Here's a Clever Trick a Kentucky City Is Using to Thaw Out Frozen Water System Components

A cleverly rigged portable kerosene heater helps crews in a Kentucky city deal effectively with freeze-ups in water meters and services.

Here's a Clever Trick a Kentucky City Is Using to Thaw Out Frozen Water System Components

Cynthiana, Kentucky, team members are shown with their specially modified heater (from left): Harley Flack, assistant supervisor; Ron Slade, assistant supervisor of maintenance; and Estill Barnett and Gary Barrett, operators. 

The winter of 2013-14 was brutal, even as far south as Kentucky. The winter of 2017-18 was almost as harsh.

For Ron Slade and the water distribution team in the city of Cynthiana (population 6,500), extreme cold meant freeze-ups in the system and lots of calls from customers. In 2013-14, the team thawed out frozen components using torches and heat guns, with limited efficiency. Now, they deal with freezes much more effectively using a specially rigged kerosene heater.

In the vortex

“The winter of 2013-14 was the worst I’ve seen in 23 years,” recalls Slade, assistant supervisor of maintenance. “The polar vortex came through here, and we had 118 customer service calls for frozen meters and services.

“We’ve used any number of systems over the years to deal with freezes. The biggest problem was getting heat, which rises, down into our underground pits and trenches. We would rig cardboard chutes and plywood walls trying to deflect the elusive heat to where we needed it.”

After the winter of 2013-14, Slade turned to a kerosene-fueled heater (a type often called salamander or torpedo heaters). He rigged a DuraHeat unit with a capacity of 125,000 Btu/h with a 12-inch section of 28-gauge stovepipe attached to the heater’s internal frame. He then added a flexible elbow and another 18-inch stovepipe section.

“We use wooden handles to rotate the elbow and wooden knobs to fasten the removable pipe section when transporting the heater,” Slade says. “It rolls on wheels. We haul it around with an electric generator, and we’re in business. It’s basically a portable furnace.”

Delivering the heat

The pipe carrying the heat can be rotated 360 degrees so that crew members can easily force heated air down into leak sites and underground pits. “Whether dealing with water leaks or frozen meters, we can deal with the pipe work and keep the area warm for our mechanics as well,” Slade observes. “The rig has been most useful over the last few years, and we’ve had rave reviews from all who have used it or seen it in action.”

Earlier this year, the heater came in handy in dealing with a freeze-up in a pump room at the water treatment plant, but most of the time, the unit is used out in the field. It came in handy on many January days this year when temperatures dropped into the single digits.

“Workers at other water utilities might enjoy the concept of heat control during cold weather,” Slade says. “I tell my guys that we will always examine good ideas, even if in the end we don’t use them.”



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