The frost is back and for Yukon households fortunate enough to get water piped to their homes, now is the time to ensure their bleeder system is working.
A bleeder system circulates water within pipes. The moving water doesn’t freeze, and thus in winter it is one way for Yukoners to avoid burst pipes.
There are different types of bleeders and some waste a lot more water than others.
Why does this matter?
Treating and pumping water is expensive. Municipalities typically get water from groundwater wells, which are expensive to install and maintain. The water has to be treated, and then it has to be piped to all the houses that are hooked up to the system.
It takes a lot of electricity to power the pumps. If the electricity comes from diesel generators, it contributes to greenhouse gases. If it comes from hydro dams, it can contribute to environmental concerns such as loss of fish habitat.
Discarding water into the sewer system is also expensive, since it has to be pumped and treated in sewage lagoons before it is discharged.
It takes energy, time, money and labour to do all this, and it is paid for from taxes.
The less water that enters the sewage system the better it is not only for the environment, but also for everyones’ wallets.
One way to conserve water is by ensuring that the system one uses to keep pipes from freezing doesn’t waste water.
The really old style of bleeder involved leaving a tap running somewhere in the house. This moved water through the pipes, and prevented freezing. But it also wasted a lot of water.
Then society upgraded to the old fashioned spigot.
Instead of being a tap over the sink, it is more like a tap on the pipes, that when opened ensures that water flows through pipes and back into the drains. The homeowner or resident has to remember to turn it on in the fall.
But these spigot bleeders also waste a lot of water – basically all winter long they pour perfectly good water down the drain.
These manual or free-flow bleeders are found only in older homes. It is estimated that there are about 80 of these systems still in existence in Whitehorse.
What are the alternatives?
There was a trend starting in the 1970s for some buildings to have heat trace wires instead of bleeder systems. This wire is essentially a heated cord wrapped around the pipe.
It uses electricity, but it keeps pipes from freezing without circulating water.
However, this system is prone to problems. Wires fray and break and this in turn can cause pipes to freeze and break. And to replace the heat trace wires the entire yard has to be dug up.
For this reason the city of Whitehorse switched to thermostatically bleeding.
This type of bleeder measures the temperature of the water in the pipes and when the water gets cold a little pump switches on and starts moving water through the pipes.
The thermostatically controlled bleeders are set to bleed no more than 1.5 liters per minute.
The length of time they are on is governed by the water temperature in the water main.
Like the old free-flow bleeder systems, the thermostatically bleeding type takes treated water from the incoming pipes, circulates it around the household pipes, then deposits the water straight into the sewer pipes.
In other words, perfectly good treated water is still being dumped directly into the sewer.
To avoid this there is now the recycling motion bleeder.
This type of recirculation bleeder pumps water from one service line back through a second service line to the water main.
As there is a constant exchange of water through the service lines the water never reaches the freezing point.
And no water is wasted by going into the sewers. It is all recirculated.
The owner has the option of turning the circulation pump off in the summer but it is recommended to leave them on year round, since over time the pumps tend to seize up if left off over the summer months.
The pumps typically have a low power consumption so leaving them on has little impact on the home owner’s electrical bill.
This is a good system if you’re building a new home, but it is pricy to install a recirculating system into an existing house. It can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 depending on variables like the age and type of the water line coming into the house, how much internal plumbing is required and the amount of ditch digging needed to access water mains.
It’s doubtful that many owners of homes with the old free-flow bleeders could afford to upgrade to a recirculating system. But if you own an older home with a free-flow bleeder and your conscience is bothering you, there are options.
Upgrading to a thermostatically controlled bleeder is within the realm of possibility: depending on how a house’s existing water line, drain and power supply are laid out it can cost about $1,500 to install one.
The city of Whitehorse is considering water metering, and eventually meters will likely be installed. So eventually there may even be a financial incentive for reducing the amount of water that pours down the drain all winter long.
This article was produced by the Yukon Conservation Society with funding support from the Energy Solutions Centre and the City of Whitehorse Environmental Fund.