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Thawing Pipes with a Welder Could Catch Your House on Fire

The winter of 2014 saw frost lines reach 90 inches deep in the city of Manistique, MI (U.P.).

Arctic blast after arctic blast pushed the frost line so deep it began freezing water lines buried at depths previously thought to be “safe” from winter freezing.

To try to help residents thaw frozen water lines, the city sent workers and hired a welder to attempt to thaw the frozen pipes.

During these calls, workers reported heat and current going to unintended places — namely, other houses’ electrical boxes. In fact, some caught fire as far as 3 houses away and some caught fire across the street!

The Path of Least Resistance

The problem is, electricity is just like water — it flows along the path of least resistance.

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Welder Catches House on Fire

This means the thawing current may flow in unintended paths and cause your house — or your neighbors house — to catch on fire.

Worse still, thawing current could flow from your underground pipe and inadvertently ignite gas lines!

And if you think thawing indoor plumbing with a welder is any safer, think again. It’s just as likely current could flow in unintended paths and ignite your house from the inside.

The very dangerous risk of fire aside, you could also melt the solder in your indoor plumbing joints trying to thaw your frozen pipes with a welder.

How About a Blowtorch?

In December 2016, over 40 firefighters from the Helena, Lindsey, and Gibsonburg, Montana, fire departments battled a single story house fire that started when the homeowner tried to thaw frozen water pipes with a blowtorch.

It took firefighters four hours to put out the blaze and the house was declared a total loss.

Every year, torches, burners, and soldering equipment account for 5,580 fires in the US amounting to $208,000,000 in property damage.

Better Ways to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Once a buried pipe is frozen, it’s usually too late to install preventative measures. Installing preventative internal heat trace systems must be done when the pipe is not frozen.

In far-north regions it can take weeks for ground thaw heat blankets to thaw out the ground enough to dig up the pipe and wrap it with insulation and external heat tape or heat trace products.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommends these alternatives to welders and blowtorches:

  • Use a portable steam cleaner,
  • Pump warm water into the service line,
  • Install frost bottom water meters that pop off before the line freezes to let the water drain out,
  • In areas with excellent ventilation, vehicle exhaust can be directed into the meter pit with an attached hose.
    * Caution! Never get in the pit when performing this procedure!

The real problem with these methods is:

  1. They don’t solve the problem permanently and,
  2. None of these methods work on pipe made from PVC, polypropylene, or polyethylene pipe.

But don't despair! You do have options for solving pipe freeze problems for any type of pipe once and for all ...

How To Prevent Any Type of Pipe From Freezing Without Burning Down the Neighborhood

The best way to cure chronic water and sewer pipe freezing is to install an internal pipe heat device before your area begins to freeze.

But, since most people don’t think about pipe freeze prevention until pipes actually freeze, thawing the pipe using one of the above methods and immediately installing an internal pipe heater will solve the problem permanently as long as you have electrical power.

The key to using these devices is you must make sure the length of the internal pipe heater is the same as the run you need to protect. The heat does not extend past the tip so it’s important that the unit is installed in an area that doesn’t freeze (like a heated basement) and runs all the way to the stop at the city main.

For instance, HotLine’s Internal Pipe Heaters protect water and sewer lines of any material from freezing with an economical, low-voltage transformer and, for most situations, install with no digging or excavation required.

So make your life easier, keep your neighbors happy, and give your local fire department a break! Protect your pipes with an internal pipe heater today.