Can Ice Damage Your Building?

Ice is a menace to our paved surfaces. It can destroy foundations, roads, concrete structures, pipes, and more. This is one of the key strengths of crystal structures. They can exert great force on their surroundings. Ice starts from liquid water, so it can move, invade, and then cause a massive obstruction or destruction with ease. What few people realize however, is just how much damage it can cause to the rest of a building. High Loads in Weak Places Ice will easily accumulate at the sides of a building, where water typically runs into the gutters. During cold weather events and cycles of melting and freezing, the gutters can become clogged. Water first freezes inside the gutters, then it flows over the edges and starts to freeze on the sides and down the bottom of the gutters. This will quickly grow into a major issue: ice is heavy. The exact weight of ice per-volume will vary with the temperature. For round numbers sake we’ll say a gallon of ice weighs eight pounds. Raingutters vary in capacity as well, a five-inch wide gutter holds just over a gallon and a six inch gutter holds two gallons, per foot. You can see this is going to get heavy very quickly. If your business has one side with rain gutters that is forty foot long, and those are six inch rain gutters, then those gutters alone would weigh 640 pounds once they’re […]

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More Than Pipes Freeze

The big fear we always have around cold weather and buildings is pipes freezing. If a pipe bursts, there’s going to be water damage and that can lead to millions of dollars in property and equipment issues. Imagine a pipe flooding a computer room or dousing a multimillion dollar MRI machine? It turns out however, other things can freeze too. Expand and Contract When materials are heated and cooled, they will change in size. This is from changes in their atomic structure as we put more and more energy into something. In the case of winter, it’s more of a contraction as we suck the energy out of things. These effects can be observed in a couple of places. On the extreme end of the spectrum, you have the SR-71 Black Bird, which gets longer in-flight due to heating from atmospheric friction. On the more common end of the spectrum, poor ice water in a glass bowl that’s just had boiling water in it. The bowl usually cracks, because the ice causes parts of it to cool down rapidly and contract, but the rest of the bowl is still hot. Glass has a rigid, crystaline structure and the force of contraction overpowers the rigid molecular bonds. It causes it to crack or even shatter (so don’t try this at home). These effects occur on essentially everything, with varying degrees of destruction involved. No matter what, nature is always going to […]

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You Really Should Weatherproof That

Today we’re going to look at a massive plumbing FAIL and hope that people can learn from a billion dollar mistake. It’s relatively common knowledge among plumbers that pipe + water + freezing = big paycheck @ 3am. When water freezes inside a pipe, it starts to expand outwards, and eventually the ice crystals will force themselves into a rigid shape, which will push outwards on the pipe like a microscopic bottle jack. Pipes are pretty rigid, but water doesn’t compress well and ice doesn’t really squeeze down either. It’s going to take on the shape it wants to take. The pipe bursts and things get expensive.   Russia’s Plumbing Problem The USSR, the Soviet Union, was apparently unaware of these issues in physics when building their only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. It’s been reported that the onboard plumbing was not weather proofed. When the ship entered sub-freezing environments, it was possible for pipes to freeze and burst. This can be a massive issue for a combat vessel. You don’t want to be fighting your own cooling systems, drinking water, or risking flooding your ship with your own water supply while you’re fighting off an attacker. That makes for a really bad day. Repairing this isn’t a small task either. The Kuznetsov is an aircraft carrier. It’s about as long as three football feels end to end, with change left over. It weighs 55,000 tons. There’s room for a […]

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When CAN we turn on the AC?

As the weather warms up, we’re caught in a bit of a pickle. Some days it’s 60 or 70 degrees outside, but other nights we can still see lows dipping to 26. Some days we look to our AC systems and desperately want to run them, but is it time? Is it good to run AC for just a few hours a day? Is it good to run them in the bitter colds nights? Are we going to regret running these?   Physics Hate Us We’re going to run into a few issues running our air conditioning in less than roasting weather. We’ve built modern AC, from window units up to multi-ton rooftop monsters, to take a brutal 100 degree summer down to a cool 70 degree oasis. These machines can create temperature drops from twenty to forty or more degrees. This involves creating some intense coolness inside the air conditioner. If the ambient air is 60 degrees and we drop that by 40 degrees inside the air conditioner, we’re going to make it 20 degrees inside. This extreme cold will create ice, the great nemesis of all things mechanical. We don’t start to get to ideal temperatures until it’s about 70 degrees outside. Around that point, we can actually run the AC without having to worry so much about the ice build up. Why is ice a problem? It’s mother nature’s wedge. As water freezes it expands. As water […]

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Does a Water Softener Prevent Pipe Bursts?

The Procure Inc. office is a place of weird, exciting, and unexpected debates. Today we’re writing about our most recent thought-experiment: do water softeners prevent icing inside pipes? Let’s lay down some background about chemistry and water.   What Does Hard Water Do? Water straight from the ground is not pure. There’s going to be all sorts of things mixed in with water coming straight out of a well. Ground water contains a whole range of contaminants no matter where you live. There can be bacteria, metals, even run off and toxins in ground water. It all depends on the location. You get hard water when there’s a high mineral content. These minerals are harmless to most people. The World Health Organization has found no adverse health effects. Some researchers believe hard water may even be healthier than regular, purified water. Unfortunately, our plumbing is not so neutral. The mineral content in hard water will often start to build up inside the pipes. Eventually, the mineral build up starts to become more and more like a clogged artery. There will be a point of complete blockage. Blocked plumbing is not good. Blockages can cause damage to valves, pumps, heating equipment, and chillers. The narrowed flow of water increases the pressure and strain on equipment. For furnaces, these blockages are especially problematic. The various coils and heat exchangers used in how water heat often rely on narrow channels to maximize their […]

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What is Short Cycling?

Everything around you is designed with a specific set of uses. Consumer lighting is generally designed to be in a warmer environment, be turned on for a few hours, then be shut off for a few hours. Your car is designed to start up, run for at most a few hours, reach a few thousand rpm, carry a given load, and then shutdown for a while. Everything is designed with these use constraints, that they’ll be on for a given time, achieve a given performance, and then shut down. We call this off, on, off pattern a Duty Cycle.   Getting Out of Cycle Your car works wonderfully when you use it as its designed, doesn’t it? Short trips to the store, the commute to work, and the occasional long haul trip all work out just fine. What would happen if you didn’t use it as intended? Imagine if you ran it for short periods. Start up, drive to the stop sign, shut off. Start up, drive 5 minutes, shut off. Start up, drive around the corner, shut off. Something is going to break eventually. Either the starter will have overheated or the battery will die, but it’s going to work a lot shorter than desired because it’s designed Duty Cycle is being interrupted. This disruption, a constant start-stop is short cycling. The system keeps going through cycles, but they’re shorter than they should be. Just as with the car, […]

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