Heat guns can be a fire hazard when thawing pipes

A heat gun used by plumbers to thaw frozen water pipes.  A similar device was blamed for a fire...
A heat gun used by plumbers to thaw frozen water pipes. A similar device was blamed for a fire in Cedar Rapids on Monday.(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 19, 2016 at 5:55 PM CST
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Cold weather often brings frozen water pipe problems. But firefighters are warning against using one heating tool to thaw frozen pipes unless you take proper precautions.

On Monday, Cedar Rapids firefighters responded to a small fire at 2620 Johnson Ave. S.W. It was caused by someone using an electric heat gun to try to unblock a frozen pipe.

The fire did only a small amount of damage.

Over the years, firefighters have warned of the dangers of using a propane torch with an open flame to thaw pipes. Plumber Ron Valenta said a lot of people don’t realize the heat guns blowing extremely hot air can cause fires as well if you’re not careful.

“When we (plumbers) do it, safety is number one. We use a fire extinguisher plus put a heat shield behind the frozen pipe to stop the heat from going to the insulation, plywood or whatever is back there,” Valenta said.

Valenta said the commercial models used by plumbers can get as hot as 1,200 degrees near the tip. He jokingly calls them “turbo-charged nuclear hairdryers.”

The ones used by homeowners are typically less powerful. But all can cause a fire if used incorrectly.

Valenta said the hot air from an electric heat gun can scorch wood and set insulation on fire if left in place too long.

Wade Markley, Marion Fire Marshal, said heat gun fires don’t happen too often, but they do happen. So his advice is leave thawing pipes to an expert if you’re unsure.

“We really recommend calling a specialist who knows what they are doing and let them take care of thawing your pipes,” Markley said.

Markley also said homeowners should remember to keep the heat gun moving so it doesn’t linger too long in one spot. It’s also important to know such devices take time to cool down so after use they should go in a safe place away from combustible material.