Frozen plumbing

Date: 21 Feb 15
By: Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng. (Professional Engineer),
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
905 634 9538
For: Mr. Paul Berton, Ed. in Chief, The Spec
Re: Serious errors in an article on frozen pipes

GA, Paul.

The suggestions in this item range from good to questionable to dangerously wrong.

In priority order, dangerous first:

“Insulate all exposed outside water pipes … ” This will not prevent such pipes from freezing. The insulation will merely slow down the cooling process and delay the freezing a little. This is not an opinion. It is a fact of physics.

“Keep garage doors closed … ” This is merely a variation of #1 above. The freezing of such pipes will merely be delayed, not prevented. In fact, I think this one is irrelevant and can be omitted. No builder in his right mind would run pipes uninsulated through a garage; if he had done so, the unfortunate owner would have learned about it in the first cold snap of its first winter.

“Locate the master shutoff valve … ” Do this before thawing a frozen pipe, not after. It should read: “Before thawing a frozen pipe, close the master shutoff valve and drain the piping by opening all taps. Otherwise you risk dumping significant amounts of water in very inconvenient places such as inside a wall.”

” … near the water meter … “??? What use is that? The water meter is in a warm location, the burst pipe far away in a cold one. The pipe will not conduct heat more than a foot or two nor will water circulate inside the pipe. You have to apply heat on and near the split in the pipe.

I write all this from (a) ordinary engineering knowledge, and (b) bitter experience.

(Under (b): The builder of our house long ago ran a water pipe up a wall though fibgreglass insulation but closer to the outside wall that to the inside wallboard. Years later the pipe froze and burst. Cost of the resulting disaster: $32,000 plus endless inconvenience. I must here very cheerfully give AXA Insurance top marks: they did all we asked quickly, agreeably, and expertly.)

Paul, it is really quite essential that you correct the misinformation in this article, as it could result in serious financial and other problems for anyone following it. You should, of course, have it fact-checked first, perhaps by a physics prof at Mac.

Best,

Frank

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