Solving Water Pipes Freezing Problems

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers receive guidance on pipes freezing and options such as dripping water or insulation used to solve the problem.
By Dennis Burkholder
January/February 1987
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Because a crawl space is somewhat exposed to the environment, even brief cold spells can freeze water in the plumbing beneath the house.

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The water pipes in my crawl space freeze every winter. Are there any really effective steps I can take to keep this from happening?  

Solving Water Pipes Freezing Problems

Most houses with crawl spaces are located in the Southeast and Far West, regions with lower than average heating requirements and somewhat higher humidity levels. With a few exceptions, less than 20 percent of the houses in the rest of the country use such perimeter foundations. Because a crawl space is somewhat exposed to the environment, even brief cold spells can freeze water in the plumbing beneath the house with pipes freezing.

The simplest solutions — allowing the faucets to trickle constantly, or wrapping the pipe runs with electrical-resistance heat tape — are also the most wasteful and not always 100 percent effective for pipes freezing. A better remedy would be to insulate the plumbing with foam wrap made for this purpose, and close the perimeter vents during the coldest months. In higher-humidity areas, however, this might encourage floor-joist and structural decay, especially if the wood moisture content exceeds 28 percent.

Since water tends to freeze at the points of maximum restriction, a low-wattage light bulb placed near a chronic tight spot (an elbow or reducer, for example) might solve the problem. Also, if you're replumbing, consider routing the runs alongside heating ducts where possible—and keep in mind that plastic pipe is a better insulator than conductive copper.

Probably the best permanent fix is to apply extruded polystyrene insulation board to the perimeter wall with construction adhesive. (If it's placed outside, protect it with a parge coat or some other material.) It should set you back about half the cost of floor insulation and will protect both the crawl space and the living space above it. If under-house moisture is a concern, consider laying sheets of 6-mil polyethylene over the earth in the crawl space and holding the plastic down at the edges with bricks or cap blocks.

Dennis Burkholder, research staffer 

Post a comment below.


Hannan Ahmad
12/13/2013 3:09:27 AM
The most expensive and the most difficult insurance claim is the water damage due to which proactive plumbers suggest you to use pipes that are resistant to temperature changes outside. In addition to this, pipes in the open should be relocated to the inside protected warm areas of the homes. Besides, there are pumps called recirculating pumps that keep the water flowing at all times, if you install them, the danger of freezing waters will eliminate completely. In this way, despite how much dropping takes place in temperatures with blow of freezing winter winds, there will be no need to call throughout the winter.

2/26/2013 3:28:05 PM
This was very useful information!!

12/15/2011 12:13:45 AM
If you are going to put light bulbs near problem spots you may as well use proper trace heating tape, it is very low power consumption and self regulating on low temperature. For condensate drains you can pass the tape down the inside of the pipe rather than around it.

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