What to do about frozen condense pipes

After this year’s big chill, Chris Flaherty, Eng Tech and owner of Vietec Heating, considers some of the solutions to preventing frozen condense pipes. 

So, we have just had an extremely harsh cold spell, temperatures as low as -10 in places on occasion. The last time we saw temperatures like this for any sustained period was about five years ago. I remember well we had exactly the same problem back then as we have experienced this time: FROZEN CONDENSE PIPES.

Now what should we as an industry do about this? I ran a poll on Twitter – yeah, I understand that it’s hardly a major poll, but I just wanted to gauge opinion from installers. I gave the choice, do we need regulation change to either

  1.  Prohibit condense pipes to be run externally
  2.  Require insulation and trace heating on any exposed condense pipe

I also added a third choice

3. Do we just except that we may get sub zero temperatures say every five years and just except external condense pipes may freeze

As of this writing, with one more day to run of the poll, out of 92 installers who voted so far 47% (the largest proportion) went for No3 – to expect the occasional freeze. Now I sort of understand this response. The UK, mostly fuelled by the media, do tend to over-hype everything and we take weather like this as an armageddon. It is rare for us to hit these sort of temperatures in the UK. As stated earlier, it’s five years since I remember such low temperatures. Well, this is for most the UK – I understand Scotland is often far colder than we experience further south, however, I don’t agree with the poll result.

We only need heat in the winter and we certainly need heat when we hit temperatures of -9, but for boilers to fail in times when they are most needed due to something that is preventable is not really acceptable in 2018. Now I don’t do reactive work, so I did not go out defrosting frozen condense pipes, and I take my hat off to all those who did get out in treacherous conditions to help people with such problems and I hope you earned well. You have to reap the benefits when times are good. I have seen some external condense pipes via Twitter which when run externally have been done to what we consider correct methods, short as possible runs, mostly vertical and in 40mm pipe – and they still froze.

I personally think there are 2 problems here: lazy installers who just want the easiest job possible so take the quickest way with the condense, rather than looking for alternative possibilities that could keep the condense within the thermal envelope of the building, and second, customers not willing to pay for alternatives that may cost a bit more to the install, but would save them losing heat in such cold weather. But what do we do about it?

I know at the start I mentioned regulation change to enforce things, but in practice I am against such things. I am not one for big Government telling us what to do. This is something we as an industry need to address ourselves. We need manufacturers and trade bodies to publish good practice methods, stating that condense pipes should NOT be run externally; training bodies, need to drum it in to the new and upcoming people within our industry that it is not acceptable to run condense pipes externally. Again, we need the industry as a whole educating the public via newspapers and online that installers will always try and keep their condense within the thermal envelope to prevent freezing and that this will cost them more, but is worth it rather than been without heat and paying an emergency plumber when it does freeze. They will pay in the end, but it needs to be done while the iron is hot, like NOW, when it it fresh in peoples mind how horrible it was to be without heat, because come spring, it will all be forgotten.

Another point that some have raised on social media is the type of boilers that have the issue with freezing condense tend mostly to be those that just trickle the condense constantly, and not so much those that release a larger slug of condense in one go. Maybe this is another solution for manufacturers to consider

So what do all you installers think? This is our industry, so lets talk about issues within our industry.

This article was originally posted on Chris Flaherty’s personal blog, here.

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