It’s that time of the year again. Summer is gone and children are back to school. The weather is getting cooler. Pumpkin spice lattes are everywhere. The cooler months are in front of us; whether it’s getting your seasonal decorations out or planning your winter holiday, everyone is preparing for the colder months.
As most people know, colder weather can cause severe problems for a home. More specifically, your home’s piping system, “All piping materials expand and contract with temperature changes. The more heat is applied, the more materials tend to expand and soften. The colder the conditions, the more materials tend to contract and harden,” said Jorge Solorio, sales enablement manager at the Lubrizol Corporation.
A home’s plumbing system and water pipes can be put under extreme stress during the colder months. When talking about a plumbing system, it’s important to understand the different parts of your system that can be affected by cold climates. As said by Daymon Tang, inside sales representative at Next Supply, “For plumbing systems, there’s your two parts — drains and water lines. In extreme cold weather cases, your water lines or drain traps can freeze, and once they do, they expand and potentially split pipes and fittings.”
Vince Baggetta, a senior representative with Next Supply, further explains the importance of knowing which water pipes are susceptible to freezing. “All external hose bibs should be isolated and drained. Any water pipes exposed to the elements must be purged of water with compressed air if they do not naturally drain,” said Baggetta.
To ensure that the plumbing system is properly equipped to handle cold climates, they must be installed correctly. “If a drain is going to be outside, the trap must be below the frost line, which is based on the area of installation,” explains Tang.
Working in the cold
A home’s piping system is constantly at risk when it comes to cold climates, even in the early days of construction, and “In the case of piping systems, we are most concerned with linear expansion and contraction, which affects both metallic and thermoplastic piping materials,” said Solorio.
Making sure the job is done correctly, regardless of weather conditions, is a critical first step in ensuring a home is prepared for all situations. Additionally, “When designing a piping system, architects and contractors must correctly account for thermal expansion and contraction. The most important factor to account for is temperature differential, which is the difference between the maximum and minimum temperatures the piping system will be exposed to during its life,” said Solorio. “While expansion and contraction are unavoidable, resultant issues can be easily circumvented with the proper design considerations. Specifically, by employing one of the following deflection mechanisms: expansion loops, expansion offsets, changes of direction, and expansion joints.”
Cold weather solvent welding
As mentioned previously, expansion joints can be crucial in mitigating the effects of cold temperatures. As Oatey, a manufacturer of products for the residential and commercial plumbing industries, stated in a blog post regarding solvent welding pipe joints in cold weather, “Solvent weather in a cold environment presents challenges that must be counterbalanced. Why? Pipe and fittings take longer to soften in colder weather. The pipe is also more resistant to solvent attack, so softening it with an aggressive primer is important during cold weather.”
As a result, Oatey’s blog post gave additional tips for solvent welding in cold weather. This included prefabricating as much of the piping system as possible in a warm environment, storing cement and primers in warmer areas and vigorously shaking or stirring cement before use, removing moisture from the ends of pipes and surfaces, allowing for a longer cure time before testing or using the system, and following all ASTM standards and steps.
Tang also referenced how critical it is to have your tools, products and personnel ready for working in the cold, stating, “Invest in a heater. People, tools, and products don’t always cooperate in freezing temperatures.” Baggetta adds that all contractors should, “follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and use all the proper primers and solvents for the proper installation of the product in freezing temperatures.”
Picking the right materials
Having the right set of tools makes any job more manageable. Being prepared and doing your due diligence also allows a job to be done correctly. While there are tips and practices for working in cold climates, at the end of the day, the material of pipe you install can be considered the most significant factor. As Dale Hanscomb, former regional sales manager with Rehau, explains, “Water or other fluids in pipes transfer their heat to pipe walls via conduction, since they are in contact. Heat also conducts from interior to exterior pipe walls, or vice-versa. A less conductive pipe material slows down this portion of heat transfer.”
When discussing which types of pipe materials are less conductive, Hanscomb states that, “PEX pipes are much less conductive than a metallic pipe like copper. If you had a copper pipe beside a PEX pipe in the same scenario, that PEX would generally not freeze.” Hanscomb adds that PEX pipes may have a better chance of not freezing due to the fact that the material is so flexible that it can stretch enough to accommodate the freezing water inside of it.
However, some materials may have differing characteristics, “When it comes to mother nature, nothing really wins. If it’s cold enough, it will freeze. So, there isn’t any perfect one fight. Even if a pipe is resistant, the fittings may not be since they are made of a different composition. So, you have to consider which materials you are using for connecting pipe to the rest of the plumbing system,” said Tang.