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Jon Eakes 2016Tool Talk logoBy Jon Eakes

Winter 2017

The Science of Winter

It is the dead of winter and our clients are cold, if not freezing. So let me start with dog and cat doors that have been approved for a Passive House construction—withstanding 50 pascal blower door tests while letting animals in and out. 

Lab-tested Pet Doors for The Canadian Winter
Freedom Pet Pass doors were invented in Bay City, Michigan out of the necessity of wanting to stop the snow from piling up in the living room due to the wintertime failures of any and all dog doors. But this inventor happened to be interested in energy efficient construction as well and built his unique double magnetic flapper to have no hinges to freeze and break while still meeting the 50-pascal pressure standard of the best of construction. Then he created cat doors just as efficient, but cats still get through. We finally have a way to meet a customer’s demand for such a thing as a pet door without compromising the energy efficient envelope. It is worth looking at this company’s technical information and third party lab testing reports—a pet company with cold Canada in its heart.  Energy Efficient Dog Doors.com

Keeping Water Lines Frost-Free
Many companies make heating wires for roofs as well as pipes, but these wires are essentially ON or OFF and must not overlap. A little-known aspect of the HeatLine company is their cables are self-regulating; automatically adjusting their heat (energy) output at each point (microscopically) along their length. As the surrounding temperature (water or air) increases, HeatLine products automatically decrease their heat (energy) output, and vice versa. They can cross over themselves without burnout problems, allowing wrapping around a valve while running along a pipe. In a long run to the lake, they only heat where it is cold, and only as much as is needed to stay frost free; so deep in the ground they rarely heat, and when close to the surface or even over rock they heat as needed. Their operational costs are lower and the cables last longer than those always heating, even though they are always ON and ready for the cold.

Snow Melting Rather Than Snow Shoveling
A little-known fact about snow melting pads is that if they are clear when the snow starts, they will usually evaporate the snow on contact before there is any snow cover—hence no water run-off and no need to leave them on all the time. If turned on only during snowfall—evaporating the snow as it falls—an eight-step entrance would cost about one dollar for electricity for a six-hour snowfall. Would you pay a kid one dollar to shovel the steps? 
Electrical snow melting mats from HeatTrack are made differently for residential and commercial installations and are very flexible in installation—as you can see in the photo. 
Embedded hydronic snow melting systems for large complexes are available from companies like HeatLink.

Then There is The Need to Thaw The Ground
If you need to build or repair in winter and the ground is already frozen, thawing the ground is often the only way to dig. When the water main to the house has frozen, as happened to thousands of houses in Montreal last winter when the sustained cold and little snow cover sent frost lines down 8 feet in places, trying to thaw the pipe with electrical jumpers often has bad consequences back in the house. Thawing the ground itself is a better option. 
There are several dozen ground-heating products on the market that range from chemicals to glycol-based systems, but the simplest apply direct heat. Using overhead heaters is the least efficient because the gas or electrical heaters heat the air that heats the ground and there is a lot lost in the middle.

The Serious Toaster uses infrared heaters that have the advantage that they do not waste time with the air but heat the soil directly by radiation, and then the soil sends the heat down by conduction. When placed so as to avoid wind wash, they are extremely efficient without any open flames, thawing up to 1.6 inches per hour.

Electrical ground thaw blankets can be very effective when they include topside insulation to hold the heat in. Heat blankets are reputed to thaw one foot of soil a day—and RapidThaw claims to be able to thaw frozen water pipes that are eight feet deep. Such pads are often easy to find as rentals.
All of these direct heat options can be useful in curing concrete poured during freezing temperatures. Welcome to Canada, where winter is both an art and a science.


Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER.


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