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No-frost Box — Winter 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Thanks to his no-frost box, innovative Bob Hensler no longer has to trek to the barn to thaw frozen water pipes.

Innovative contraption stops freezing pipes cold

By Michael Nolan
Photography by Jeff Fraizer

The call came in not long after Bob Hensler had settled into his warm bed on his farm in Dickson, Tenn.

"Dad, the pipes to the barn are frozen again," his daughter Kim announced, "and I've got to have water for the horses."

Soon Hensler was braving the jarring single-digit January night to investigate. The hydrant and the utility hose that ran to the underground connection were frozen. The line of PVC pipe, which ran between structures, was safely buried below the frost line.

After hauling buckets of water with his daughter to the barn 160 feet away, he fired up the propane torch and set about the delicate task of thawing the hydrant and pipes. With the crisis managed, he was finally able to return to his warm bed. The next day he woke ready to conquer the recurring annoyance.

Fortunately, Hensler is one of those creative types who likes a challenge. Retired after a long career in radio, which took he and his wife Sonja all over the country, he now enjoys staying home and puttering in his cozy workshop behind the house. After devoting three days to "just fiddling with it," he came up with the basic design he christened the "no-frost box."

He began by replacing the freeze-prone rubber hose with schedule 40 PVC. Next he encased the hydrant, connector pipes, and a utility hose in a box measuring 50 inches high x 24 inches wide x 36 inches deep. The structure is made of 7/16 OSB board (sometimes called waferboard) and ripped-down 2x4s.

Elementary electrical skills were required to install a fixture for a 60-watt light bulb, which provides enough heat to sufficiently warm the air inside the box, even on the coldest Tennessee nights.

It had to be easily accessible, so he built a series of entry points. The lid slides open. One side panel sits on a grooved lip held closed by simple wooden latches and can be easily removed to grab the utility hose coiled inside. The light fixture is mounted on a hinged door for simple bulb replacement.

To monitor its operation, Hensler added a Plexiglas window with a view of the hose, hydrant, and pipes. A smaller "porthole" allows him to check the temperature of the thermometer inside. He painted his creation battleship gray because "it came out looking like a submarine."

Since completing his original no-frost box, he has added a few enhancements. He now uses a timer to conserve electricity. He also lined the interior sides and lid with inch-thick Styrofoam panels to provide additional insulation.

"A few bucks, a few hours of sawing and hammering, and you might find your water problem solved," offers Hensler as a word of encouragement.

If that's not incentive enough, consider this: no more middle-of-the-night roustings to thaw those annoying pipes.

Michael Nolan is a Nashville writer.