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Winterisation
Episode 1123rd October 2021 • Get Flushed • getflushed
00:00:00 00:28:22

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Pete examines the different methods, tips and techniques that Portable Restroom Operators can use to protect their toilets and equipment against extreme cold.

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Cover photo supplied by JC Pitts at Can-Doo Portable Restrooms, Abiliene, TX

Transcripts

Music:

Pete:

Hello, and welcome to Get Flushed, the world's favorite sanitation podcast. I'm Pete. And this show is brought to you with the support of Sanitrax. Summer has almost arrived here in New Zealand. Our evenings are drawing out. The sun has got some extra warmth and the flowers and the trees are starting to bloom.

Pete:

Although I'm enjoying the warm weather, I'm very conscious that autumn has arrived for many of my friends in the north and that winter isn't far behind. And I'm very aware that winter can present a number of challenges for restroom. And the further north or south that you go, the more you encounter, very cold temperatures that make pumping portable toilets very challenging indeed. That's the focus of this week show, which I'm calling winterization.

Pete:

Before we get into that, I'd like to tell you about a few changes that I've made to the podcast behind the scenes. Last week, I transferred get flushed to a new hosting platform with captivate FM. The transfer went really well and it happened really quickly.

Pete:

In fact, I spent longer deciding on the new color scheme for the homepage, then I did making the change. The main reason for moving to captivate is that their platform is better able to help me improve things for you, the listener. And if you visit our homepage, get flushed online. You'll see a few features that weren't available on our old player.

Pete:

These include a search bar that allows you to find specific content, hot links to the get flush channels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. A web form that allows you to sign up, to receive, get flushed news and information by email and interactive buttons that take you directly to our support programs on Patreon PayPal, and Buy Me A Coffee. Hosting with captivate will also allow me to add written transcripts to every episode and to create or share groups of episodes, which are known as collections.

Pete:

Now that's a really useful feature because it will allow me to group episodes with a similar theme. You'll see that if you visit the first collection, which brings together all the portable restroom operators that have appeared on the show so far, that's Ryan at Acadian Sanitation, Anthony and Stephan at Prestuge Loos, Guy at Hire-A-Loo, David and Tanis at J-Bar and Roy at Tex-San. I've pinned a link to that collection at the top of the Get Flushed page on Facebook and in the notes for today's show, I'll share more collections as time goes by, including the episodes that look at standard operating procedures and best practice the episodes with the manufacturers and suppliers I've met.

Pete:

And those where I've talked about software and met providers like John from ServiceCore , and Vernon from pro solutions. Before I get into the rest of today's show, I'd like to give a workplace shout-out to Apollo Butler at Caribbean waste management in the behind. Kim and Chad at Wilkinson portables in Placerville California, Curtis Ingalls at Crapper King,who let me know, we'd voted for get flushed in the NZ podcast, awards, Jordan Mamrak, and the team at Waste Now Restroom in Louisville, Kentucky.

Pete:

And I also have to thank Bill Lepalaat Tula toilet in Michigan and Jeff Pedersen at Jeff's restrooms in Minnesota, who helped me with information for today's. Now I've been thinking about this episode for a long time, because I had firsthand experience of working in the cold. When I supplied in service, toilets and showers on the set of the live action movie Mulan here in New Zealand, three or four years ago, the movie was filmed in a valley, near Omarama in the Mackenzie basin here on the south island.

Pete:

It's an Alpine valley set between snow-capped mountains. And if you've seen the movie, you'll know exactly where I'm. In summer, it can be the hottest place in New Zealand, but in winter it's usually one of the coldest and of course, Mulan was shot over winter. On most days we usually bright and sunny.

Pete:

The nighttime temperature dropped well below freezing. That meant our portable toilets froze the water in the hand. Basins froze and the gas boilers used for hot water in the restroom trailers would freeze to the vacuum truck would freeze if it was parked out overnight. And that would take several hours in the sun before it thought out next.

Pete:

Although we didn't know too much about winterization. When filming began, we found quite a few useful resources online. We picked a few brains and we tried a number of different methods and techniques. Not all of them worked and some of them cause more problems than enough, but I thought I'd used that experience to talk through some of the issues caused by the cold and look at the options that PROs can use to protect and maintain their.

Pete:

Now across the portable toilet industry, the arrival of winter is often marked by a flurry of posts on social media. With asking for tips and advice for the most efficient and effective methods and techniques to stop their pots from freezing. And I'll stress here that everything is a balance between those two dimensions.

Pete:

Efficiency is about getting the job done in a cost-effective way with as little extra work as. And effectiveness means choosing an approach that actually works and stops your toilets and equipment from freezing at the lowest temperature you in cancer. And that's important because if it doesn't work, you're just adding costs.

Pete:

Winterization is very much about finding the balance between those two. And of course, everything is relative. If you typically only get one or two nights a season where the temperature drops below freezing, I probably wouldn't take any special measures. But if you live and work in a region where the nighttime temperature drops well below, freezing for days and weeks on end, you may need to change your entire routine.

Pete:

Before I go any further, I have to explain that temperature here is measured in Celsius or centigrade, but I do appreciate that many of the listeners in north America still use Fahrenheit. I'll make this simple for myself more than anything else. The boiling point of water is 100 degrees C, which is 212 Fahrenheit.

Pete:

When I talk about freezing point, I mean the temperature at which water freezes, which is zero degrees centigrade, and 32 degrees Fahrenheit in a portable toilet, zero degrees is the point that solids above the waterline will start to freeze and go crusty. You can still remove waste with a suction hose and a pump because you can break the surface size with the wand.

Pete:

And most of the waste will still be in liquid form. When the temperature drops below minus four centigrade or 25 Fahrenheit, the wastewater in the tank will turn to a lumpy slush. It will still pump because it's not completely solid. You'll probably really have to work. The wand. The coldest temperature that I've experienced in New Zealand is minus 12 centigrade, which is 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pete:

That was cold enough to go ice skating on the river. And absolutely everything in the toilet tank was definitely frozen by. The coldest temperature ever recorded here was minus 21 C or minus 5.8 Fahrenheit. And that was back in 1995. Funnily enough, not far from where they filmed Mulan. I'm aware that some pros in some parts of the world work in much colder temperatures and that.

Pete:

So how do they do it? How do they keep their toilets? Wash stands and restroom trailers from freezing and hand? Do they prevent the cold from damaging equipment? Like water tanks, vacuum pumps, and suctioned. Let's find out.

Pete:

We all know that most portable toilet cabins are made from polyethylene plastic, some models like the satellite vantage and the Merlin ultra have double skinned walls, but most cabins are single skinned. And most of the plastic is just a few millimeters thick. That means they're not insulated. So they offer very little immediate protection from the cold.

Pete:

The biggest issue caused by extreme cold is that the waste and water in the tank will freeze from a user's point of view. That's not the end of the world and an open tank toilet. You'll still be able to use the toilet. It just won't look very nice if you lift the lid and look down into the tank in flushing, toilets, which can be either fresh water or recirculating, frozen water in the pumps and pipes will prevent the toilet from being.

Pete:

If the toilet bowl has a flap, your number twos usually will need to be flushed to rinse them down into the tank. And obviously you can't do that. If the pump for the flusher is frozen. One major concern when flushing toilets freeze is the ice can cause damage to the plumbing you see when water freezes and turns to ice expands.

Pete:

In a confined space, like a pump or a pipe that expansion can create enough pressure to rupture pipe work or split the housing on the pump. And if that happens, any waste in the tank will leak out onto the ground when the ice thaws and in flushing units with a foot pump, the pump and pipe work is usually mounted beneath the base in the void immediately above the ground.

Pete:

That makes the pump more vulnerable to the cold, especially at dorm. When the air temperature is usually the lowest and any latent heat loss is most. For sanitation drivers, extreme cold weather makes it difficult to pump ways from a toilet slushy ice isn't too bad because you can break it up with a wand, but waste that's frozen.

Pete:

Solid is absolutely impossible to remove with a vacuum pump unless you melt it. First cold weather can have an equally damaging effect on shower or restroom trailers fitted with externally mounted water heater. Gas califonts usually heat the water in coils of thin walled copper pipe. And as we found out at Mulan, those calls are especially vulnerable to cold.

Pete:

I've seen several units ruined because they weren't drained overnight. When the temperature dropped to just below freezing. If you drain the heaters, it's not so much of an issue, but that adds an extra layer of complexity that you probably wouldn't want to trust. A better solution would be to Mount the heater inside the unit, but you'd need to take advice from a professional plumber or guest fitter before you did that.

Pete:

Extreme cold can also affect water tanks, vacuum pumps, hoses, and pipes on your service truck. If they're not drained in the truck is parked outside. Any water will freeze and again, tanks, valves, pumps, and pipes. Aren't from rubble to internal pressure as water expands and turns into. And if everything is frozen, you literally can't start work until things are thought out, which means you'll lose valuable work time.

Pete:

On Mulan, we had several late starts because the truck was left outside overnight instead of in the shed. And when the sun sets at 4:00 PM or earlier, you really can't afford to lose half your daylight hours waiting for the thaw. So let's look at some of the ways you can winterize portable restrooms and equipment.

Pete:

There are two main approaches. The first is prevention, which is the steps you can take to prevent equipment from freezing in the first place. And the second is dosing, which is the use of additives to prevent ice by lowering the temperature that the water you use starts to. This isn't a case of one or the other, all of these suggestions can work in concert. Side-by-side.

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Pete:

Perhaps the easiest and most obvious step you can take is to position your toilets away from the cold, ideally indoors, even a big drafty warehouse or an open barn will offer some protection against the. Obviously, that's not always possible, especially on construction sites or civil projects where the portable toilet is often the first structure on site, but if it is possible, I'd always try to do that first.

Pete:

Even if it meant building a temporary cover, like a wooden shed, failing that I tried to use some form of insulation on the toilet walls to protect the tank from the cold, as much as possible. I've seen some blogs and posts online that mentioned. That occurs where at a lower temperature draws heat from any warmer object, it meets, it usually refers to the effect of the wind on the human body.

Pete:

What happens is that your body loses heat faster than it's produced. You'll feel that if you go for a swim outdoors on a cool windy day, and then walk back up to the beach for your towel, number of articles online, suggest moving the toilet cabins out of the wind to prevent them from freezing. That sort of makes sense, but I don't think wind chill is too much to worry about with a plastic toilet.

Pete:

Yes, cold air may cool the plastic walls. And that in turn may lead to the loss of residual heat from the water and waste in the tank, which in turn will lead to freezing. But I don't know if shielding the unit from the wind will prevent freezing per se. If the temperature is cold enough to freeze, it's cold enough to freeze that said, I don't think placing the toilet in the lee of a building or wall will do any harm whatsoever.

Pete:

In fact, it's probably a good idea to find shelter because that reduces the chance of the toilet being blown over in the. Now, if you do talk it all out of the wind, it's important to find a spot that still catches the sun. Portable toilet cabins warm up really quickly, and a frozen toilet that's in the sun will thaw out more rapidly than one that's in the shade.

Pete:

If you can't put the toilet in doors, you could get more protection against frost by insulating the cabin. I know of one old boy, who's got an ex rental toilet in his. He's fixed sheets of plywood to three sides of his cabin to stop freezing and winter. When asked about that, he said it was reasonably effective.

Pete:

Again, I'm in two minds first off. It's not really a look you want to see in public. And secondly, it's a bit like windchill. If it's cold enough to freeze, it's cold enough to freeze that said the tank in a plastic portable toilet cabin is typically pressed hard against the walls, which as I've said are quite thin.

Pete:

So in theory, anything you can do to reduce the loss of heat through those walls will. I don't even think you'd need to go full height, just a bit higher than the top of the tank. Obviously you can't really cover the door, but most cabin doors are double skinned and they don't come into direct contact with the toilet tank.

Pete:

So it's less of an issue. You might also want to think about putting some form of insulation underneath the toilet to ideally something waterproof, perhaps a sheet of dense PVA foam sandwiched between layers of ply or some old. If you operate restroom trailers in a region with harsh winters, the best approach is to have the trailers winterized.

Pete:

When they're made insulate the floor and the walls, have the pipes wrapped or lagged and fit a heater. The unit will cost more to build, but it's much easier to make those changes in production than it is to retrofit them later on. And because the unit will be fit for use all year long, you will have a much bigger window for that.

Pete:

The last option. I want to mention our heaters portable toilet cabins have a relatively small volume, typically two cubic meters or less. And when the door is shut, that space is fully enclosed, except for the vent. A smaller electric heater set on low could produce enough heat to keep the frost at bay, especially if it's sat down on the floor so that the heat rises.

Pete:

Obviously there are a number of safety factors that you'd need to consider if you use the heat. You need a power supply with a circuit breaker, you'd have to run the cable in a safe way to prevent anyone tripping over the heater or flakes, and you'd need to switch the electricity off before you wash the cabin and replenish the tank.

Pete:

Some are prices might prefer to leave that to the client, which is perfectly understandable, but plastic can scorch and it certainly burns fiercely. So I'd be having a very sensible conversation with my customer. If they told me they wanted to use a. While these preventative measures can be used to protect toilets against the cold dosing is used to low the freezing point of any water and waste in the tank.

Pete:

The most common methods for dosing are salt, methanol or salt and methanol combined. I'll look at each of those in turn, starting with salt sodium chloride, chemical compound, NaCl. If you dissolve half a pound of salt in one gallon of water, the brine you make will not freeze until the temperature drops to 26 Fahrenheit or minus three centigrade. In metric terms, that's 230 grams of salt in every liter of water.

Pete:

If you scale that up, a toilet prime with six gallons of water will need three pounds of salt to stop it. On Mula, we used swimming pools, salt, because back then it was cheap. It dissolved quickly, and it was readily available from the local hardware store. But you could use water, softener, salt, rock, salt road, salt, and pretty much any other bulk salt you can find.

Pete:

Now I know that at Home Depot in the states at the moment, a 40 pound bag of water softener, salt cost, $7 50. Swimming pool salt is a little more expensive at $9 a bag, but it's essentially the same stuff. And I'm sure you'll get an even better price. If you buy in bulk and shop around. The easiest and most effective way to use salt is to make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.

Pete:

When you visit the site to service your toilets, you simply pour in the brine instead of using fresh water. When you prepare the toilets for you. You still use blue and you can actually mix the blue in with the brine before you leave the yard. Making Brian means that you don't have to measure out salt every toilet.

Pete:

And it helps to make sure that the salt is fully dissolved. When it came to mixing the perfect solution, we went through a process of trial and error. We started with 20 kilograms of salt in 800 liters of water or 40 pounds in just over 200 gallons. That wasn't enough. So we doubled the dose and then we doubled it.

Pete:

Eventually, we were putting 80 kilograms of salt in 800 liters of water to make K 10% solution. And that seemed to stop the toilets freezing on all. But the coldest nights, when we first deployed at Mulan, we tried putting a couple of scoops of soul into the toilet tanks before we ruffled them with water.

Pete:

The main problems that we encountered with that, where the driver wasn't consistent. He forgot to add the salt, or he added too much, or he didn't use it. The salt spilled absolutely everywhere, usually in the cab, because that's where the driver put the bag to stop at game wet. Sometimes the salt didn't dissolve or the driver didn't wait long enough to make sure that it had, so it didn't do its job.

Pete:

And on other times the fresh water we carried on the truck was frozen. So we couldn't fill the toilets anyway, to get around all of that, we set up a 1000 liter IBC container, the sort that's typically used to transport bulk liquids, or set up as a water, but on ranches and farms. We'd had the salt and the blue and mix it in the yard and we'd carry that on the truck.

Pete:

Obviously, if you do that, it's really important to make sure that the temporary tank is tied down tightly on the truck and that you find and use a screw on lid. Carrying brine in a separate tank does offer some benefits. Primarily. It means that you don't contaminate the freshwater on your truck. And that's great because you don't want to wash your toilets with salt brine.

Pete:

It leaves a chalky residue when it. Using an IBC container meant that we could fill buckets by gravity with just a hose. So it was a pretty low tech option and it didn't require any extra plumbing on the truck. And it also meant we could take the tank off the truck when the weather improved. If you do use salt brine, you need to bear in mind that salt is extremely corrosive to steel.

Pete:

It will rush your steel and it will oxidize on Ella minium. It will create pitting and it could weaken your valves and your. Rinsing your pump and wastewater tank every day will help reduce damage. And you could use a strong, cleaner, like scale X to help remove any residue. If you buying a new tank, you could look at getting the inside coated before you use it.

Pete:

Now, salt works up to a point, but there are some temperatures where even salt brine will freeze. Some people may say that you can get around that by mixing a stronger, more concentrated brine, simply by adding more salt. And that's true up to. With sodium salt. Once you get to two pounds of salt per gallon of water, the brine reaches maximum density.

Pete:

That's called the eutectic point beyond that. You can keep adding salt, but it won't dissolve. And it temperatures lower than minus three. You need to find a different approach. There are two alternatives to sodium salt that have a slightly lower freezing point. That's magnesium chloride MgCl2 and calcium chloride CaCl2.

Pete:

Both of those can be bought as crystals or flakes or in a solution up to 30%. And they're commonly used as an additive in antifreeze and the ISIS. They both melt snow and ice down to minus 32 centigrade or minus 25 parent height, which means they could be used in. I found a lot of articles online that compare the properties of sodium magnesium and calcium chloride is one article published by Peter chemicals that states that calcium chloride is less corrosive and it works in greater dilution than magnesium chloride in practical terms.

Pete:

That means that two parts of calcium chloride will do more work in less time than three parts of magnesium. That article also suggests that magnesium chloride is more corrosive to concrete, more toxic to plant life and more damaging to metals and both calcium chloride and common salt. If you want to read that report, I'll put a link in the notes for today's show.

Pete:

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Pete:

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Pete:

The next additive that I want to consider for use in extremely cold conditions is methanol also known as methyl, alcohol, or methyl high. Methanol is the simplest form of alcohol is chemical formula is CH3OH. Although that's often abbreviated to MeOH. Methanol is a light volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive alcoholic odor.

Pete:

Similar to that of ethanol, which is the main alcohol used in spirits like vodka and gin is reasonably abundant because more than 20 million tons are produced. And. In New Zealand is produced by Methanex and largely distributed by number of petrochemical suppliers, prices around the world will vary. And in the current market, anything could happen.

Pete:

Although I'm told that today's price for bulk methanol in the United States is just under $3. When it's used to prevent freezing six and a half ounces of methanol per gallon of water will protect tanks down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. You can add more methanol for protection, but you can only go up to a concentration of 33%.

Pete:

That's approximately 42 ounces per gallon that will protect against freezing down to minus nine degrees Fahrenheit. Now the good news is that methanol 0 isn't corrosive when it comes into contact with aluminum or steel, however, it is classed as a. You should avoid contact with the skin and breathing and vapors.

Pete:

And it does become extremely flammable. If it's mixed in a concentration higher than 33% in conditions of extreme cold, it's possible to mix methanol in with your salt brine to lower the freezing point. Even for. I won't get into the details now, but while ECS have produced a handy chart that shows the effectiveness of salt, methanol and assault, methanol combined mix at different concentrations, I've never mixed the two, but the chart suggests it's possible to prevent freezing down to minus 40 degrees, which incidentally is the same temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit.

Pete:

Again, I'll put a link to that chart in the notes for today's show. If you do use methanol, you need to check your local laws and regulations. In New Zealand, you need a dangerous goods license and you'd need to comply with a dangerous goods rule. If you transport it by road and you must provide your staff with correct PPE, that's especially important with methanol, especially if you drive as find themselves with wet hands and feet in temperate conditions, that's not a great concern.

Pete:

Being cold weather methanol can induce serious tissue damage. Long before I sat down to record this episode, I also spoke to Daryl Veale, an environmental engineer about the effects of methanol on the environment. You may remember Darryl from season one, he's in charge of the wastewater treatment team in Christchurch.

Pete:

When asked Daryl about methanol. He said that while he would prefer it not to enter the wastewater system, the reality was that it would be so diluted. It was unlikely to present any problems. He also said that it absolutely must not enter the storm water network. And based on that, I would say that if you do use methanol, please check with your treatment plant before you.

Pete:

The next method of winterizing toilets, I want to mention is the use of a split tank or removable tank. Several manufacturers produce a split tank for winter use, and the pea pod features a removable tank that can be swapped out when it's full. Now I've never used either of these by understand the theory, you remove the tank and take it back to the yard.

Pete:

And because you don't need to pump it onsite, it doesn't matter if it's frozen. My main concern with these options is that a full tank will be quite heavy and very cumbersome for one driver to lift. Of course, there are always ways around that. And I'd love to hear from anyone who's used a split tank or swap the tanks on a pea pod to find out how well they work before a close.

Pete:

I do want to mention hand wash stations, these use fresh water. So I'm not sure that salt brine is an option. And I don't think that anyone would recommend washing your hands with. Perhaps the first step to avoid freezing is to put the hand basins out of the cold inside a building or shed that would certainly help.

Pete:

A number of manufacturers do produce hand basins that have an option to add an electric water heater. Obviously they'll need to be connected to a power supply, but they claim to prevent freezing and temperatures down as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 12 Celsius. Another option is to use a non-toxic antifreeze such as propylene glycol, which believe it or not is apparently safe to consume.

Pete:

Now it absolutely stress here that automotive antifreeze is highly toxic and should never be swallowed or ingested. But propylene glycol is used as a food additive to keep ingredients moist. So you'd presume that it was non-toxic on. When I researched this episode, I also saw that satellite industries were offering a non-toxic freshwater antifreeze called EZ Flow.

Pete:

It was listed on their website and they shared it in a couple of Facebook posts. When I went to double check, before I started recording that page had been taken down. So I don't know if it's commercially viable. I think I'd replaced syncs with sanitizer stands before I used any additives to stop water from freezing.

Pete:

There is a risk of tissue damage. When skin is exposed to very cold water in simple terms, it's called ice burn, but it can lead to really serious long-term harm. I'd love to hear from satellite or anyone else who's used easy flow to help us understand that product.

Pete:

I know operators that have estimated the cost of winterization at $7 per toilet per service. So it's a considerable cost over the course of a season. I would advise any restroom operator who's winterizing their equipment to make sure that they own charge the cost of these procedures to their clients.

Pete:

They all involve extra work and they will cause extra wear and damage to your equipment. It's only fair that those costs are passed on to. Okay. That's been a really good discussion. And it's one that I'm happy to come back to. If listeners have more experience or better ideas than I've shared. Just message me through social media or email Pete at get flushed online.

Pete:

I'm always happy to record with guests. Please make sure that you visit the new website. Get flushed online and please vote for, get flushed in the New Zealand Podcast Awards. Voting is open until the end of the month and I'll make sure there is a link at the top of the notes for today's.

Pete:

Thank you for your time.I've been Pete and you've been listening to get flushed. The world's favorite sanitation podcast brought to you with the support ofSanitrax international.

Music: