Should I Insulate Cold Water Pipes?

by Erik North on July 3, 2013

Should I Insulate Cold Water Pipes


Insulating the hot waters pipes in your house is something of a no brainer. Why let the heat escape willy-nilly? Pipe insulation is inexpensive and the project is one that any homeowner could finish on a Saturday afternoon. Whether to insulate the cold water pipes is less clear cut. The project is still pretty inexpensive and easy but does it have a point? Insulation retains heat and these are cold water pipes. So why do it?

There are a few good reasons. If the basement/crawlspace is uninsulated (and really, you should insulate your basement), insulated cold water pipes would be less prone to freezing in cold climates. If the basement is conditioned space, an insulated cold water pipe won’t absorb heat. If it is in a 1000% humidity climate like Georgia, cold pipes can be prone to condensation issues. A fully taped and insulated cold water pipe won’t condense moisture on its surface.

Should I Insulate Cold Water Pipes – Not Freezing

My father grew up in houses where pipes freezing was a too common occurance. Having slept in the basement bedroom of his childhood home, it’s not a surprise. That was one cold basement. From USGS groundwater temperature data, we know that groundwater temps in Maine generally below 50 F.

Many houses in Maine and similar heating climates have uninsulated copper and PEX pipes running through the basement ceiling joists. With winter temps routinely dipping below zero F, it’s no surprise that cold water pipes freeze.

Insulation is simply a material with above average resistance to thermal energy movement. The water comes out of the ground below 50 F into a winter environment that could be below 0 F. Wrapping those cold water pipes would keep what heat energy the water possessed in place, protecting against freezing.

Should I Insulate Cold Water Pipes – Warming Up

If the basement space is insulated, cold water pipes may absorb heat. The basement air temperature would be in the high 50s while the cold water pipes would be 10-12 degrees colder. Left uninsulated this would be a continual, low level draw of heat from the building. Normally this might be too small to bother but the cost of insulating pipes is so minimal it becomes worth discussing.

Should I Insulate Cold Water Pipes – Get All Wet

Lastly, condensation concerns can be alleviated with pipe insulation. Or rather the possibility of condensation would be gone; you’re free to remain concerned.

Basements and crawlspaces are embedded in damp soil, surrounding the permeable concrete with moisture. The spaces under houses often have elevated humidity levels and cold water pipes are a natural condensation surface. Stick any paper or valuables or valuable paper (perhaps your original run of Claremont X-Men issues) under a pipe elbow and you’re in for a nasty surprise down the road.

The key for preventing condensation is that the pipe is insulated and sealed along the seams. Moisture laden air is kept from contacting the pipe surface. The pipe insulation should be a vapor impermeable foam with all the seams and edges taped tight.

Insulating hot water pipes in a cold climate is a no-brainer. But there is a lot to be said for insulating cold water pipes as well.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pipe guru July 24, 2013 at 3:26 am

“Insulating hot water pipes in a cold climate is a no-brainer”, I’ve never agreed so much in my life. Great article, very neat! Cheers energyauditing!


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