Prevent Frozen Pipes by Insulating Them

Insulating a copper water pipe.
nsj-images / Getty Images

Insulating your water pipes is one of the main ways to winterize plumbing in the home. Insulating the pipes in exposed areas of the home, pump house shed, or garage is a must if you live in an area where winter temperatures reach freezing. Water pipe insulation can save money by preventing wasteful heat loss, and, most importantly, it can prevent frozen or broken pipes. Water pipe insulation also prevents pipes from sweating, which can cause damage where the moisture accumulates.

There are various types of water pipe insulation. Take a look at the two most common forms of insulating material and how to install them.

Pipe-Wrap Insulation

A common way to protect pipes is with the traditional pipe wrap insulation. This type of insulation is available many different materials, including regular fiberglass and plastic, foil-backed fiberglass, foil-backed natural cotton, and rubber pipe insulation tape. There are others as well, but these are the most common materials that are readily available in home improvement stores.

Pipe wrap insulation is easy to install. You simply duct-tape one end (if it's not already self-adhesive) and wrap the insulation around the pipe, overlapping it by at least 1/2". Completely cover the pipe, taking care to not leave any areas, especially corners, exposed.

Tubular Sleeve Insulation

Pipe wrap insulation is fine when insulating small lengths of pipe, but consider tubular sleeve when more pipe needs to be covered.

Most tubular sleeves are available in 6-foot tubes, so you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The tubular sleeves can be made of either foam or rubber insulation, and both are usually available in a self-sealing option.

Installing tubular sleeve water pipe insulation is very easy. The sides of the tubular sleeves can be split open and duct-taped back together once they are on the pipe.

To make it faster and easier, you can purchase sleeves that are self-sealing. It is easy to trim the sleeves to the correct length for each pipe. The corners should be cut to fit tight, using miter angles and then duct taped into place for extra protection. It is also a good idea to use duct tape periodically on the seams, in case the self-sealing adhesive decides to give way.

Tips

  • When selecting water pipe insulation, you may want to consider the R-value of a given material as part of the comparison of the various options. R-value means the resistance to heat flow of a given material. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power of that material. The R-value does not have to be displayed on pipe insulation, so you may need to do a little research. The colder your climate, the higher the R-value you should look for in pipe insulation.
  • Remove any dirt or grease from the pipes before insulating. No matter what type of insulation you are putting on, it’s a good idea to give the pipes a quick once-over to help the insulation stick better. If you use a cleaner or anything damp, make sure the pipes are dry before installing the insulation. Moisture of any kind can cause some of the insulation to come loose.
  • Check on the pipe insulation regularly. Even though you may have insulated the pipes the year before, it is a good idea to make sure that its still in good condition and that the pipes are completely covered each winter. The duct tape and self-sealing adhesive on the insulation can come loose over time and expose parts of the pipe. If the pipes are not completely covered, reseal those areas before winter temperatures drop, causing frozen or broken pipes.