Q: How can my boiler pipes freeze and do so much damage while trees outside
withstand frigid temperatures all winter long?
A: That is a good question for Bill Nye the Science Guy, but as Bill Y the Heating
Guy, I will give it a stab. Obviously plants are very complex biological systems
while a boiler system is strictly mechanical. The laws of thermodynamics hold
true across systems and we heed those laws when designing our heating systems.
When water freezes it expands (the root cause of those dreaded pot holes).
When the water in a boiler system freezes, it too will expand to the extent it can
split the water lines. Adding antifreeze to the system (BTW, this is not your
automotive form of antifreeze) can prevent those lines from freezing.
When adding boiler specific antifreeze, care must be taken to gage the proper
concentration. The liquid in this mixture is thicker and can be harder on the
pumps in the heating system. In addition, over time the chemicals can break
down becoming acidic capable of causing corrosion in the pipes and damaging
other components in the system (gaskets, valves, etc). So, if your system is
operating with additives, have one of our technicians check it annually for proper
Plants Create Their Own Antifreeze
Plants basically create their own antifreeze in a very complex mechanism that
sometimes results in the yummy sugary syrup that we pour on pancakes.
Changing the freezing point of water is done regularly these days by throwing
snow melt (basically salt) on the ground. Works the same way with plants as they
increase “solubles” (sugar in their case) flowing through and around the plant’s
cells. This is not enough protection in colder climates so the plants also adjust the
water content in the cell structure helping to make them more flexible. This
minimal amount of movement makes up for the expansion that occurs as the ice
freezes. This chemistry does not happen overnight and many a plant has been
taken by an early frost.
Bioler Pipes Need to be Flexible Too
Having flexibly in cell structure obviously helps and so it goes with boiler
piping. You may not have a preference but I prefer copper (just watch my favorite
movie “Moonstruck” and you know why). Copper is the traditional piping material
for sure, however not particularly flexible. PEX piping, while not copper (or shiny)
absolutely rocks in the flexibility department. It will withstand quite a bit of
expansion encountered during freezing. It is less expensive and easier to work
with so generally when we have broken pipes, they will be re-piped with PEX.
A distinct advantage we humans have is the ability to go south for the
winter. Like a tree, I personally prefer to stay put and battle the elements, but
going dormant gets many plants though those cold months. Cold is an
inconvenience for animals but we can at least dig a hole (like a mole), fly away
(like a bird), or build a home (like a contractor). Immobility means adapt or perish
and I think trees have done a pretty good job figuring it out. After twenty-four
years in business I would like to think we have a few things figured out, but let’s
limit that to your furnaces and boilers next time. Give AirWorks a call, we are here
to help, (406) 257-1341