Freezing pipes are a major problem faced by plumbers and householders during winter months. A frozen pipe not only bursts itself but also creates extensive damage to ceilings, floors, walls and other belongings. Though homes and possessions may be insured and the costs involved in getting things repaired may be covered, the trouble involved is enormous. Fixing a frozen pipe is a harrowing experience. The best way to stop pipes freezing is to prevent it!
Insulation is the best way to prevent pipes freezing in winter. Fibreglass, electric heating tapes or foam insulation are the commonest insulation materials used to prevent the pipes from freezing. All insulation work must be completed before winter sets in.
If using electrically powered heating tape, wind the tape in a spiral pattern along the entire pipe length. When applied, this tape is an effective means of preventing pipes from freezing. The distance between individual coils should be kept as per manufacturers’ instructions. If the pipes are concentrated in one area, it may be necessary to warm that area with a heat lamp. After applying the tape, insulate the pipe with fibre glass or foam rubber. All exposed joints and lengths should be covered properly with this insulation. You will need to make sure that the insulation is a size larger than the pipe to accommodate the heating tape.
Fibreglass or foam rubber insulation can be used without heating tape where the temperatures will not drop so low.
Precautions must be taken against the cold winter air reaching the pipes especially through windows and crawl spaces. All openings and cracks need to be sealed and insulated.
Of the two insulators, fibreglass is a more effective insulator but foam rubber is easier to work with. Fibre glass works better in combination with heat tape as it does not offer vapour barriers. Insulating pipes is a specialised job and is best performed by an experienced plumbing professional.
Another way to reduce the chance of freezing pipes is to keep the water supply running. Household appliances which use running water, like dishwashers and washing machines, should be used as much as possible. And taps can be allowed to drip.
If you plan to go on a winter holiday and plan to close down your house, the best way to prevent freezing of pipes is to drain out all water from the pipes. Make sure you drain the entire plumbing system completely.
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A drained plumbing system is a foolproof method of avoiding frozen pipes!
If in doubt, then have a plumbing specialist visit your home before the winter months set in to give you advice and prepare your pipes.