Should I Insulate My Pipes?

The Mid-Atlantic will experience a cold snap the next two days, roughly. I am unsure if I should insulate my basement pipes (where the air is already 40-45 F and 56 F outdoors). The basement is always chilly, and although the “furnace” is there, it is actually a heat pump which does not really heat the air like a gas or oil furnace would. And, if I do insulate, would you only insulate the line running closest to an exterior wall? Would you insulate both cold and hot water lines? (Note: There is a water line running maybe 12"-18" away from an exterior basewall [at ceiling height] and the exterior wall is above ground [at basement ceiling height]).

Also, there are no shut-off valves in the lines feeding the hose bibs. Isn’t there an insulating cover one can place on the house exterior to cover the house bib?

FYI: The last time the area saw such bitter cold in the early '80s, the house did not exist!
All advice appreciated!

This is a CNN video (I know, mandatory commercials…) but it is actually current, timely, and right on point to your inquiry. http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2014/01/05/dnt-field-tips-for-cold-weather-prep.cnn.html

I’m not sure about that whole “wire along a pipe” thing though, unless you are really well organized and remember to power it down / remove it as soon as the cold snap is over…

I would insulate them anyway, just for the cost savings in not losing water heat on the way from the basement to whereever you’re using the hot water. Pipe insulation is super cheap, just foam you get at home depot and can install yourself in 5 minutes.

Other than that, if you have a basement, you probably don’t need to worry about cold temperatures unless the sun goes out.

Thanks for the thoughts. BTW, I should have been clarified: The basement indoor air temp is 40-45 F when the outside air was about 56 F. I know it is said the below ground temp doesn’t change much, but I don’t want to learn the hard way! BTW, it’s only predicted to be 6 F tonight! :eek:

Are the pipes up near the ceiling? In-between the joists? The air there will tend to be warmer than down lower, heated by the floor. Any in-between joists should be OK, and for ones running the other other direction, just below the joists, you could tack up plastic or something below them, so they get heated enough from the floor above.

That’s assuming there isn’t insulation between the floor above and the pipes.

A traditional solution is to let the faucets (both cold and hot) drip.

I’d worry more about whether the builders ran the pipes up the exterior walls of the house. But it all depends on how much insulation is in the house and whether there’s a lot of air flow. For a two day cold snap, I’d go with the suggestion to just let the faucets drip over night.

But, for the same reason that the basement is sometimes 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the outside temperature, it’s also unlikely to fall to the same temperature as the outside air during a freeze. The walls and ground have a large amount of thermal mass.

yes there are.

call or go to a hardware store, they will tell you they have them.

Ok, sounds like a plan: Let the water drip at the faucet. And, I will get hose bib covers, as well. While I realize the basement temp won’t drop to 6 F, it still could be just cold enough to be a concern.

Huh - I’d bet the shower has frozen at our old townhouse! Our unit was a couple feet back from the units on either side so we had no shielding at all, and the pipes to the master bedroom shower were on the outside wall :smack:, and it did indeed freeze once or twice when we lived there. We learned after that to keep the shower stall door open, dripping slightly, and a space heater in the room (far away from the water!).

We warned the person who bought from us, but that was 12 years ago and it’s been resold twice since then.

There are also hose bibs that resist freezing by having the valve mechanism set further back (just google “hose bib anti freeze”). Generally speaking though, it is just as easy to install a seperate shut off valve to an existing bib. You won’t want to do that work right now. Just wrap the bib in an old towel and locate the nearest cutoff valve just in case.

I’ve never heard of a basement that would experience freezing. Crawlspace maybe, but not a basement.

You could always put a small space heater in the pipe area of the basement plugged into a plug block that will only power the heater when the temperature is below 35 degrees: http://www.amazon.com/Farm-Innovators-TC-3-Thermostatically-Controlled/dp/B0006U2HD2

If there’s even a chance your pipes could freeze, I would put insulation on them, on the cold water pipes at least. Foam pipe insulation is less than a dollar a foot. Secure with tape or zip ties.

From what I’ve seen dealing with my own pipes, most electric heat tape you’ll find at a major hardware store will be self-regulating. On one end of the device is a thermometer you place directly on the pipe that turns the device on and off as needed. And when spring/summer comes, you can just unplug it. Depending where your vulnerable pipes are, you really don’t want to be taking those things on and off every winter.

I live in an apartment building and we just had a pipe burst yesterday. I’m not sure what caused it. But we don’t have any water and the management isn’t sure when it will be restored.

We had a recent power failure in my city and many people were without electricity for several days. One of the tips that we were given about protecting water pipes during that power failure was that we should leave the water running with a very small stream. It was said that would prevent the pipes from bursting.

One thing I can tell you is that if given a choice between no water and no electricity, (given that it’s winter time in a city with a similar climate to Chicago, it is much, much easier to live with no water.

We had a big power failure just before Christmas and many people were without electricity for several days. That is just a killer. I learned that just about 99 percent of everything I do during the day depends on having electricity.

So, to answer your OQ, I would insulate pipes. But I would also make sure I had some insurance against a power failure - like a diesel generator or a battery operated radio. The radios that use a hand crank and try to sell themselves on the basis that they can operate without any electricity are just terrible. You wind up cranking your guts out and it’s a huge pain in the butt to try to listen to the radio.

Also, I would fill up my bathtub and several large pots every night with fresh water - just in case some pipes do burst. I have learned that you need much less water than you might think.

Good luck to you with your water.

The basement pipes don’t need insulating if the basement is sealed from the outdoors. below ground temperatures remain stable enough for this. What needs protection are any outside faucets. If they aren’t the back draining “frost proof” design then they can freeze from the outside in. Best to put a valve behind these and drain them for the winter.