In the first installment of this series, we explained that the Boulder building codes of past decades did not require that homes be properly insulated. Fortunately, that is no longer true, and homes today are being built in a way that is better suited for Boulder’s climate. However, some of the older homes in our area are still experiencing the long-term effects of previous home building practices. In this article, we will provide some helpful solutions that will provide you with greater peace of mind and protect your home for many years to come.
Here are some longer-lasting modifications that can be made to your home in order to prevent your pipes from freezing when temperatures drop:
1) Make sure you don’t have any pipes that run through an exterior wall cavity, like under the kitchen sink, where the pipes can run into the cabinets, and then into exterior wall. If there is no way around this, open up the wall and make sure the pipe is running on the inside of the insulation, and that you have the rest of the cavity on the outside of the pipe insulated with rigid polyisocyanurate insulation, and sealed around the edges with spray foam so there is no air movement. This will give you a better R-value per inch than other cheaper insulations, such as fiberglass batts.
When re-installing the drywall on this area, consider installing a small grill open to the inside of the home to allow warm interior air to get into the wall more easily, and keep the pipe warmer. This will effectively bring the pipe “inside the thermal envelope of the home” and protect it from the cold outside. DON’T rely on cheap foam “pipe wrap” insulation if you have any pipes running through the crawlspace or attic. These are only effective at making the water warmer, faster for the second person using a sink or shower, but will not protect the pipe from freezing because you need a source of heat to protect pipes, not just insulation.
Never run any plumbing through your attic, which is considered “outside the thermal envelope of the home” and will therefore freeze if it is cold outside. Never run an evaporative coolerline through an attic; they should all run on the EXTERIOR of the home to a hose bib, so if you have any leaks, they won’t flood your home. Evaporative coolers should also be winterized before the weather gets cold. Put it in your phone or calendar, so you don’t forget. If there are some other pipes in your attic (which there shouldn’t be) have a plumber relocate them, or call us to help figure out a way to move the “thermal envelope”, AKA insulation and airsealing, in your attic so it is outside of where the pipes are running, and get warm house air to keep the pipes from freezing. This is somewhat complicated to think about, but a great insurance policy to keep your pipes from freezing.
2) Have a plumber install “frost proof” hose bibs wherever you have an exterior spigot. These nifty devices essentially shut off the water inside the home, not at the exterior handle. Also, always disconnect garden hoses before it gets cold.
3) Crawlspace and basement insulation: We mostly insulate and air seal crawlspaces, walls, and attics in homes to solve comfort issues. If you have a hot or cold room over a garage, freezing toes above a crawlspace, uncomfortable master bedroom, you get the idea. Another huge benefit is protecting your plumbing! Proper treatment of your crawlspace includes sealing the floor with a durable vapor and radon barrier for indoor air quality. Spray foam sealing plus insulation around the crawlspace walls, and making sure any hot water heater or furnace are safe. This will reduce 99% of frozen pipes in crawlspaces, and make your toes warmer in the process.
3) Wall insulation: We can take a fully finished home that has been uncomfortable for years and inject insulation into the walls from either the interior or exterior, whichever is more practical. Check out our website for more details on how this is done. If you have frozen pipe issues in your exterior walls, there are important things that should be done BEFORE the insulation is added to the walls. This includes making sure pipes run INSIDE of the insulation on an exterior wall. We have seen some pipes in Boulder that run along the exterior of the wall cavity so adding insulation in this case only makes the pipe COLDER than before the insulation project. You can even add rigid polyisocyanurate insulation on the outside of the pipe in stud cavities that have pipes running throughout them. This will give the best R-value per inch to protect your pipes, which means for frozen pipe protection where you need it most.
4) Attic insulation and air-sealing: We have had clients that had shower plumbing freezing up, even though the shower was in the middle of the home. They had a plumber thaw out and replace the pipe more than once. When we got into the attic above this area we found that the “top plate”, or “blocking”, above the shower wall was totally missing, so you could see down into the wall from in the attic. Because cold air is heavier than warm air, it would drop this interior wall from the attic, and freeze the plumbing. We blocked off this and other missing areas with lumber and spray foam, and then blew cellulose insulation into their attic to R-50, and they have never been more comfortable and haven’t had any more freezing shower pipes. Attic insulation and air sealing will also help reduce “ice damming” on your roof, which can happen when warm house air escapes into the attic and melts the bottom of the snow on your roof, and then re-freezes, but this is beyond the scope of this article.
Please call or email us with any questions if we can help you with any of these issues in Boulder, Louisville, Lafayette, Superior, or Longmont, CO.