How to insulate water pipes



Maintaining your plumbing system can help prevent unwanted problems, like flooding and blockages, that can cost a lot of money in plumbing-repair costs and other expenses. Proper maintenance can prevent potential issues before they result in substantial damage.

Water pipe insulation is a key aspect of proper plumbing maintenance because it can help you save money on energy costs, particularly for hot water pipes. Additional benefits of insulating your water pipes include:

  • Prevent frozen pipes
  • Control condensation
  • Counteract heat loss
  • Prevent personal injuries from hot pipes
  • Reduce the risk of burst pipes

This article delves further into why you should insulate your water pipes and how to go about doing so.


Why insulate your water pipes?

If you’re keen to prevent unwanted water damage and other plumbing complications, you’ll find a compelling case to install pipe-insulation materials. Insulation helps minimize localized moisture problems around your property, which may damage drywall, furniture and other valuable items or fixtures. The affected materials can then develop mold or mildew.

Improved energy efficiency is another key benefit to insulating pipes. Insulation reduces the amount of energy required by your water heater to reach the required water temperature. Pipes insulated with foam or other materials can retain heat between uses, preventing them from cooling off.

Although most homeowners fully understand the need to insulate hot water pipes, some may find it difficult to understand the reasons for insulating cold water pipes because there’s no heat to preserve. In reality, there are some significant advantages to insulating cold-water pipes around your property, particularly sections of your water lines that run through areas exposed to outdoor elements or that lack climate control.

Depending on your location, freezing temperatures can be one of the most obvious reasons to insulate. Frozen pipes can cause serious problems that result in significant repair costs. In the summer, the sun’s heat is another consideration for pipes exposed to outdoor elements. Heat can warm up the cold water in the pipes, necessitating proper insulation. In addition, insulation prevents condensation in cold water pipes.

What should you insulate water pipes with?

Employing the proper insulation techniques is a viable way to achieve the desired results. These techniques involve using specific materials, depending on the insulation requirements. Some materials available include fiberglass insulation, foam and polyethylene.

R-value is a key factor when selecting the material for your water pipe insulation; it indicates the heat resistance properties of a particular material. If you choose a material with a higher R-value, you benefit from superior insulating properties. However, not all manufacturers display the R-value of a particular material on product packaging; you may need to research the properties of your selected material. In colder climates, it’s important to pick materials with a higher R-value.

Most materials are economical, flexible and easy to install, making it easier to insulate water pipes as a home improvement DIY job. Polyethylene foam is a good insulation option that can protect your pipes from the elements in the summer and winter months. By installing this type of material, you can help maintain water temperatures for longer and prevent freezing.

Some manufacturers even offer closed-cell rubber insulation materials suitable for piping below 220 degrees Fahrenheit (104 degrees Celsius). Applying this type of rubber material can save energy and control condensation. Depending on the brand you select, the materials may come with superior ultraviolet and moisture resistance.

Pipe wrap is a popular insulation technique that involves self-sealing foam and standard foam. When applied correctly, this technique provides maximum protection from cold and humidity. Foam with self-adhesive properties can eliminate the need to use duct tape.

If you encounter gaps or spaces that make it difficult to wrap the pipe with insulation, you may need to switch to another technique, such as spray. This insulation option allows you to spray specially designed foam using pressurized cans. You can use this method for insulating valves and oddly shaped pipe fittings.


How to insulate your water pipes

Insulating water-supply pipes involves applying materials and specific sections of your pipe fittings using one of two techniques: pipe wrap or foam pipe sleeves. In the next few sections, learn how to apply these installation techniques and read up on best practices.

Where to insulate water pipes

Choosing the right pipe sections to insulate requires considering your insulation objectives. If you intend to prevent water lines from freezing, you should target exposed pipes and fittings in unheated areas. For this reason, it’s vital to insulate pipes running through unheated garages, exterior walls and above crawl spaces. Likewise, you should insulate hot and cold water lines. Hot water pipes can freeze if no water is actively passing through.

If your goal is to save energy, insulate all accessible hot water lines. Depending on the climate, season and other factors, lowering your water heater’s temperature setting might be possible, minimizing energy usage.

On the other hand, if your objective is to minimize humidity and pipe sweating, you should target cold water pipes. Condensation results from exposure to humid air and, if left unchecked, can cause damage to wooden floors, drywall and other fixtures.

Installing frost-free faucets is a practical option to help maximize protection from the elements. If you live in colder climates, this approach can make a big difference because it complements other insulation techniques to minimize the risk of burst pipes and other plumbing issues.

Frost-free faucets come with a special valve stem that helps keep the fixture free of stagnant water. By discharging water from the outdoor faucet’s valve body at all times, the extra-long valve stem prevents the risk of frozen pipes, expansion and burst pipes. Cold air can freeze water trapped in the valve body, triggering an undesirable chain reaction.

Using pipe-wrap insulation

Pipe-wrap insulation is one of the most popular ways to protect pipe fittings. This technique enables you to choose the ideal material from a wide selection of options.

Examples of materials for pipe-wrap insulation include:

  • Foil-backed natural cotton
  • Flexible foam (with integrated rubber backing tape)
  • Bubble-film pipe wrap
  • Rubber-insulation heat tape
  • Foam-and-foil insulation material

You can employ the pipe-wrap technique if the job entails short pipes or sections with several bends. It’s important to start the installation process by duct taping one side of the installation strip to the water pipe. However, skip this step if the insulation material is self-sealing. Next, wrap rubber insulation material onto the pipe. For maximum pipe protection, overlap the loops as you go. Once you wrap an entire section, hold the insulating strips in place with adhesive tape. Lastly, cut off any remaining strips with a utility knife.

Another key step is cleaning the pipes before insulation work because materials stick better to clean pipes. Doing so allows you to remove any traces of grease or dirt from the fittings using a damp cloth or a cleaning solution. Finally, don’t forget to dry the pipes before installation.

Once you’ve completed the installation process, inspect the insulation material annually to ensure the pipes remain covered. Adhesive materials may come loose over time, exposing sections of your water lines.

Using foam pipe sleeves

Foam pipe sleeves are ideal for longer water lines without bends. Manufacturers offer sleeves in wide-ranging dimensions to suit your specific application. The sleeves come in increments of 6 feet, which makes them easier to install and cover many sections more efficiently. You can find sleeves made of rubber or foam pipe insulation with self-sealing properties.

Before installing the sleeves on your pipe fittings, thoroughly clean the lines to remove dirt and grease. Then carefully place the sleeve on the pipe fitting before prying open the slit and covering the water line. Ensure a proper seal of the sleeve seams before cutting the material to fit your water pipes.


Protect your home’s plumbing system from costly repairs with Cinch

Plumbing problems can be costly and disruptive for any homeowner. Thankfully, you can prevent them by adopting a good maintenance routine and considering a home warranty from Cinch Home Services.

Our Built-in Systems plan covers a wide range of components, including drainage systems, water pipes and other plumbing fixtures. You can also count on our guaranteed service, including a 180-day workmanship guarantee, protection for unknown pre-existing conditions, and rust and corrosion coverage.

Take the necessary steps to cover your plumbing system by requesting a free quote today with Cinch.


Learn water pipe insulation techniques and the benefits of Cinch’s plumbing system coverage.