Thawing frozen copper drainpipe with 12 V Battery Charger

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Old 12-29-08, 07:49 PM
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Thawing frozen copper drainpipe with 12 V Battery Charger

During the recent hard freeze in the Midwest, the copper kitchensink drainpipe that is shared by the basement barsink stopped draining (backed up into the barsink instead). The laundry room sink, located about 18 feet over from the barsink continues to drain well, as do mainfloor and 2nd floor sinks, toilets and showers. The clog must therefie be between the barsink and the main drain.
Snaking, using waterpressure (with one of those "stuttervalve" balloons) and three separate draincleaner applications failed to clear the clog, so it is likely to be ice.
I have heard of using a 12 V battery charger to heat the pipe and melt/vaporize the ice, but I do not know how and where to properly attach the positive and negative leads, what amperage to use and for how long to apply the current.
Any sage/expert advice on the issue would be greatly appreciated!!
 
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Old 12-29-08, 08:46 PM
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You will burn out the charger or overheat it and start a fire!.
Commercial pipe thawing machines are several hundred amps.
 
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Old 12-30-08, 04:23 AM
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If it is in your basement and it is underground, I doubt it is ice between the drains. Discontinue the drain cleaners, as they only mess up the ecology and do little to solve the problems. When you snaked it, did you feel an occlusion? Is there a vent between this sink and the main drain?
 
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Old 12-31-08, 09:46 PM
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Unhappy Thawing frozen copper drainpipe with 12 V Battery Charger

Thanks for the feedback GregH and Chandler!
Yes there appeared to be an obstruction but the end (small spring auger) of the snake came back clean, so I figured it was eithe ice or the snake was unable to make a corner.
I am not sure if there is a vent between the stopped-up barsink drain and the clear-running laundry drain that is 18 feet over from it in the same wall.
I figured if there was a vent serving both of the drains, and that vent was blocked by ice or snow, both drains would have been affected and not just the barsink drain.
Would it be worthwile to snake the vent down from the roof, just in case?
Since waterpressure did not do the job, could I use airpressure? I have access to a compressor.
I am thoroughly stumped on this one!
Any other ideas or suggestions are truly welcome!

Thanks again!
 
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Old 01-01-09, 05:59 AM
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I would try to chug the vent first. Be careful, as it isn't the fall, but the sudden stop that makes for a day. Using air pressure with a functioning vent will only blow air up the vent, so that probably won't work. Let us know what you find in the vent pipe, and we'll go from there.
 
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Old 01-04-09, 01:26 PM
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The amperage needed to thaw long lengths of pipe would be much higher than a common 'homeowner' grade battery charger. Some of the 115 volt AC plug-in type 'jump starter' types can give you the amperages, but reading the manuals would reveal that they are only allowed to do this for just a few seconds per hour, that tiny time span would only melt frozen pipes if they were already almost ready to thaw. Now if we are talking Lincoln AC type stick (arc) welders, yeah, those ARE rated for thawing pipes (my welders operator manual tells how)... I just priced such a welder at Lowes for about $250 (about $1 per ampere).
 
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Old 01-04-09, 01:44 PM
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Regardless of a welder having instructions to do so a normal arc welder must not be used to thaw water pipes.
It is a sure way to start a fire.

The only electrical device that should be used to thaw pipes must have certification to do so.
 
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Old 01-08-09, 01:22 PM
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Thawing Pipes

Originally Posted by GregH View Post
Regardless of a welder having instructions to do so a normal arc welder must not be used to thaw water pipes.
It is a sure way to start a fire.

The only electrical device that should be used to thaw pipes must have certification to do so.
GregH -
While I agree with you, believe me, it is done regularly around here. We had one local (God rest his soul) who made quite a bit of money for many years just thawing out pipes. He had a 400 Amp welder/generator mounted on an old truck and was quite busy during the winter. I knew him well, and know for certain he never started a fire. Personally, the idea always scrared me.
 
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Old 01-08-09, 02:33 PM
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Yes, I know it is done regularly.

Where I am our normal frost line is 8 feet and in a high traffic area it can go to 12 feet so thawing pipes is a common occurrence.

Although fires are rare they are common enough that the insurance companies who cover plumbing firms and municipalities will only insure when the proper equipment is used.
 
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Old 01-08-09, 03:26 PM
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Ya got me curious Greg.

When there is a fire due to what is being talked about, what is catching fire? I am guessing it would be something next to the pipe being heated but the temps needed to cause spontaneous compbustion are typically quite high. If the pipe is getting that hot, somebody isn't paying attention to what is going on.

bencatblum; the frost line for Chicago is less the 2 1/2 feet typically. Since you have a basement, chances are, your drain is below the frost line. How far in are you getting the snake?

Based on that last question, where is the blockage compared to floor level?
 
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Old 01-08-09, 03:48 PM
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Overheated pipes from either setting the welder at too high a current level, areas of pipe that are not frozen and being heated too much and pipes that dramatically drop in size.

You can also have arcing from loose plumbing connections in the heated loop.
 
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Old 01-08-09, 04:55 PM
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so you are saying; spontaneous combustion from some material in contact with the situations you describe, or the sparks igniting some material; yes?

sparks? If you have a lack of continuity, which is what it would take to create a spark, you surely would have a leak at that point. I don;t see this as a great possibility but I have seen some strange things in construction.

since the melting point of copper is 1984 F and the melting points of bronze or brass are lower, they are all over 800 F. and a generally accepted spontaneous ignition point of paper is 450 and wood is around 600, I suppose it would be possible to ignite something prior to the pipe actually melting and opening the circuit.

Don't take my post as being arguementative. It's not. I had simply not heard of the situation before so I asked you for the clarification. What i posted here is basically intended to show that it does appear that it could happen given the right circumstances.

So, with that in mind, should anybody attempt to thaw a pipe inside of a structure, it does seem a possibility it could start a fire. Proceed with extreme caution. You will most likely thaw the pipe but the sink hooked to that pipe may not be around anymore so what have you gained?
 
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Old 01-08-09, 05:18 PM
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Hi all

In NH, Our frost line is 5'

There are machines that are expressly designed to thaw pipes with electrical current. I think one is called "Pipe N Hot". I have used such a machine several times as in NH we can get some cold winters and plenty of frozen pipes. You do need to be careful of the distance between the electrical clamps and how long you use the machine as the cables will get pretty hot.
This machine is just a just like a welder but the current is already set as to keep you from burning things. Using a welder is possible as long as your operator knows his welder capabilities. I have seen welders used many times to thaw the underground service lines to your house when the frost goes down too far.
 
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