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Frozen Water Pipes

12/22/2008 7:40 AM

After 20 winters in this house we had frozen water pipes. Fortunately they didn't burst and cause a lot of damage. It was only -15 F (-26 C) but there was a strong wind.

Both hot water and cold water pipes in our upstairs.

I know the final solution is to prevent the cold wind from penetrating the wall and freezing the pipes. That won't happen until spring.

The plumber's suggestions were to raise the temperature of the house and / or leave the water running. Both sound like costly band-aids and don't fix the problem.

I intend on leaving the cabinets open under the sinks in both bathrooms.

I may put in a "false" register in the wall to heat up the area where I think the freezing is occurring.

I don't want to put heat tape on but I may have to.

Quite often we are gone from our house on weekends (ailing parents) and there is nobody in the house but 2 cats.

Do any of you have other solutions?

What type of siding or sealing system should I put on my outside walls? Currently I have steel siding and a vapor barrier. I suspect the vapor barrier has holes in it.

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#1

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 8:24 AM

Greetings, when I lived in northern Wisconsin - way north above Rhinelander, when it got really cold & for a quick-fix, we always broke out some trouble-lights or rigged some light bulbs in an approximate area and left these on during cold snaps. (No CFL's - use good old incandescent's - 75W-100W)

Even used this method outside in the well house and it works if you leave them on suspended above or below any lines & you don't have to get them too close to the lines - just cover a radius....It seems that ambient temp's are enough to prevent freezing...

Does your upstairs have a lot of drafts & leaks? if so, maybe even this method might not work, but it always did for me, even with less than ideal conditions of the structure....

Hope this helps & best of luck - it's better than leaving water running or wrapping lines....but you may have to do that also, as winter is just now with us...

Good Holidays

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 8:35 AM

Thanks for the response.

The house is only 20 years old and is not particularly drafty. But if a draft is occurring such that is gets into a wall or floor it wouldn't be possible to easily detect it. That is what I think is happening.

We used to use heat lamps for the baby pigs on the farm I grew up on. But I had forgotten about using a light to generate some heat.

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 11:28 AM

Light bulbs... smart... GA from the cat (on the grounds that they will also keep the 2 cats warm )

Del

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 11:51 AM

Good answer. When I had to work under autos in the cold climate, A 100 watt bulb could generate a good bit of heat when needed.

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#17
In reply to #1

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/23/2008 9:17 AM

Growing up in North Dakota, I remember my dad using a 200 w light bulb in a cheap reflector housing underneath a stock watering tank to keep it warm. If you're worried about too much heat, put it on a 120V thermostat to turn it on and off.

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#3

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 8:53 AM

The cheapest and easiest way is to leave the faucets just dripping slightly. You don't need much to keep them from freezing. If you do it right, you'll only use a gallon or two a day.

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#6
In reply to #3

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/22/2008 11:37 PM

For what it's worth here's another trick. The story goes back a few years to a November El Mirage Dry lake Landspeed racer meet. We overnighted on the lakebed. I woke up at 3:00 AM and found the air temperature at 8 degrees F. This was quite unexpected. The race car had plain water in the cooling system (common practice in landspeed racers for reasons I needn't go into here.) There was no real concern for the engine block, we had a generator going to power the crankcase heaters. The 30 gallon water tank also could go for hours before freezing.

But all the thin walled aluminum external water lines were a different story. If they froze it would really mess up getting ready for the first high speed run in the morning. After a bunch of head scratching we wrapped the lines in all the rags and towels we could get hold of and soaked them with water. They all froze and the lines underneath didn't. The day's speed runs went fine and the wet rags were dry by noontime draped all over the trailer as the desert temperatures rose into the 70's.

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#33
In reply to #3

Re: solutions needed for frozen water pipes

12/28/2008 7:29 PM

I lived in a house in Tampa Florida for a while that had external water pipes. During one Christmas weekend, temperatures went to 20 deg F and they froze. (We even had a light coating of snow) Cautious use of a propane torch got them thawed enough to get a drip going and that thawed them completely. To keep them thawed I let the faucets drip and captured the water to flush the toilet. If I had used heat tape, the initial cost for forty feet plus the electrical cost would have been high and any area that couldn't be reached with the tape would have frozen anyway.

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#7

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/22/2008 11:57 PM

Hello ddk,

Our house was always like that until we had central heating radiators fitted.

To start here is a site which is very good as a building design source.

http://www.buildingscience.com/bsc/designsthatwork/cold/section2/enclosure.htm

Check this site out (for the spring), but it may help you before then? Depends on how far you can go in 'wind proofing and lagging the pipes?

I will have to assume things as you did not supply details of your walls as they are now.

If your house is brick with air space, get an insulating company in to drill holes all round the outside and pump foam into the space. It stops a lot of heat loss.

As a 'sticking plaster' until spring, and after if it is in the wall space or loft, you could get the pre molded foam which is like a pipe with a slit down one side. It simply slips over the pipes you have. You get 13mm, 18mm, and 25mm (1.4", 3/4" and 1" etc). Also as a plaster you could wrap any pipe in crumpled up silver foil. If there is room you could fix the pipes to wood which should stop freezing when used in conjunction with the foam covers.

If the pipes are prone to freeze in a particular area and, you mentioned a cupboard. Line the cupboard with silver foil to radiate heat back towards the pipes, and the cold away. And, if it is just one small space, wrap the pipes in some old blankets. But I would go for the molded foam covers. It works!

Now for the spring. I am not sure if you want to treat the outside (which I would do) or an internal solution. I would remove all paneling (if this is possible) and screw 2" x 2" (50mm x 50mm) battens spaced to hold tight polystyrene blocks of 2' x 6' x 2" (600mm x 1800mm x 50mm) of solid polystyrene foam. You can get it in various 'stock' sizes and it really does work wonderfully.

Allow for any extra cross battens to fix the panelling to and your house will be as snug as a bug in a rug!an alternative is to get polystyrene which will fit actually inside your wall cavities, if it is a wooden frame that is.

This is not a 'green' answer but, heh, you are living in a white snowy, icy area not a green one right?

That is to start with. I will now find the referenced polystyrene blocks etc. and post in another post.

I hope that gives you some ideas. All work, some better than others but, that is also down to cost as well.

Take care and have a wonderfully warm holiday!.......................

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#8

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 12:08 AM

Hello ddk,

This is where to look for your pipe foam and foam block is lower down.

http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGLJ_enGB294GB294&q=foam+pipe+cover

http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rlz=1T4GGLJ_enGB294GB294&q=polystyrene+sheet+50mm%2C+100mm&btnG=Search&meta=

There is some good leads there. And you can 'carve' the foam with a sharp knife and rasp. You could fix the wooden battens and caulk in between the wood and foam for absolute comfort?

Take care and do have a wonderful holiday!................

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#12
In reply to #8

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 7:29 AM

Thanks for your input.

The pipes are inacessable unless I rip the sheetrock off. That is an option I would rather not do.

I have foam on most of my cold water and hot water pipes that are exposed.

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#9

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:11 AM

Let the faucets weep when you're home and drain the lines when weekend away.

Remove the siding and vapor barrier and old batten, remove old insulation and replace with 2.0 -3.0 lb foam (closed cell) between studs. Cover with OSB then wrap with closed cell foam 1/2"-5/8" thickness comes in standard and oversize sheets, tape seams, wrap with Tyvek and tape seams and reside. Try to attain an R-25 factor in walls.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:20 AM

Hello wire,

good suggestion of yours to drain the short length of pipe while they are away.

I fitted part of a system in a house in the country. Completely refurbed it. But, it got real cold soon after I put the bath in and I could put no heating on for a couple of weeks. And I did the same thing, drain down. after turning the well lagged pipes in the loft off at the stop-cock. It was never as cold as -25C though!

Take care and have a wonderful holiday wire, OK?

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#13
In reply to #9

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 7:36 AM

Not an easy job on a 3 story house with steel siding. The house is only 20 years old.

I may just caulk all of the corners in the spring. Would caulking the corners cause problems with rain? I guess I will have to mull that thought over.

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#11

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 6:28 AM

I have had my troubles with frozen pipes too. A strong wind will act like a cold blow torch on the pipes, and you have to find that exact spot to block it off.

Or you could add a Temp controlled circulating pump to act as a cross-over valve from the hot water line into the cold water line. No wasted water or valve to remember to open when the weater gets too cold. No fire hazard heat lamp. Hot water is a saved and used to heat the cold water line as the water is pushed back to the water heater.

Check this link:

http://www.lainginc.com/

Not just any pump will do, it needs to be designed to work pressurized, in potable water. Watts, Grunfoss, and others make these systems, this was just an example.

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#24
In reply to #11

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 5:18 PM

Hello Sparkchaser,

Very nice drawing there and, a clever idea. GA on its way.

When I was a child we never had any heating at all by way of central heating. It was just a coal fire with a back boiler to heat the water. No fire, no hot water! I recall the water freezing on out single glazed windows, that is freezing on the inside! Brrr, makes me cold to think about it!. Actually, if the crossover pump if used with a high enough temp setting, it will only need to be on for a very short time to prevent freezing proper.

I was always taught that you should never mix cold and hot water but, that was in the old days when the hot water header tank never had a lid. Since then they are fitted with a very tight fitting lid. And that water was only ever used in the bathroom.

Anyway, good idea! Though, it is about time, after 20 years, to get the whole place properly insulated and from experience the block polystyrene works very well on wooden fabrication.

Take care and have a wonderful holiday!.................

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#26
In reply to #24

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 7:23 PM

To be honest, the drawing came from the Laing web site. It was the quickest way to explain the idea of crossing hot water into the cold water line via a temp controlled pump. I do have a simular recirculating pump set-up at my home, and I know it works well. I did not know of the thermo siphon unit until today, but it looks like it would work too. Of course the house was built way before indoor plumbing was thought practical, so it has some built in problems.

The cold and hot water pipes are at equal pressure and the pump is designed to work at pressure, so only a small flow is needed with very little power, about 25 watts. There is also a build in spring check valve to keep from mixing the water flow in the wrong direction or when the pump is off.

Happy hollidays to all...and don't let the sparks out.

SC

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#27
In reply to #26

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 7:43 PM

Hello Sparkchaser,

Yes I realise you may have copied the drawing but, the idea was the important bit. Together with the drawing, it was perfectly clear!

On my place the cold water is under pressure, while the hot water is gravity fed. How is your hot water under pressure?.............Just interested, that's all.

Take care and a happy holiday!..................

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 10:28 PM

Yes the water is pressurized on both hot and cold. Very common here to have the water heater pressurized, with the correct safety blow-off valves of course. Overheated pressurized tanks can explode violently without those valves.

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/24/2008 11:22 PM

The "Myth Busters" confirmed a water heater can explode and rocket through the roof of a home.

http://mythbustersresults.com/episode89

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#32
In reply to #29

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/27/2008 11:31 AM

At a local plant, a large tank with an internal steam heater became pressurized when the heat exchanger begin leaking steam. The operator wanting to cool the tank down and prevent an explosion, opened a cold water valve to spray water into the tank. This did cool the tank, but the rapidly condensing steam caused the tank to implode on itself. I wish I had a picture, as it was very impressive just how much damage was done in such a short time by just cold water mixing with steam. It was easier to replace, as it was much smaller and broken away from the mounts.

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#14

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 7:43 AM

My temporary solution when we're expecting below zero F ( -17 C) is to run hot water in both bathrooms before going to bed. The heat from the warmed copper pipes will heat up the inaccessible space. I will then run hot water in the morning before going to work.

To solve the problem I will have to stop the infiltration of cold air into the floors or walls.

I am not sure what we will do when we are gone for the weekend. The best option so far is to drain the system.

The frustrating thing is we've been gone on weekends when the temperature was colder. -30 to -40 F (-34 to -40C)

The wind must have been from a different angle or some insulation shifted position.

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#15
In reply to #14

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 8:26 AM

I would change all my plumbing where possible so that there are no pipes in outside walls. Failing that I would install a Hot Water Lobster which would allow the water to circulate without having to have a tap driping.

www.hotwaterlobster.com

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#16
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Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 8:47 AM

I would change all my plumbing where possible so that there are no pipes in outside walls.

The house is only 20 years old. Local codes mandate that in Minnesota. We get damn cold here.

I think where the problem is occurring is 10 to 12 feet from the west wall. But it is close to the unheated garage attic.

Either some insulation or siding shifted and a path opened up in the floor to allow cold air to infiltrate from the west wall

or the wind direction was more southwest and cold air found a path from the south wall which is about 15 feet away.

The unheated garage attic is the closest but the pop (soda) I had in there didn't freeze.

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#18
In reply to #16

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 11:28 AM

There is a simple temporary quick fix to block wind dependant on the type siding you have. Twelve mil plastic sheeting is good but tough to use on steel siding though steel siding would solve the issue too.

The "hot-water-lobster" is a good permanent fix and gives instant hot water as a bonus, cute method without any pump required and a low tech diy install too.

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#19
In reply to #16

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 1:58 PM

If you can get to the open spaces in the floor, or wall, outboard of where the freeze is occurring, you may be able to drill a small hole and fill the space with expandible foam (ie., Great Stuff, or equivalent.) That should keep the cold air from infiltrating all the way to the pipes. I wouldn't necessarily cover the pipes themselves, though, as that may prevent heat from the interior of the house from reaching the pipes.

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:08 PM

With insulation the pipes would not require heat from any other source than the medium flowing through the pipe

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#21
In reply to #20

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:33 PM

The problem probably occurred because we're empty nesters and that bathroom hadn't been used for a week or 2. No flowing medium.

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#22
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Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:44 PM

I'll loan you a teenager if you feed 'em....

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#23
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Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 2:58 PM

Yeah,,,Right....

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#25

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/23/2008 6:23 PM

Im surprised that pipes freeze in a 20 year old house if it was built to code. I live in Ontario Canada and yes its cold here in winter too and building codes are in place to prevent just the type of trouble you are having . Im with Zoomer as far as a fix goes but i would also suggest you try to find the reason why your pipes freeze and where exactly , then take the steps to fix. You might try a walk around your house with a pair of binochulars and take a good look at your outside walls . The closeup view might show a bad seam or other opening etc., animals and birds love to make openings wherever they can.

Running pipe in outside walls is not a good way to do things , if this is the problem i would simply omit these and reroute new pipe on the inside of the house where its warm , this is how it should have been done originally and would solve your problem once and for all . Theres nothing worse than worrying about your pipes freezing every time you leave for a few days.

There are lots of new and easy ways to pipe now , you dont need copper , there is pex and others that makes piping very easy , check it out .

Hope this helps ., And wish you a Merry Christmas .

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#30

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/27/2008 4:33 AM

If I had your problem, I would search out a thermal imaging camera. It is a very common item with fire departments, as well as industrial users. Many things can be seen with these things. The cheaper IR thermometers are not going to work as well at looking for heat losses as the picture of the outside of your house should show the heat leaking out at the exact spot that cold is leaking in. Stop by your local fire station with some coffee and donuts, and see if they would like to have a training session at your house. Good luck.

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#31

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/27/2008 11:21 AM

A recent trend in home inspections is Infrared inspection. For those hard to find drafts in summer or winter. Also works well for finding critters at night.

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#34

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/28/2008 7:54 PM

Hello ddk,

unless I missed it for which I am sorry, it this freezing problem just in a small area, or somewhere you can easily check and lag?

Hope you did not freeze up too badly by the way.

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#35

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/30/2010 9:58 AM

It's been 2 years but I have some better info.

We had an energy audit done in mid December. Outside air temperature was 10 F (-12 C) It shows what is happening.

64 F = 18 C

41 F = 5 C

If the air temp was -10 F (-23 C) & it was windy, it is easy to understand why hot and cold water pipes froze 10 - 12 feet (3 - 4 meters)

This is the main floor. We have a full upstairs.

There are other insulation issues & I am coming up with solutions on how to fix the problems.

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#41
In reply to #35

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

01/11/2011 7:55 AM

This will probably be my solution.

See post 35 for the thermal image.

Either this solution or I install fiberglass insulation after taking some of the ceiling off.

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#36

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

12/31/2010 4:53 AM

Hi ddk,

I hope you get it sorted quickly or, as soon as possible! Sounds as though you have cracked it, (forgive the pun) in realising where and how the pipe froze? As you say or infer, not an easy thing to remedy in those extremely low temperatures.

We had -20 C in the UK, actually in Northern Ireland, and where I live was down to -10 °C/-11 °C and, I thought that was cold! Problem is with the UK most of our Isles are just not equipped to be ready at any time to fight these (for us) extreme temperatures. The top half of Scotland is perhaps, but for the rest of the UK the people who know, IE the Forecasters, have tended to panic and say we were in for another Xmas/new year like 2009/2010, where we had below zero temps' for about 6 weeks and, worse, over 600 mm of snow. If as in many cases the driveway where the car was parked outside their house was sloping toward the house, there was no way they could get out.

I do wish everyone would accept the Celsius measure, as I am sure it can get confusing for viewers who are not familiar with temperatures when they go below zero?

Another confusing detail perhaps is -40 °C and -40 ℉, is the same temperature!

I wish you luck, and if you do as you plan, you should be OK for next year.

bb

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#37
In reply to #36

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

01/03/2011 9:45 PM

I do wish everyone would accept the Celsius measure, as I am sure it can get confusing for viewers who are not familiar with temperatures when they go below zero?

Why does it always have to be your way? And just how do you refer to the common 2x4?

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#39
In reply to #37

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

01/04/2011 12:02 PM

Hi bob,

I fully understand your point! We just have to work with what we have I guess, but of course the USA was one of the first to 'go metric', in that it put 100 cents to the dollar! The other small measurements are or can be a bloody nuisance, but when using large areas or big figures, metric makes sense..................... But, only if those using it are fully understanding it.

There's still lots of things which are still not metric in Europe and the UK, like Envelopes, and the larger type of Lawyers papers to name but two.

On the '2" x 4"', that was the most silliest things, because among ourselves we still talk of 2 x 4. But when buying it the definition must be either 50 x 100 mm, or 5 x 10 cms. But it has to always be the same, as the differences can get silly when you start ordering cm sizes as if they were mm. Alway remember to use the '.' point in the cm scale, is the only way round a sticky point!

The fact is, we in the UK still work in inches, but automatically transpose them to the metric sizes. The most ridiculous I think, is, we still sell "points" of beer and milk! But I do not have the exact amounts with me but it works out it 0.586 Litres! So no world will ever be perfect will it. And, it is not a case of I or we are always right, but, when working on anything in the EU, we know what we are likely to get delivered, where as, in the States, even your Avoirdupois weights and measures differ from ours. Again the most ridiculous being the TON/TONN, Long ton short ton. etc. it is pathetic that this TON situation has not been sorted yet.

I will actually be researching that point for another friend (ex CR4) later. I am sure it made sense when each industry decided on a weights and measures rule to follow, but that was in a time when a man would work in the Town he was born in or close to it and have no need to travel, to work at least, and those measures for the TON, long ton etc, were relevant then as all miners had there language, and steel workers had their language. Now people whom know nothing of the Industries these apparently crazy measures are used, are expected to try and make sense of, what in that case, in probable a way out of date nomenclature.

Anyway, that's another argument, right? LOL!

bb

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#40
In reply to #39

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

01/04/2011 1:37 PM

Absolutely right.

But I have another question concerning metric conversions. There are times when two well versed fabricators are trying to line up something. If it happens to need to be moved just a little, one would say, "Move it up just a hair". When the movement is slightly more than this there is another term that I will not mention now though. Is there some metric translation that is commonly used on the other side of the pond.

I hope the new year brings you good health, and many laughs.

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#38
In reply to #36

Re: Frozen Water Pipes

01/04/2011 11:10 AM

Babybear,

It's unlikely that the world will have common units for measurements until we are conquered by space aliens.

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