Freeze-proof your pipes

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As winter temperatures go down, the risk of a frozen pipe goes up. Pipes can freeze in homes of any age and condition, and no matter what type of material your pipes are made from. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your house is new it’s safe, or because your house is older the materials are somehow stronger. The only way to prevent a frozen pipe is to keep it warm, and luckily that’s not too hard to do.

Pipes are vulnerable any time they’re in a location where they’re exposed to low-enough temperatures for long-enough periods that the water inside them can freeze. Once the freezing occurs, the water expands, rupturing the pipe, splitting the seam between the pipe and a fitting, or damaging components such as cartridges inside faucets. Once the pipes warm up and the ice melts again, the damage becomes evident — often in the form of a flood inside the house!

Although a frozen pipe can occur just about anywhere, pipes in unheated attics and underfloor basements and crawl spaces are at the most risk. And ironically, the better you insulate the ceiling and the floor, the more you put pipes in those areas at risk. Heat that had been escaping from the house into those areas used to be keeping the pipes warm, so when you add insulation and stop heat loss from the house, the attic, basement and crawl space become colder, and pipes are more vulnerable.

Keep the water pipes insulated

Any water pipes that are not buried in your underfloor, wall or attic insulation need to be insulated. The easiest method for the do-it-yourselfer is to use a foam sleeve, which is pretty much like slipping a bun over a hot dog. The sleeves are actually long foam tubes, and are available with different interior diameters to fit different pipe sizes. The tubes are slit along one side, so installation is simply a matter of opening up the slit and fitting the tube over the pipe.

At each elbow or other fitting in the pipe, cut out a wedge from one side of the tube so that it will bend around the joint in the pipe. Cutting can be done with scissors or a sharp utility knife. After you bend the tube around the fitting and snap it over the next pipe, it should stay in place on its own, and the seams and elbows don’t require any sealing. If you do need to seal any odd joints or patch in any small pieces, you can hold things together with utility tape from the home center or hardware store where you purchased the foam sleeves.

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The pipes can also be wrapped using scraps of fiberglass insulation. This is less expensive than the foam sleeves, but a little more time consuming if you’re not used to the process. Typically, fiberglass batt insulation is cut into strips. It’s then wrapped around the pipes, either in a spiral fashion or by folding it lengthwise over the pipe. As the insulation is installed, it’s held in place with a spiral wrapping of very fine copper wire, which is available on spools from any hardware store or home center. …CONTINUED