When the weather turns bitter cold, many people's pipes start to freeze. While some cases of frozen pipes are harmless—the pipes simply thaw, and everything goes back to normal again—there is always a marked chance that your frozen pipes could burst, leading to thousands of dollars worth of water damage, not to mention aggravation.
If you think a little crack doesn't matter as long as you're home to catch the leak, think again. A small, 1/8-inch crack in one pipe can leak up to 250 gallons of water per day. That's too much to catch and bail out efficiently while you wait for a plumber to arrive. Also, most cracks are far larger than 1/8 inch. All things considered, it's far easier to prevent your pipes from freezing than it is to clean up gallons of water from a burst pipe. The key to prevention lies in proper insulation.
Your Insulation Options
There are several types of insulation you can use to protect your pipes. Pre-slit foam insulation works well in areas where the temperatures do not normally drop much below freezing. It's easy to apply. Just pull it apart slightly at the slit and push it onto the pipe.
Fiberglass insulation also comes pre-cut into pipe-sized pieces. It's a little harder to apply, since you'll need to tape it around the pipe and wear a mask and gloves to protect you from fiberglass. However, it's a good choice for areas where the temperature regularly drops below freezing.
Arguably the most effective type of insulation to apply to your pipes is spray foam insulation. Since it's such a good insulator, you only need a thin layer around each pipe. It can also be applied to hard-to-reach areas, making it a good choice if you're trying to insulate pipes without ripping out entire walls.
Other Important Tips
Even if they are coated in insulation, your pipes may freeze if they are exposed to excessive cold air. Check your attic and crawl space for gaps through which cold air may be flowing. If you do find any air gaps, seal them off with spray foam insulation or caulk.
If the pipes running along your exterior walls to your kitchen sink are uninsulated, as they often are, leave your cupboard doors open on the coldest days. This allows heat from your home to come into contact with your pipes so they don't freeze.
The best time to make sure your pipes are properly insulated is before the cold winter weather hits. If you wait until the freezing temperatures arrive to worry about this issue, you may find yourself making some frantic calls to a plumber (such as one from Roto-Rooter) and your home owner's insurance company. When it comes to frozen pipes, you're always better safe than sorry.