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Combating frozen pipes with ND-invented product

Tom Hayes, of Lincoln, N.D., shows two of the devices he's invented to prevent pipes from freezing. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

LINCOLN, N.D. — Tom Hayes, of Lincoln, got the idea for Hydrant Buddy while laid up recovering from back surgery.

It was a particularly cold winter, and the water and sewer contractor was getting calls from clients about frozen water lines.

Partnering with an inventor of heated garden hoses from Denver, they adapted the heat cable for use in a device that could be attached to water hydrants.

"He came up with an idea, and I just perfected it," Hayes said.

With three or more hydrants on each farm or ranch, Hayes targeted the agricultural market. Hydrant Buddy is carried in about five farm and hardware stores in Washburn, Underwood and Turtle Lake.

Keeping farmers and ranchers in mind again, Hayes developed a second spinoff idea for cattle waterers. Hays said ranchers often will wrap PVC pipe with heat tape, but, if the water freezes below ground and stops flowing through the pipe, the tape can melt the pipe above.

The benefit of the Hydrant Buddy is a thermostat in the cord that turns on at 30 degrees ambient temperature and turns off at 45 degrees.

"So if you lose water, it just stays there. It doesn't burn through the pipe," Hayes said.

Hayes also has adapted his product, creating an adjustable holder to fit a larger pipe, after a car wash contacted him with a need. Another time, two years ago, he used it in a new dentist shop he helped build.

"So there's different applications," he said of the potential for a larger market.

Within the hydrant market, Hays also sees opportunity getting into campgrounds, such as KOA, putting a Hydrant Buddy on every spigot.

"If they're only in business one more month, look at the revenue they'd make," he said.

When Hayes started working with the Idea Center, he had a proven concept with the sale of 150 Hydrant Buddies.

For example, he said he has a New Rockford farmer who bought one two years ago for his new barn that told him: "It worked so good, I built a new barn and I want to put one in right now."

"I've never had one fail yet," Hayes said. "If it does, we'll replace it."

The Idea Center is helping him to increase production and expand marketing. The center has connected him with a local engineering firm to help him create a model for an adjustable holder for the device to allow for mass production.

Hayes makes the product in his garage during the off-season of his construction business. Increased production would help him develop the interest he's had from places such as Pembina Rural Water and a chain of stores in Canada.

The center is also helping with website design and professional packaging for the project.