The Homeowner’s Guide to Outdoor Pipe Insulation and Winterization

Home inspector checking the outdoor pipe insulation on pipes in a home's crawlspace

As a homeowner, you have an important responsibility to winterize your home and outdoor features. Similar to the way you winterize your lawnmower, your car, your home, and other important possessions that will be subject to harsh winter weather, there are ways to protect your home. Outdoor pipe insulation is one important task that can provide protection for your home and help you avoid potentially expensive damage and repairs. This guide to outdoor pipe insulation will help you understand the effects of freezing temperatures on your water pipes and how to prevent the damage ice can cause.

How Do Freezing Temperatures Damage Your Pipes?

Freezing temperatures can cause severe damage to your water pipes. As water freezes in your pipes, the material expands. Even when pipes don’t burst, they can be weakened by freezing. These are a few ways winter weather can damage your plumbing:

  • Ice stretches and weakens water lines, making them more likely to leak.
  • Outdoor faucets freeze, and the mechanisms inside break, so they fail to work next spring.
  • Leaky faucets and valves often result from freezing and thawing.
  • Ice freezes in pipes and the water that builds up behind the blockage can burst long sections of water pipes, flooding your home.
  • Uninsulated drain pipes under your home can lead to ice in the lines and sewage back up.
  • Your home will develop leaks in your ceiling or attic from damage due to uninsulated pipes or even uninsulated attic walls.

While you’re likely familiar with the valves and faucets you use to run your garden hoses and sprinkler system, there are likely many pipes that connect to your indoor plumbing system that you might not be familiar with. Learning how to locate these important pipes and install the correct outdoor pipe insulation can help you avoid potential damage to your home.

Outdoor Pipe Insulation Types

A faucet cover on a spigot along a home's exterior wall

Your plumbing system uses a variety of pipes and working components in different shapes and sizes. You might find that a variety of types of outdoor pipe insulation and other insulation items are necessary to prepare your outdoor plumbing system for the winter season. Some of the most common plumbing insulation products come from major brands, like Frost King and ArmaFlex tubes created by Armacell. Consider any or all of these outdoor plumbing insulation types to complete your outdoor pipe insulation project.

  • Faucet Insulators or Outdoor Faucet Covers
  • Foam Insulation Tape
  • Polyethylene Pipe Insulation (foam pipe covers)
  • Fiberglass Pipe Insulation
  • Rubber Insulation

Your Complete Guide to Outdoor Pipe Insulation

All outdoor pipes that are exposed or partially exposed to freezing temperatures are subject to damage. Locating these elements and providing high-quality outdoor pipe insulation is the best way to protect your pipes from freezing and bursting when harsh winter temperatures arrive.

If you’ve recently moved to an area that experiences significantly colder temperatures than you’re accustomed to, then ask for help. Your plumber or local home improvement store clerk can tell you more about local water pipe insulation tips and what R-value — or insulative value — your pipes need. Follow these steps to complete the process:

1. Drain and Store Garden Hoses

You’re unlikely to be using your garden hoses when it’s freezing outside, and exposing them to harsh winter weather can damage or destroy hoses. Instead, you should drain and store your garden hoses in the garage, shed, or basement.

Take these easy steps to prepare your garden hose for winter.

  • Disconnect your water hose from the outdoor water supply.
  • Uncoil the hose and stretch it along the ground.
  • Allow the water to drain completely from the hose.
  • Roll up the hose and store it in a safe place for the winter.

Outdoor Pipe Insulation Pro Tip:

While you allow your hose to drain, take a walk around your yard to locate other items like lawn decorations and outdoor furniture that should be stored away for the winter.

2. Drain the Outdoor Faucets

Your outdoor faucets can harbor trace amounts of water, leading to freezing and damage when temperatures drop in the winter. To prevent potentially expensive damage, you’ll need to eliminate all water from these outdoor faucets. While outdoor plumbing systems vary, the process is mostly the same. Follow these steps to drain your outdoor faucets for the winter.

  • Turn off the water supply to your outdoor faucets. Some homes have an interior shut-off valve located inside your home. Otherwise, you should have a shut-off valve located on the line that feeds the faucet (often located in the crawlspace or basement).
  • Drain the excess water at the shut-off. Place a bucket under the shut-off drain cap. Then open the drain cap and allow all excess water to drain out.
  • Drain the exterior faucet. Leave the drain cap open and go outside to the exterior faucet. Turn on the exterior faucet and wait for it to dry out.
  • Finish up. When the water is completely drained, turn off the faucet and close the drain cap.

3. Insulate Exposed Pipes and Working Components

Now that all water is drained and the removable hoses are safely stored for the winter, it’s essential to take care of the portions of your outdoor plumbing system that will still be exposed to the weather. This is where your outdoor pipe insulation supplies come in handy. Take these steps to insulate your exposed pipes and outdoor faucets against freezing temperatures.

  • Locate exposed pipes and wrap them with self-sealing insulation tubes. For hard to reach areas or elbows, you may need to apply additional wrap insulation or foam insulation tape.
  • A fitted insulation cover can protect faucets or hose bibs. For the best results, you should make sure the cover fits properly and has a way to keep it secured in place.

Repeat these steps until every exposed pipe and fitting is covered.

Outdoor Pipe Insulation Pro Tip:

In extremely cold areas, these measures may not be completely adequate. You may also need to install an indoor shut-off valve if your home doesn’t already have one.

4. Insulate Water Supply Lines

The water lines that supply water to your home are often located in an unfinished garage or basement, near exterior walls, and in the crawl space beneath your house. While many of these lines may not be considered exterior plumbing lines, they are often exposed to outdoor temperatures because they’re located near uninsulated exterior walls or under your home in the basement or crawl space.

Insulating these supply lines can help you avoid the most common winter plumbing issues faced by homeowners each year. Besides avoiding ice blockages in the supply lines and burst pipes, insulating supply lines can provide other benefits. For instance, adding insulation to hot water pipes can lower your energy costs because your water heater won’t have to work as hard during the winter. Insulating cold water lines will also eliminate condensation.

Take these steps to insulate your water supply lines:

Find the Pipes

Locate any pipes that run through unheated spaces like your crawl space, unfinished basement, and exterior walls.

Choose Your Methods of Insulation and Insulation Material

You can insulate all pipes in exterior walls with wall insulation. Pre-slit foam pipe sleeves are a simple way to cover long straight lines. Gaps where pipes penetrate walls can be insulated with foam insulation products that expand when applied to fill the gap or foam caulk rope.

Secure Insulation With Additional Tape or Glue

Foam pipe insulation sleeves are often pre-cut with a slit that runs length-wise down the sleeve. The slit may include a self-adhesive strip for closure. If not, then you may need to apply tape or glue to seal the seam. Ensure all exposed pipes are completely enclosed with pipe wrap insulation to avoid ice in the lines.

Outdoor Pipe Insulation Pro Tip:

In very cold climates, you may want to consider installing frost-proof outdoor faucets. While they do not insulate, they contain a special valve to eliminate all water from inside the faucet.

Insulating your outdoor pipes and the supply lines to your water system can help you avoid a winter catastrophe. Learning about DIY outdoor pipe insulation can also help you increase your home repair knowledge and extend the life of your plumbing system. Remember to inspect your home’s insulation each year to ensure it hasn’t sustained damage and you still have the protection you need against the elements. If you have an in-ground sprinkler system, you can also protect your plumbing by winterizing the sprinklers.

Additional Winterization Resources

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