Frozen pipes: Are your water lines ready for frigid temperatures?

Posted by Jeffrey Anderson ~ February 7, 2014

Dealing with unusually frigid temperatures isn't much fun -- normally reliable car batteries may not have enough juice to turn engines over and regardless of how much clothing you wear, it's almost impossible to feel warm. But those could be the least of your worries if your home's water lines don't have adequate protection. Insulation that's normally fine may not be up to the challenge when the mercury plummets. The good news is that there are additional steps that can be taken to protect your home.

3 methods for adding protection to your home's susceptible water lines

Where are the water lines in your home? There's a pretty good chance that most are inside interior walls where they're safe from freezing unless your heating system happens to fail. However, in some houses there may be one or two lines in locations that could be susceptible. Any located in attics or crawl spaces are prime candidates for freezing if temperatures get unusually cold and even those in close proximity to exterior walls could be in danger if they're inside cabinets that reduce heat circulation. If you have any water pipes in locations that might make them conducive to freezing, give one of these methods that can supplement their insulation a try:

  • Pipe insulation: This material is specifically designed for insulating water lines. It's made out of foam and normally available in six foot lengths. The material is sliced lengthwise to make it easy to slip over most piping. Interior opening sizes vary and usually run from ½ inch up to 1 inch to fit most residential water lines. Once the pipe insulation is in place, any construction type tape can be used to keep it secure. Pipe insulation can be a good choice for water lines inside sink or vanity cabinets on exterior walls and piping in attics or crawl spaces that may need additional protection.
  • Tenting - This is a method where standard backed fiberglass insulation batts are used to create a "tent" over water lines susceptible to freezing. The insulation can be 15 or 23 inches wide and in any thickness or R-value you desire. A 5 ½ inch batt that provides an R-value of 21 can be a good choice for most applications. Tenting can be a good method to use when water lines in an attic might be above most of the blown-in insulation on the floor. It can also be used in unfinished attics that have insulation in the rafters or crawl spaces insulated at the perimeter when additional protection may be needed. Simply lay the insulation over the piping and staple the edges to adjacent framing.
  • Heat cable - This product is a way to heat water lines to prevent freezing. The cable or tape is wrapped around the pipe that needs protection and the cord is then plugged into a GFI outlet. The thermostat that comes with the cable automatically turns heat on when the water in the pipe falls below a set temperature. Heat cable doesn't work with all types of water lines so ensure the material your piping is made of is compatible. Heat cable can be an ideal method for keeping water lines in garages unfrozen in cold climates.

You have enough to worry about when temperatures dip to dangerous levels - make sure your home's water lines are adequately protected.

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