Winter is still young, and much colder weather will soon come to North Georgia. Along with that, we usually get problems with freezing water pipes. The red copper type and old-fashioned black iron pipes are most susceptible to freezing because metal allows for rapid heat loss.
When you look over the plumbing in exposed locations, the areas that need the most attention are the ones where pipes are exposed to wind. There is no “wind chill” effect of the type that applies to the human body, because water pipes don’t have pores for perspiration. But cold wind cools plumbing quickly to the point of freezing. For example, gaps between the foundation and the rim joist (the lowest wooden part of the house) can be small. But narrow openings like that can increase the wind speed by providing a funnel effect. If there are pipes running close to the rim joist, they deserve a thick layer of insulation. Along with the slip-on foam covers from the hardware store, I like to stack fiberglass insulation into the space around the pipes. The price of R-13 rolls has increased in recent years, but it’s still affordable. The paper moisture barrier that it comes with isn’t needed and can be removed easily with a paint mixing stick or similar tool.
In basements, foundation vents are for venting, so I don’t close those. The vents prevent unhealthy moisture build-up and, in some locations, the accumulation of harmful radon gas. Water pipes located close to the vents need to be wrapped thickly. The slip-on sleeves provide a first heat barrier. But they don’t fit perfectly on T-connections or around tight elbows. Those places, where various plumbing parts are joined, need to be insulated with extra care because they tend to be the first to bust in a hard freeze.
Outside water faucets (for some reason, they’re called “hose bibbs” on supply house websites) are the most exposed fixtures. Some have a long valve stem, reaching deep inside the pipe and stopping water before it reaches the cold outdoors. If that type can’t be installed, a detachable freeze cap can help some, but a really hard freeze may still penetrate. In my own home, I installed a shut-off valve on the inside wall. With the “hose bibb” open, the outdoor part contains no water and freezing is prevented.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.