the pipe, or wrap it around and around, but not crossing. That will create hot spots and could be dangerous.

EddyCurr
01-09-2014, 02:25 PM
http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/wisconsin-woman-tries-to-warm-van-with-hot-charcoal-starts-fire-b99179468z1-239134861.htmlLac du Flambeau.

I laughed.

.

BigMike782
01-09-2014, 03:45 PM
This was proof enough for me,
http://www.heraldpalladium.com/localnews/niles-mcdonald-s-destroyed-by-fire/article_35cb7af9-b86c-500b-b3f7-b50e655e6266.html

WhatTheFlux!
01-09-2014, 04:50 PM
http://www.wivb.com/news/local/two-alarm-fire-on-abbott-rd-in-buffalo

And another one. *headdesk*

bruto
01-12-2014, 01:19 PM
Similar to the oil shale story, I remember an old Georgia sawyer mentioning how long ago a friend of his sided his house with "rich lighter," also known as fatwood. It shredded off in ropelike sections and looked as if it had grown fur. I can't now remember whether it actually burned down or just threatened to.

I'm also reminded of the town so small that when you dropped a four way cold tablet it had no place to go.