Like a growing number of Canadians, Mike and Alice Ogden traded their city home for full-time life at the cottage. And as anyone who has attempted this will tell you, one of the biggest technical challenges is getting year-round running water from a landscape with shallow soil cover, delivered reliably to buildings without basements. Preventing water lines from freezing during cold weather is the trick, and it requires specialized plumbing technology of the sort that a guy named Lorne Heise excels at creating.
An electrician by trade, Heise left the bustle of Toronto life, moved to Muskoka, and started a company called Heat-Line (800-584-4944). Heise invented and manufactures some of the best frost protection plumbing hardware I’ve seen, and I got to experience his Carapace product first hand. The Ogden’s new water well is 50 feet from their cottage, and with only 18 inches of soil cover, the pipe leading from the well would certainly freeze without some kind of cable to warm it. The Carapace product I installed for them includes a heating cable molded right into the pipe, but this innovation isn’t the most impressive part of the system.
What really struck me is the intelligence behind the embedded cable. Unlike any other pipe heating cables I’ve worked with, this one has the ability to adjust heat output incrementally along its entire length, applying more or less heat as needed to different parts of the pipe that its warming. This eliminates the danger that some cables pose of overheating plastic water pipes, while also reducing the amount of electricity required to a bare minimum. A further innovation involves the use of a thermostat box that allows the system to shut off completely when heat is not required to keep the pipe above freezing. At $1400 for 70 feet of Carapace pipe, and an additional $500 for the thermostat and foam pipe insulation, the Ogden’s system isn’t cheap. But after working with this hardware, I can also say that it’s extremely well made, well thought out, and exceptionally tough. The system has also proven it’s worth in a surprising way this morning.
It’s -15ºC as I write this, and the Heat-Line thermostat has been cycling ON and OFF nicely as needed to keep the Ogden’s water line frost free. What’s really remarkable is that we don’t even have the trench filled back in yet. The pipes are open and exposed as hoar frost wafts down from surrounding trees, yet water still flows perfectly from the well.
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 building that sits in the air on some kind of piers, while also preserving the all-important layer of insulation.
This is the challenge with many cottages, and to keep the pipe both insulated and protected, I used two products made for entirely different purposes.
The Carapace system involves sleeves of flexible foam insulation that goes around the heated pipe to reduce power consumption. In order to keep this insulation in good shape physically after it’s 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 6 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.