Ice Cold Advice
January 12, 2011barriehol
This morning the temperature gauge in my car is registering 7 deg C, an astonishing 24 degrees above the low point of -17 deg C registered in my neck of the woods in the depths of the freeze just 3 weeks ago. The reports of burst pipes have rocketed and plumbers and water authorities around the country are flat out with repairs. Even the drain pipes from condensing boilers have frozen solid.
External pipes stand little chance in these conditions even when lagged or buried underground as the frost at least in my garden has penetrated to nearly half a metre depth. It is best to just isolate the supply and drain down.
There is a misnomer that pipes burst during the thaw when in fact the damage has already been done by the ice formation. Water expands as it turns to ice and in an enclosed pipeline the pressure generated on the pipe walls splits the pipe. The hole is plugged by the ice -until the thaw -when the ice turns back to water and hey presto you have a leak. Ice formation does not always burst the pipe so inducing rapid thawing with a blowtorch or a banked array of heaters will not help prevent a burst and could cause its own problems.
One report I had was of a householder faced with a frozen supply pipe whose plumber recommended connecting several electric heaters to a gang plug in the room affected to thaw it out only for the plug to overload and frazzle the wiring. She was lucky that a fire did not result to add to the misery and loss of 3 space heaters.
The winter is not yet over by a long chalk so preparedness and prevention is still better than the cure. Pipe lagging of course is essential but I can pass on one tip that may not be strictly PC with the environmentalists or your water authority – but never mind. If a hard frost is forecast identify those internal pipes that run close to the external walls and set the connected taps inside the house to a trickle. Moving water is less likely to freeze and the mains supply water fed from underground is at a fairly constant 5 deg C. If it does freeze your trickle will act as a pressure relief valve giving the ice somewhere to expand into.
It is also a good idea to keep the heating on low through the night and on tick over 24/7 if you are leaving the house for any length of time.
The respite from arctic conditions provides an opportunity to prepare for its inevitable return. Coarse Rock salt is commonly used to de-ice roads but for commercial and domestic premises it has its drawbacks. For one it is full of impurities that diminish its effectiveness but also leaves a brown sludgy reside that creates an unsightly mess when trodden into your car or hall carpet. If you have pets the sharp granules can also imbed in their paws and the impurities cause infection. Better to use the ultra pure white de-icer which kilo for kilo goes up to 5 times further and leaves no harmful residue.
The time to buy a salt spreader or snow shovel is when there is no snow or ice on the ground. As the problems with heating oil demonstrated, you will find stocks at a premium when demand rockets following significant snow fall, a situation exacerbated by extended delivery times due to consequent transport problems. So be proactive and be prepared. As the ad men say – order now to avoid disappointment!!!