September 30, 2012
The Chronicle Journal
If you’re like a growing number of Canadians trading their city homes for full-time life at the cottage or camp, sooner or later your involvement with plumbing and water systems will rise. Where city water simply flows miraculously from a pipe that enters your basement, you’ve got to make this magic happen entirely for yourself in any rural setting. And making this happen year-round is especially challenging if your cottage is built like so many are, with pipes vulnerable to freezing on a landscape with shallow soil cover. Upgrading seasonal cottage water systems so they stay frost-free in the coldest winter weather is a challenge that a Canadian named Lorne Heise excels at, and his work may just help you live a hassle-free life by the lake this winter.
Heise left the bustle of the big city, moved to cottage country, and started a company called Heat-Line.
Heise invented and manufactures some of the best frost protection plumbing hardware I’ve seen, and I got to experience his Carapace heated water line product first hand last winter.
That’s when I installed 50 feet of it for some friends who escaped to their cottage from the city, across a landscape with only 18 inches of soil that would normally freeze water pipes solid each winter.
Unlike most heated water line systems, the pipe I installed includes a heating cable molded right into the pipe, though this innovation isn’t the most impressive part of the system. After watching Carapace perform most of last winter, what really strikes me is the intelligence behind the embedded heating cable. Unlike other heated pipe systems I’ve worked with, this one automatically adjusts heat output incrementally along the length of the pipe. This boosts efficiency a lot on its own, but there’s more.
The system also includes a wallmounted thermostat that shuts the system off completely whenever heat isn’t required to keep the pipe above freezing.
All in all, electricity use is minimal, despite being surprisingly effective. Temperatures dropped to -15 C the day after I installed the system, and even though the pipe wasn’t yet covered with any kind of soil at all, water stayed frost-free and flowing.
While it’s one thing to keep a water pipe warm and insulated as it sits under a limited amount of protective soil cover, it’s another trick to bring that pipe up into a cottage building that sits in the air on some kind of raised foundation piers.
Many camps are built this way, without any kind of basement, and meeting the challenge of keeping the pipe both insulated and protected as it rises vertically into the building isn’t simple. In the end I succeeded using two products made for entirely different purposes.
The Carapace system involves sleeves of flexible foam insulation that goes around the heated pipe before being buried, to reduce power consumption. In order to keep this insulation in good shape physically after it was buried, I encased the entire insulated water line in 4′ diameter black ABS drain pipe. It’s inexpensive, exceptionally tough, available at every hardware store and easy to cut with a saw and join with solvent.
The only trouble is when the water line turns upwards to go into the building.
There’s not enough room to slide the foam insulation inside the elbows in this ABS outer shell. Rather than leave the pipe bare inside, I drilled 3/8′ diameter holes in the side of the ABS casing every six inches, then injected spray foam insulation into the hollow outer pipe, surrounding the inner Carapace pipe to keep it reliable and economical.
It’s a simple little twist that lets a great Canadian plumbing innovation do amazing things.
Steve Maxwell, syndicated home improvement and woodworking columnist, has shared his do-it-yourself tips, how-to videos and product reviews since 1988. His column appears weekly. Follow ‘Canada’s Handiest Man’ online at www.stevemaxwell.ca.