Why Pipe Insulation is a Must-Have for Cold Weather in PA

Are you worried about the possibility of your pipes freezing this winter? Having a pipe in your home freeze is one of the worst plumbing problems you can experience. Not only will it make some or all of your plumbing fixtures unusable, but it can also lead to the pipe rupturing and your home flooding.

Here, we’ll explain how insulating your pipes can help prevent them from freezing and also some of the other steps you may want to take.

How Pipe Insulation Can Prevent Your Plumbing From Freezing: The best way to avoid frozen pipes in the winter is to have a plumber fully insulate every exposed cold and hot water line. Most of your water lines are located inside your walls and ceilings, and these lines are at the least risk of freezing.

However, all of the pipes in your basement and crawl space must be insulated or else they could easily freeze in cold weather. It’s also a good idea to insulate the pipes in the cabinets underneath the kitchen sink and bathroom sinks. Even if your heat is running and the rest of your home is sufficiently warm, the air in these cabinets can sometimes get cold enough that the pipes may freeze.

Some homes have their water heater in the attic or garage. In this case, both the cold water inlet pipe and the hot water outlet pipe should also be insulated. The only exception is if your garage is fully heated and always stays sufficiently warm all winter.

Most homes use copper pipes for all of the water lines. Copper is an excellent choice as it is resistant to corrosion and lasts a long time. The only problem is that copper is an extremely poor insulator. If the copper pipes in colder areas aren’t fully insulated, cold air will penetrate through the pipe. This can lead to the water in the pipe quickly becoming so cold that it begins to freeze. Copper pipes are also extremely prone to bursting when frozen, as copper is rigid and can’t expand as the ice expands.

Insulating your pipes will make the biggest difference in terms of preventing them from freezing. However, you should also take these additional precautions.

Winterize All Hose Bibs: The pipes that supply water to your hose bibs are always at the greatest risk of freezing. That is why you always need to fully winterize all hose bibs before winter. This involves going into your basement or crawl space and locating the pipes that supply your hoses and any other outdoor plumbing fixtures you may have.

All of the pipes will have a shut-off valve near the ceiling. After closing all of the valves, you need to go outside and open every bib until no more water drains out. If you don’t drain and winterize your hose bibs, the pipe leading out of the wall will be full of water and almost certainly freeze over the winter.

Install Frost-Proof Hose Bibs: If your home doesn’t have frost-proof hose bibs, the pipes that supply them can still easily freeze even if they have been winterized. Standard hose bibs barely stick through the wall, which means that there will still be water in the pipe just next to the wall where the air is far colder. Frost-proof hose bibs connect to the pipe further inside so that you can drain more water out and greatly reduce the risk of the pipe freezing.

It is fairly easy to know if you have frost-proof bibs just by looking at them. On a frost-proof bib, the handle is at the very end perpendicular to the pipe and the threaded hose connection sticks out an angle from the bottom of the bib. If the handle is on top of the pipe, it’s a standard bib and you should have it replaced.

Keep Your Heat Turned Up: If you normally turn the temperature on your thermostat down before going to bed, you should make sure not to set it any lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason is that some parts of your basement can sometimes be more than 20 degrees colder than the rest of the house. This is especially true if there are any holes or cracks that allow cold air to come inside. The fact that some areas can be so much colder is also why it’s important to insulate exposed pipes in your basement.

Leave the Water Running: During periods of extreme cold, you should also leave a small trickle of warm water running in every sink. If the faucet is shut off, the standing water in the pipe will freeze more easily compared to if there is some water constantly flowing through the pipe.

The water must be warm and not fully hot or cold. If the water is just slightly warm, it means that water is flowing through both the cold and hot water lines instead of only one or the other. If water is only flowing through the hot or cold pipe, the other one could still easily freeze.

If the pipes inside your bathroom and kitchen cabinets aren’t insulated, you should also leave the doors to these cabinets open whenever it is extremely cold outside. This will allow warm air to get inside the cabinet and should help keep the pipes warm enough that they don’t freeze.

Winterize Your Entire Plumbing System Before Going on Vacation: If you plan on being away from your house for an extended period over the winter, it’s a good idea to have a plumber fully winterize your home. This generally isn’t necessary if someone will be checking on your home frequently since they can make sure your heating is still running. If your house will be unoccupied the whole time you’re gone, you should definitely have your plumbing winterized just in case your heating system suddenly goes out.

Winterizing a plumbing system involves shutting off the water supply, draining all of the pipes and then blowing any remaining water out of all of the lines. You’ll also want to have your water heater shut off and fully drained in case it stops working. If there is any water remaining inside the toilet bowl, the plumber will also add antifreeze to prevent it from freezing and causing your toilet to crack. It’s also a good idea to pour antifreeze down all drains to prevent the water in the P-traps from freezing.

How To Know if You Have a Frozen Pipe: You’ll usually be able to tell quite quickly if you have a pipe that is frozen. If the main water line freezes where it enters through your foundation, none of your plumbing fixtures will have water. If you have one sink that only has hot or cold water and not both, it means that the cold or hot supply line running to that sink is frozen. If you can’t get hot water to run in any fixture, it indicates that the hot water outlet pipe coming from your water heater is frozen.

Many people mistakenly believe that hot water lines can’t freeze, which isn’t the case. Hot water lines do get hot when you’re currently using hot water. However, the water inside them will quickly cool down any time hot water isn’t flowing through them, which can lead to the lines freezing if not properly insulated and exposed to cold air.

Contact the Professionals: If you have a frozen water line, you should immediately shut off your water supply so that your home doesn’t flood should the pipe break. You should then contact the team at Ready & Able Plumbing, Heating & Air, and we’ll get to work thawing out your pipe to prevent it from breaking.

We can also help if you need to winterize your home or if you need any plumbing repair or installation service or HVAC services in the Harrisburg area. For more information or to schedule an appointment to have your pipes insulated, give us a call today.

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