Nordic-Climate Approved: Half a Century of Expertise in Frost-Proof Piping Solutions

01. February 2023 | 6 min read

From cozy holiday cabins engulfed by breathtaking wilderness to bustling residential complexes and crucial infrastructure — property developers in Scandinavia are well aware that keeping water supply and wastewater networks from freezing is always a must in the northernmost latitudes. When traditional piping systems cannot be used in the Nordic areas due to complicated geology, sensitive habitats or an already tight infrastructure underground, a variety of frost-proof piping solutions exist preventing frost damage even in extremely low temperatures. We talked with Pipelife Norway’s Product Manager Diana Karin Schleider about what should be taken into account when installing or rehabilitating water and sewage networks in the Nordic climate.

A penguin walking past a sledge with Isovarm pipes in Troll, Antarctica | Pipelife © Norwegian Polar Institute

The Importance of Preventing Pipes from Freezing in Winter

While some of Norway’s coastal areas have a relatively mild maritime climate throughout the year, things become bitterly cold further inland. Here, the many hills and mountains withhold the milder air currents coming from the sea, and the inland temperatures of ‑10 °C to ‑20 °C are common in winter. The country’s coldest regions can experience extreme temperature drops to ‑40 °C.

The Nordic climate means that developers, designers and property owners have to be highly attentive to winter-proofing water supply and sewage networks outside and within the buildings. Cabins and holiday houses that are often located in remote areas and inhabited only sporadically are at particular risk.

There is a widespread misconception that PE pipes cannot break simply because of water freezing and expanding. Nevertheless, it is typical for pressure to build up in front of the ice blockages, mostly at the highest point of a pipeline, especially when the pipeline is pressurized, which leads to destructive bursts, most often indoors. Diana Karin Schleider, Product Manager at Pipelife Norway, admits that damages caused by burst pipes are still common and often more severe than owners expect.

“We often see that the damage to pressurized water-supply pipes that have frozen occurs in front of the shut-off valves inside buildings. This can cause major structural damages to a building, especially if it has not been heated, as hundreds of liters of water flood the home and freeze in turn.”

A small frozen river in the mountains,  running along a small mountain village | Pipelife
From snow-clad hills to deep fjords, there are almost half a million cabins and holiday houses across Norway, attesting to the country's profound love for the outdoors.

Protecting Cabins and Holiday Homes with Tailored Solutions

Pipelife Norway has more than five decades of experience in manufacturing frost-proof water supply and sewage pipe systems for the Norwegian and Swedish markets — protecting the pipelines and buildings from frost damage throughout the cold season. Schleider emphasizes that choosing the right piping solution depends on several factors, ranging from the required pipe length to the surrounding operating conditions. Pipelife’s experts carefully consider the unique needs and requirements of each client to find the best approach from the wide range of available options.

The frost-proof Isoterm system is among Pipelife Norway’s most sought-after solutions for water supply and discharge in buildings — every year, approximately 450.000 meters of Isoterm pipes are sold.

“For relatively short lengths, mainly shorter than 15 meters, we recommend Isoterm pipes with self-limiting heating cable,” says Schleider. “Self-limiting heating cables are quick and easy to connect, as they have only two conductors, and they can be cut to necessary lengths without issues, still providing the same power as usual, regardless the length.”

For longer installation lengths, Pipelife Norway has developed Isoterm pipes with ohmic heating cable. Such pipes are optimal for residential and communal projects where lengths from 15 to 600 meters per power circuit are required. Longer power circuits mean fewer joints and considerably longer service life.

Two Isoterm pipes at a shallow trench next to two holiday homes and a forest | Pipelife
The Isoterm system can be buried at shallow depths, minimizing the environmental impacts.
Two Isoterm pipes connected to a log cabin in Norway | Pipelife
The Isoterm water supply and sewage pipes connected to a cabin in Norway.

Minimizing Installation Impacts and Simplifying Maintenance

Selecting the right piping system is only part of the equation when it comes to frost-proofing water pipes — correct installation is as important and should be carried out by authorized professionals only. In case of a permanent installation, pipes with a heating cable have to be buried or covered to protect them.

As cabins and holiday homes are typically located in undisturbed landscapes, carrying out any construction activities in an environmentally responsible way is crucial for many Scandinavians.

“A significant advantage of Isoterm pipes is that they can be buried at shallow depths, minimizing both the installation costs and the environmental impacts,” says Schleider. “In rocky areas, it is possible to use natural indentations in the terrain instead of rock blasting. And in areas with soil, a shallow trench can be dug by hand or mini excavator — there is no need for deep trenches or removing existing pipes.”

For areas without traffic, minimal coverage, protecting the pipes from moving, mechanical- and UV damage is sufficient. It is also possible to have light vegetation, such as grass or shrubs, growing over the pipes.

After the pipes have been installed, the heating periods can be either regulated by a built-in thermostat or manually. Adding web-based smart control is also possible and used mostly for managing larger, more complex pipe systems.

An excavator next to several pre-insulated Isovarm pressure pipes | Pipelife
Pre-insulated PE pressure pipes from the Isovarm range.
A sledge with Isovarm pipes at the harbor of Troll, Antarctica | Pipelife © Norwegian Polar Institute
The Isovarm system was used for the upgrade of the Troll Research Station in Antarctica.

Pre-Insulated Pipe Systems for the Harshest Environments

For situations where a sufficient cover depth is not possible, Pipelife has developed the pre-insulated rigid pipe system Isovarm. These pipes are used to frost-proof drinking water, sewage and stormwater networks in residential and commercial areas as well as for industrial purposes.

Thanks to an exceptionally wide range of media pipe materials, pressure classes, insulation layer thicknesses and designs, the Isovarm system can be tailored to the needs of even highly challenging projects with unconventional installation conditions. Isovarm pipes may also be equipped with an ohmic or self-limiting heating cable, depending on the project requirements, Schleider explains.

“Our pre-insulated pipes have been successfully used even in the coldest regions of Norway, like Svalbard, and also in the Troll Research Station in Antarctica. Our solutions prove that, by careful tailoring to the specific needs and conditions of the project, it is possible to ensure safe functionality of water supply and discharge even in the world’s harshest environments.”

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