Using welder to thaw pipes
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  1. #1
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    Using welder to thaw pipes

    I had heard that it is possible to use an arc welder to pass a current through a steel or copper pipe to heat it up and thaw out a frozen pipe. Would it also be possible to use this method to heat up aluminum gutters to melt the ice build up in them? Has anyone tried it? What kind of amperage is needed? Us folks in the north east are starting to get desperate.

  2. #2
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    It's no longer a recommended practice, but yes pipe thawing with a welder set to A/C has been done before. There are some other threads about this topic and many others on the internet (I too was curious at one time) Seeing as aluminum is very conductive it would take awhile (you don't want to just crank up the amps) The more conductive a metal is the longer it takes to heat up and thaw the frozen section. Lots of safety risks involved so tread lightly.
    Mike
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  3. #3
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    hi im in sw pa. We got about 3ft here. i own a const. co iv been goin nuts with all the calls for ice build up. best method i foudn over the years is shovel the snow off, break out the big torch [mine are for torch down roofing] then go to your local concrete supplyer and get straight calcium cloride. much better than the stuff u get from the local hardware stores. takes some effort but it works the best. Ps the ins urance companys are paying $48.50 per man hr. to remove ice build up. gotta love them ins. jobs lol benny

  4. #4
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Done quite a few. I would get welders rate to sit and watch the machine run while the pipes thawed.

    My dad had a crank start 200 or 250 amp lincoln with a wisconson motor. I thawed pipes in northern new york while I was in college. At the time it was the best money I could make. My Lincoln G7 would thaw pipes too. Now that I have a Ranger 250, its not recommended by lincoln. I no longer live where the pipes freeze, so no big deal for me.

    I don't think it would work for rain gutters, never tried it.

    David
    Real world weldin.

    When I grow up I want to be a tig weldor.

  5. #5
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    What David R said is what I was talking about. For my old Lincoln Weldanpower 150 AC there's a very short paragraph that states it is ok to use the machine for pipe thawing without damage to the machine, but if you pick up a new manual if they say anything at all they say not to do it. Ok to do when done properly and if you know what you're doing . . . now I'm beginning to sound like a "safety nazi" sheesh lol
    Mike
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  6. #6
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by Brink, M.E. View Post
    What David R said is what I was talking about. For my old Lincoln Weldanpower 150 AC there's a very short paragraph that states it is ok to use the machine for pipe thawing without damage to the machine, but if you pick up a new manual if they say anything at all they say not to do it. Ok to do when done properly and if you know what you're doing . . . now I'm beginning to sound like a "safety nazi" sheesh lol

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  7. #7
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    I wouldn't do it with an A/C machine. You'll have problems. (If anybody wants to argue, think about the electron flow of an A/C circuit) A D/C generator is what works. You'll have to use a fuse. I use a small piece of wire with the stinger attached and gravity being the disconnect.

    Any machine that has "Hot start" or what I call a machine with capacitors, will also cause you problems.

    Like listed above, there are other threads that give their opinions.

    As for your question about rain gutters..... It will work, with a dc machine, but might not be worth it.

    Start the welding machine, so that it restarts easily. Turn machine off, hooking up the leads at different ends of the work. Remember to use a fuse like I listed. Set Voltage to zero and you'll have to guess where to set amps. I'd put a 200, like mine, in 1st gear. Start the machine and gradually bring the volts up. Remember that voltage is "power." I wouldn't go too high with the volts. Go inspect your work and adjust if needed. It isn't going to be a fast deal.

    The "short" will create heat in the work but also in the machine. The hotter it gets the faster the machine could/will come apart.

    Good Luck. Keep us posted.

    I hope that this helps....
    -Rhyno
    Last edited by Rhyno; 02-18-2010 at 03:17 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    I had heard that it is possible to use an arc welder to pass a current through a steel or copper pipe to heat it up and thaw out a frozen pipe. Would it also be possible to use this method to heat up aluminum gutters to melt the ice build up in them? Has anyone tried it? What kind of amperage is needed? Us folks in the north east are starting to get desperate.
    This procedure relies on the resistance in the pipe to the large current flow the welder is providing, to produce heat. If the resistance is small, as with either copper pipes or substantial aluminum gutters, you will be putting something closer to a dead short on your machine. That won't produce the heat in the pipe, but will overload the machine quickly.
    Either AC or DC will work with steel pipes; I don't know which is safer for you or which might cause more problems to nearby equipment from magnetic fields. Need to consider allowing the ends to thaw first so pressure can't build up in restrained areas; also need to worry about the possibility of burst pipes leaking when thawed.

  9. #9
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    this is the first time ive heard of this very intresting and niffty idea correct me if im wrong is this how you would do it

    http://img20.imageshack.us/img20/5687/60293661.jpg


    Thanks Steve
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  10. #10
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Been there done this. If you try this on copper, be aware of the possibility of melting the solder in the joints. Big mess. Don't ask how I know.
    Once had a guy come in right at the whistle crying how a whole apartment complex had no water. Begged us to come out promised to pay extra. So I load back up and drive to the site and guess what? PVC don't conduct electricity.
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  11. #11
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Samm -- e-thug? me?! naw!
    Mike
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  12. #12
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by mooseye View Post
    Once had a guy come in right at the whistle crying how a whole apartment complex had no water. Begged us to come out promised to pay extra. So I load back up and drive to the site and guess what? PVC don't conduct electricity.
    Now that is just too funny
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  13. #13
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    The 75 amp setting on the old lincoln 225 was the setting for pipe thawing.

    Just make sure the owner is home.

    One guy about 30 years ago was watching the neighbors house, the owner was on a cruise, the pipes froze, he hooked up the welder, thawed it out about 10 am. but about 6 am the next morning there were flames busting out the windows. Seems there was a ground problem, he fried a phone ground wire. - at least that was what the fire dept said.

    2nd one, the house watcher thawed out the -broken pipes- then went home, a week later the owner came home to $100,000 in water damage.

    Either case someone at home would have noticed a problem.

    Good turns never go unpunished.

    One December I turned off the water to fix a froze and broke pipe in a crawl space, while I did that the meter froze, and broke, flooded the street with 6 inches of ice,, while the city replaced the meter, the line from the meter to the office froze and broke underground. Yes, it WAS April before water was working in that building....
    past work toys; lathes,mills, drills, saws, robots, lasers ironworker, shears, brake, press, grinders, tensile tester, torches, tigs, migs, sticks, platten table, positioner, plasmas , gleeble and spot. Retired June 30, 2009.

  14. #14
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Only run the welder long enough to get the water to trickle, turn the welder off and let the water run until it flows freely. You just want enough heat to get things started. Once the water trickle it will melt the ice. It may take a long time but it's better than melting the solder. Beware of old iron/steel pipe most of it that is still in use is like to be in poor shape. If the ice has damaged it farther the home owner is going to blame you and your welder when thawing the pipe is found to be broken.
    Tough as nails and damn near as smart

  15. #15
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by tresi View Post
    Only run the welder long enough to get the water to trickle, turn the welder off and let the water run until it flows freely. You just want enough heat to get things started. Once the water trickle it will melt the ice. It may take a long time but it's better than melting the solder. Beware of old iron/steel pipe most of it that is still in use is like to be in poor shape. If the ice has damaged it farther the home owner is going to blame you and your welder when thawing the pipe is found to be broken.
    I agree. Nice addition, tresi.

    -Rhyno
    07 Fowler 200D
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    and a few others...

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhyno View Post
    But, if I "all of a sudden disappear.... ...." hopefully I didn't suffer too much....

  16. #16
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    I've been to 3 house fires (the firefighting part of my life) that were caused by plumbers using welders (buzz boxes) to thaw pipes. It can be very risky. Oh by the way, 2 of the 3 fires were total losses. I now own 5 welders and I won't thaw pipes with them.

    Charley
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  17. #17
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    got a real pipe thawing machine here...Trindl Thermotron

    has two settings, 200amp and 300amp
    200 amp setting puts out AC voltage at 3volts, 300amp setting puts out 6volts AC.

  18. #18
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    My John Deere 295-Amp Stick Welder Book has a page on thawing pipes. (Circa early 1980's.) Clamp the two leads to the pipe to thaw. Turn current down as low as it will go. Turn on machine. It specifically says not to use this on copper - only on steel. I've never tried it though. If anyone is interested, I could scan in the single page...

    However, as a fellow firefighter, I would discourage using a welder to thaw pipes. Either buy/rent a machine to do it properly, or come up with a better way. And no, a better way to thaw the pipes under your mobile home is not to start a bonfire there!!! See that one way to often. "Hmmmmm....you mean with enough heat, the insulation under there will burn, and then my floor...WOW ?!?!?!?" Whatever method you use, maintain a visual over the site for a minimum of one hour after all heat sources have been removed!

    Andrew

  19. #19
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    to duplicate a real thawing machine... welder needs capabilities of putting out 3V or 6V AC at 200-300 amps

    good to know about fires caused by plumbers using buzz boxes

    got a 300 amp Trindl thawing machine (no leads) available for $275 + shipping
    please PM if interested... let me know if it's not OK to post this here.... will delete...

  20. #20

    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    The only time we'd get frozen pipes would be when we'd forget to turn on the heat tape in the autumn. Worked really, really well; during winter we'd typically spend at least two weeks sometimes more with daytime highs well below freezing, and we'd usually have several bone chilling nights went it went subzero.

  21. #21
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by Brink, M.E. View Post
    What David R said is what I was talking about. For my old Lincoln Weldanpower 150 AC there's a very short paragraph that states it is ok to use the machine for pipe thawing without damage to the machine, but if you pick up a new manual if they say anything at all they say not to do it. Ok to do when done properly and if you know what you're doing . . . now I'm beginning to sound like a "safety nazi" sheesh lol
    I would think the weldanpower 150 would be great for this it has 100% duty cycle.

  22. #22
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    I have an old Forney welder 1950 ish the owners manual has a settin of 60 amps hook ground to one end of pipe electrode end on other of pipe, take pipe apart at union to allow full flow. Turn welder on watch open end of pipe. After about 5-10 minutes start getting crushed ice out of pipe. The pipe never heats up, rather it has to do with a vibration that starts down the pipe. Was a strange feeling to hold on to the pipe and just feel it start to hum. With plastic pipe says to run a copper wire inside pipe that you can clamp onto. The wire idea does heat up and melt the ice. Back in 1964 Dad made good money paying for his welder by thawing pipes, was one of the reasons he chose Forney over some of the other brands. I am sure that the Forney traveling salesman didn't hurt either when he showed Dad how to thaw out our own frozen pipe going to the cows in the corral.

  23. #23
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Nobody seems to mention it but I think the big difference should be can you actually see the pipe you think is frozen or is it buried in a wall somewhere?

    Pipe don't just freeze, many times they pop and bust while being froze, for copper it can be a crack that can run several inches. If the solder joints where not super clean, they can push apart at the joints, seen that a number of times. Steel pipe usually don't pop but it can happen if they are rusted, especially at a thread joint. Thawing a pipe that has popped and hidden can be a fool's errand. You are only starting the real problem. Each situation can be different. The costs to fix the water damage especially if not discovered early can be well into the many thousands. The water paths are not that predictable. Welders and plumbers just want to walk away, homeowners want to call their lawyers. Really, really nasty if the leak is just a weep / very small spray and can be in effect for long periods.

    I've done my share of those type jobs. Most fixing the damages after the fact. It is more than being said. You don't just fix the plaster / drywall, you repaint the entire room. It gets down into the ceiling below. Things bow and warp. Must know more than duh, there was water back there. Can start mold or carpenter ant type problems. Usually you have to do discovery holes, where did it go. Just to fix the pipes they will make huge messes that are not their problems. Where, how many places did it bust?? Each situation can be a challenge and Murphy's Laws are in effect. Lots of places they will require a permit once you really get into it. The problem has this way of growing. I've got this old plaster finish that can not be duplicated in small sections.

    I would start the discussion can I see the section of pipe I think is froze. If so, no need to get fancy, just do the standard thing with a torch. If it is hidden, I think we got to talk about it. Walking away can be a good choice, if the path forward is not super clear. What do you have in writing and signed???? What did you do to warn the homeowner??? If the forced hot water heating system is involved tons of fun.

    Even for the contractor doing the final fixing it is dicey. You do the contract to state that the fix is only for what is known at the time. Freezing the pipes can really ruin your day. Don't do anything without contracts that are signed. It is can be much more than some buzz box fix. I would understand what I might really be getting into.

  24. #24
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by CosmicRambler View Post
    Nobody seems to mention it but I think the big difference should be can you actually see the pipe you think is frozen or is it buried in a wall somewhere?

    Pipe don't just freeze, many times they pop and bust while being froze, for copper it can be a crack that can run several inches. If the solder joints where not super clean, they can push apart at the joints, seen that a number of times. Steel pipe usually don't pop but it can happen if they are rusted, especially at a thread joint. Thawing a pipe that has popped and hidden can be a fool's errand. You are only starting the real problem. Each situation can be different. The costs to fix the water damage especially if not discovered early can be well into the many thousands. The water paths are not that predictable. Welders and plumbers just want to walk away, homeowners want to call their lawyers. Really, really nasty if the leak is just a weep / very small spray and can be in effect for long periods.

    I've done my share of those type jobs. Most fixing the damages after the fact. It is more than being said. You don't just fix the plaster / drywall, you repaint the entire room. It gets down into the ceiling below. Things bow and warp. Must know more than duh, there was water back there. Can start mold or carpenter ant type problems. Usually you have to do discovery holes, where did it go. Just to fix the pipes they will make huge messes that are not their problems. Where, how many places did it bust?? Each situation can be a challenge and Murphy's Laws are in effect. Lots of places they will require a permit once you really get into it. The problem has this way of growing. I've got this old plaster finish that can not be duplicated in small sections.

    I would start the discussion can I see the section of pipe I think is froze. If so, no need to get fancy, just do the standard thing with a torch. If it is hidden, I think we got to talk about it. Walking away can be a good choice, if the path forward is not super clear. What do you have in writing and signed???? What did you do to warn the homeowner??? If the forced hot water heating system is involved tons of fun.

    Even for the contractor doing the final fixing it is dicey. You do the contract to state that the fix is only for what is known at the time. Freezing the pipes can really ruin your day. Don't do anything without contracts that are signed. It is can be much more than some buzz box fix. I would understand what I might really be getting into.
    AGREED...im also a licensed plumber...a signed contract is a must before doing anything....here in the libral lawyer state of new york...or at least on long island and the 5 bouroughs..LOL..upstate seems to still work a little on the handshake, but I wouldnt bet the farm on it...todays biggest issue is MOLD...its taking over for aspestous in lawsuits...so be carefull when dealing with water and moisture...
    Of all the things I lost I miss my mind the most...

  25. #25
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    Re: Using welder to thaw pipes

    Quote Originally Posted by roadkillbobb View Post
    AGREED...im also a licensed plumber...a signed contract is a must before doing anything....here in the libral lawyer state of new york...or at least on long island and the 5 bouroughs..LOL..upstate seems to still work a little on the handshake, but I wouldnt bet the farm on it...todays biggest issue is MOLD...its taking over for aspestous in lawsuits...so be carefull when dealing with water and moisture...
    A-Yup, if you got water, soon you will have carpenter ants and maybe even termites in many areas of the country. Them lil buggers are in 7th Heaven, dark, warm, water and chow. Amazing how much damage they can do in a short period.

    Thawing out pipes behind walls puts you in line to get blamed for potentially a long term problem that existed before. Pin hole leaks that might have been aggrieved by the freezing. It is there in many houses.

    If I did it would have the home owner sign a seperate clause stating they know the risk in very specific terms. Even then I would be tempted to walk away, too lil money for the risk. I can tell you a few horror stories about such events that everything that could go wrong, did. Me, not involved in the freezing incident. In the end, it might be who has the best lawyer. Definitely something to be avoided. Just because it is technically possible doesn't always mean it is a great choice.

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