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Keep Your Plumbing Pipes From Freezing This Winter

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Keep Your Plumbing Pipes From Freezing This Winter

With Winter coming soon, it’s important to be ready. We already talked about how you can organize and clean your home for Winter. But it’s important to make sure your plumbing is ready for the freezing temperatures of December through February.

The last thing you want to happen is have your pipes freeze and burst in the middle of Winter. There are some basic steps you can take to minimize the risk of frozen pipes this year.

Most of these tips are for areas of your home that are in a crawlspace or attic. Piping that runs through a basement is less susceptible to freezing temperatures since the basement provides protection from the elements and stays a fairly constant temperature year-round.

How Cold Is Too Cold?

It’s generally accepted that water pipes run the risk of freezing when the outside temperature drops to 20℉ or lower.

However, since these kinds of temperatures usually hit as a low during the night, it’s a good idea to be ready before temperatures are set to drop below 32℉.

Close Vents and Keep Out Drafts

Air and wind can that comes into the area where your plumbing is can cause the temperature in your crawlspace to drop, or heat can escape.

First, make sure to close any and all crawlspace vents you have. You can block them or cover them. Pieces of solid foam insulation can be cut and placed to cover the vents until Spring.

Then, make sure there aren’t any gaps or cracks in your foundation where air can come and go. You can use low expanding foam insulation or caulking to seal up any cracks you find. A good way to check for gaps is to look under the house on a bright, sunny day.

Insulate

Insulate Your Pipes

Make sure you insulate both the hot and cold water lines.

There are 2 basic types of plumbing insulation: foam tube insulation sleeves and insulated pipe wrap.

Foam Insulation Sleeves

The foam insulation sleeves are the easiest and fastest to put on and they do a decent job of protecting your pipes. They look similar to pool floaties and usually come in 6 foot lengths.

The only tool you will need to install the foam sleeves is a utility knife. You can also wrap the seams with thermal tape, but usually that’s not needed.

For corners and T’s, either use appropriate foam elbows and T connectors (sold right next to the insulation sleeves, or cut the foam sleeves at a 45 degree angle. Using the foam elbows and connectors are much easier.

Foam insulated sleeves work best for longer, straight runs of pipe. Be sure to get the correct size since they will need to fit around the pipes appropriately. They come in sizes from ¼ inch to 1 inch around and 6 feet long.

Insulated Pipe Wrap

This may be called different things depending where you buy it: insulated pipe wrap, insulated pipe tape, foil pipe wrap insulate, etc. Basically, we're talking about adhesive insulated tape in a roll, often with a foil/aluminum backing.

If you use the insulation pipe wrap, it will take longer and you’ll need to make sure you wrap the lines carefully to prevent gaps, but you also have more options for the insulation material.

If your pipes have a lot of twists and turns, straps holding them up and out of the way, or odd diameter pipes or fittings, insulated plumbing tape may be the best way to go.

I recommend the self-adhesive piping wrap with the aluminum backing. The adhesive makes it easier to wrap around the pipe. The aluminum makes it a little more rigid and helps it keep its form; allowing you to fit around and form to odd sizes, bends, and tees easier. This is also an advantage over the foam sleeves.

The insulated pipe wrap is also good if you have various sized pipes since it doesn’t matter how big around the pipes are.

Like the foam sleeves, the only tool you need is a utility knife.

Insulate the crawlspace

You should also consider insulating the walls of the crawlspace foundation. Extruded polystyrene insulation board (comes in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets) can be used to insulate the inner foundation walls. The insulation board can be easily cut with a utility knife so it’s pretty easy to work with.

Turn Off and Disconnect Your Garden Hose

I tend to forget about this myself, so I have to set a reminder.

Part of the water spigot is exposed and usually sticks outside of your home. Disconnect any hoses and store them away for the Winter. If you have a water shutoff to your spigots/faucets, make sure to turn those off and open the faucet to let any remaining water drain from the line.

You can get an inexpensive insulated faucet cover that will keep the cold and wind away.

In Extreme Weather

If you have extreme weather in your area or you know it’s going to be getting much colder than normal, you might consider some extra precautions like heat tape, electric pipe heaters with a thermostat, heat lamps, etc.

If using anything with an electrical current or anything with the possibility of producing enough heat to melt piping, be sure to read the instructions carefully and use caution.

Sources and More Information

This isn’t meant to be a detailed guide to insulating your plumbing for Winter. If you’d like to know more, here are a couple of sites with more information.

Prevent Frozen Water Pipes (WikiHow):

http://www.wikihow.com/Prevent-Frozen-Water-Pipes

8 Tips to Prevent Frozen Pipes (Popular Mechanics):

http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/improvement/electrical-plumbing/8-tips-to-prevent-frozen-pipes

Share Your Tips?

Do you have any tips or experiences with Winterizing your pipes? Share them with us in the comments.

Photo Credit: r.nial.bradshaw via Compfight cc

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