Insulating to Prevent Frozen Pipes
The reason you need insulation to protect your pipes usually comes down to one of just a few factors. Either your pipe(s) has burst, in which case you want to prevent a future problem; or you can see the signs of a potential burst for the pipe(s) in a new property, and want to make sure it never happens. A rupture can result in expensive repairs, from simple basement flooding mitigation to drywall replacement, or—if you’re out of the house when the failure occurs—major renovations from the water and ice damage.
How do pipes burst? Possible reasons include:
- Very cold weather (below freezing temperatures)
- Air infiltration at basement/crawlspace walls
- Air infiltration at cavity walls
- Uninsulated sections of pipe exposed to outside air/temperatures
- Inside of building colder than it should be (below freezing)
The Warning Signs
Quite often, it turns out that a homeowner could have avoided the problem, and saved a lot of money, by recognizing the signs before a catastrophic failure. What are the warning signs? Some indications that your pipes are being affected by the cold:
- Water keeps running
- Temperature of rooms—or your water—is too cold
- Frost on pipe(s)
- Strange smells/odors
- Unusual sounds in the walls/pipes
- Damp drywall
If you see or hear any of these signs, contact us immediately to find the problem. There is no charge for an evaluation and estimate.
There are many different ways to address these pipes, with different costs and effectiveness. The first question you need to answer: will the solution correct or prevent the problem? If it doesn’t, saving money on a cheaper solution won’t make a difference in the long run. You may already be asking: what’s the best solution? First, avoid the many “pipe insulation” myths out there; wrapping your pipes will not prevent freezing in most cases. Here are some options based on professional experience:
Spray Foam Insulation
- More often than not, spray foam insulation is successfully used to mitigate freezing pipes. With older homes especially, stone foundations become prone to air infiltration and more as they age. When temperatures drop, the below-freezing air enters the crawlspace or basement and hits the exposed water lines that are in close proximity to an exterior wall. This results in the pipe freezing and sometimes bursting. Adding spray foam insulation to the interior wall of a crawlspace or basement will stop that cold air infiltration, and allow the pipe to remain in a conditioned space insulated from that cold air.
- If water lines are being run through an unconditioned space (i.e. a home on piers or under a floor that is exposed to outdoor air), the water lines must be separated from the exterior by adequate insulation. Many times, fiberglass is not adequate. Fiberglass insulation cannot and will not provide an air barrier. Conversely, spray foam can. Spray Foam is the best option to keep pipes insulated from the freezing outdoor air.
- Over the years, we’ve had customers call us with freezing pipes inside cavity walls as well. Sometimes this takes place under kitchen cabinets, or in the walls adjacent to bathtubs or clothes washers. When installing spray foam in these walls isn’t practical, and when we’ve ruled out the basement/crawlspace area being the culprit, we’ve successfully remedied these problems by using cellulose insulation in the walls. Cellulose can be blown into the walls without gutting/remodeling areas, and provides a better R-value than fiberglass insulation. Cellulose is a great alternative to minimize the amount of work, which will minimize the cost of the improvement.
Once the source of the problem is found and solved, we will evaluate your insulation in general to make sure your home is retaining heat where you need it to. If work is required, we can summarize your options, and estimate the costs, at no charge.