It is time to insulate exposed outdoor pipes. Freezing temperatures can wreak havoc on plumbing systems, causing pipes to burst and leading to costly water damage and repair bills. Protecting outdoor pipes with proper insulation before the first deep freeze hits is a smart preventative measure for any homeowner.
Why Outdoor Pipe Insulation is Crucial
Insulating outdoor water pipes is one of the most important cold weatherization tasks. Here’s why it should be on every homeowner’s pre-winter checklist:
- Prevent expensive water damage from burst pipes caused by frozen water expanding inside the pipes
- Avoid leaks, ice dams, and sewer back-ups from cracked fittings and split pipes
- Protect plumbing as well as connected indoor appliances and fixtures
- Save money on emergency plumbing repairs and water loss
Taking a few hours to properly insulate outdoor pipes before winter can prevent a whole season of problems and damage.
Which Pipes Need Insulation?
Any outdoor plumbing components or supply lines exposed to freezing air temperatures should be insulated. This includes:
- Exposed water supply pipes and main lines
- Pipes located in unheated indoor areas like attics, basements or crawlspaces
- Outdoor hose bibs, sillcocks, wall hydrants and spigots
- Common pipe materials like PEX, copper, galvanized steel
- Underground pipes that rest above the local frost line
Outdoor faucets and valves are especially vulnerable to freezing and cracking if not properly protected.
Trick #1: Use the Right Insulation Materials
Choosing the appropriate insulation material for the type of outdoor pipes to be insulated is key:
Foam Pipe Insulation
- Self-sealing foam tape or slit tubing insulation
- Wraps snugly around straight runs of pipe
- Easy for DIY installation
- Wrap pipes in fiberglass insulation batting
- Coated for water resistance and rated for outdoor use
- Provides superior insulation performance
Pipe Insulating Covers
- Foam or fabric covers designed for outdoor faucets and hose bibs
- Drain pipe, cap opening, and wrap supply lines
- Special models made for sillcocks, wall hydrants, etc.
Trick #2: Install Insulation Correctly
Proper installation is just as crucial as choosing the right insulation:
- Cover the entire exposed length of pipe, sealing seams thoroughly
- Do not excessively compress insulation; use thickness recommended by manufacturer
- Wrap insulation smoothly around pipe with no air gaps or loose spots
- Use only insulation materials rated for outdoor use by UL
Insulating Elbows and Joints
Use short segments of pipe insulation to wrap elbows, tees, couplings and other joints:
- Seal all insulation segment seams completely with outdoor-rated tape
- Bend insulation smoothly around bends and turns
Insulating Valves and Faucets
Take special care when insulating outdoor hose bibs, spigots and wall hydrants:
- Shut off water supply and completely drain pipe before insulating
- Wrap insulation around handles, spouts and supply lines
- Frequently check insulation for any gaps or deterioration
Trick #3: Insulate Underground Pipes
Underground water lines require special insulation considerations:
- Insulate any underground pipes that rest above the local frost line
- For shallow buried pipes, excavate and wrap pipes in insulation sleeves
- Use foam-insulated piping when installing new lines below frost line
Preventing Freezing Under Driveways
Options for insulating pipes that cross under driveways include:
- Install an insulation sleeve around the pipe where it passes under driveway
- Lay electric heat tape along the pipe length under the driveway
- Insulate over the pipe before paving a new driveway
Trick #4: Winterize Outdoor Faucets
Preparing hose bibs and outside faucets for winter involves:
- Draining exterior faucets completely and shutting off indoor shut-off valves
- Disconnecting and draining garden hoses
- Insulating wall hydrants and any exposed portion of supply pipes
Additional Winter Faucet Protection
For maximum protection, also:
- Install frost-proof sillcock faucets containing built-in shut-off valves
- Cover faucets with insulated faucet covers
- Close shut-off valves and leave faucets open to fully drain
Trick #5: Inspect and Upgrade Insulation
Regular inspection and maintenance of outdoor pipe insulation is key:
- Inspect pipe insulation each fall before cold temperatures arrive
- Check for any gaps, cracks, wear or deterioration
- Repair any issues immediately to prevent freezing problems
- Upgrade insulation as needed to protect pipes
Knowing When to Call a Pro
Consult a professional plumber when:
- Making extensive plumbing repairs or upgrades
- Unsure of how to properly install pipe insulation
- Requiring inspection for underground pipe insulation
- Using specialty products like heat tape
Preparing outdoor pipes for winter’s freezing temps takes only a few hours. Don’t wait until pipe freeze damage occurs – it leads to costly repairs and water loss. Investing in quality pipe insulation materials and installing them correctly will protect your plumbing from the elements and prevent problems all season long. Follow these simple tricks to keep water flowing freely even when the mercury plummets.
Outdoor pipe insulation can also prevent erosion and soil erosion caused by water seepage from underground pipes. This is especially important in areas with heavy rainfall or snowmelt. Insulating pipes can reduce the amount of water that infiltrates the ground, helping to prevent soil erosion and the associated environmental and economic damage.
Outdoor pipe insulation can also be used to protect water pipes from rodent damage. Mice and other rodents can burrow into soft soil and chew through uninsulated pipes, causing leaks and water damage. Insulating pipes can provide an additional barrier to prevent rodents from accessing the pipes.
In areas with high winds, outdoor pipe insulation can help prevent damage to water pipes from windborne debris. Insulating pipes can absorb some of the force of the wind, reducing the risk of debris hitting the pipes and causing damage.
Outdoor pipe insulation can also help prevent corrosion from exposure to saltwater or brackish water. In coastal areas or areas with high levels of mineral content in the water, outdoor pipe insulation can help prevent the corrosion that can weaken the pipes and cause leaks.
Finally, outdoor pipe insulation can help reduce the amount of noise generated by water pipes. Insulating pipes can help absorb some of the sound generated by water moving through the pipes, making them quieter and less disruptive to nearby residents or businesses. This is particularly important in urban areas where water pipes may be located close to buildings or other structures.
By considering these additional benefits of outdoor pipe insulation, it is clear that the topic goes beyond just preventing freezing and protecting against soil erosion. These additional benefits further deepen the importance of outdoor pipe insulation and highlight its value as a key component of water management infrastructure.