Insulating your pipes is a critical step in preventing water damage in your home. So keep reading: Next to wind and hail incidents, water damage and freezing account for the highest percentage of homeowner insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And yet, a recent water risk survey by the insurance company Chubb reveals that only 21% of homeowners install pipe insulation.
And while we typically think of frozen pipes as a problem that affects homeowners only in cold regions, DiClerico says that homes in states with warmer climates are vulnerable, too.
“Their water pipes often run through uninsulated areas, where they’re susceptible to freezing and bursting during the occasional cold snap,” he says.
But freezing damage isn’t the only reason to insulate your pipes. Pipe sweating is another.
“Pipes in crawl spaces are insulated to control pipe sweating in the summer or in warmer climates, which can sometimes make people think they have a leak,” says Pat Knight, training, licensing, and inspection support manager at WIN Home Inspection.
So what are your options for insulating the pipes in your home? Below are the most common options for insulating pipes so you can decide which is best for you.
DiClerico says the easiest and most cost-effective strategy is to wrap your vulnerable pipes with insulation sleeves.
You can also hire a handyman to install the insulation sleeves for around $100.
The beauty of foam and rubber pipe insulation is that you don’t have to worry about purchasing something to fit perfectly. There are a variety of lengths, and they can be cut to fit your plumbing. Also, installation is a breeze, since the sleeves are slit to easily fit around the pipes.
“Fiberglass insulation can be purchased either in rolls that can be wrapped around your pipes or as tubes similar to the foam pipe,” Taylor says.
It costs from $15 to $50 a tube depending on the thermal resistance value.
However, Taylor says fiberglass pipe insulation is not suited for areas where the temperature falls below zero degrees. If you live in this type of area, Taylor recommends purchasing a higher-rated foam pipe insulation—one that will protect your pipes to minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
An option for areas particularly prone to freezing pipes is heat cables that run along areas of exposed pipes.
“These come with a small, automatic thermostat to keep water running even when temperatures plummet well below freezing,” says Don Glovan, franchise consultant with Mr. Rooter Plumbing. “As long as you choose a quality product and follow the manufacturer instructions, heat cables are a safe way to prevent either plastic or metal water pipes from freezing.”
You can get a kit with 12 feet of electric heat cables for less than $30.
Leak detectors and water shut-off valves
DiClerico says the ultimate defense against freezing pipes involves a bit of technology in the form of leak detectors and water shut-off valves.
“Leak detectors are small, puck-shaped devices that you place anywhere water is a risk, including the basement,” he says.
When there’s a leak—whether it’s the result of a burst pipe or a natural flood—he says you’ll get an alert on your smartphone.
High-tech water shut-off valves go one step further. “They monitor water pressure in pipes throughout the home, using sensitive algorithms to detect potential leaks,” DiClerico says.
If a leak is detected, he says, a built-in shut-off valve will turn off the water at the home’s main water line.
“These high-tech systems aren’t cheap (installation starts around $1,000), but they offer maximum peace of mind against catastrophic leaks,” he says, adding that installation may take several days.
Hiring a professional
Some homeowners prefer to hire a professional for all plumbing work. However, this decision will also increase the price. According to DiClerico, when you call in the pros, the cost of adding insulation increases by an additional $300 to $500 for six hours of work.
“When there is little space to access the pipes, professionals will have the ability to use foam insulation that can be sprayed into cavities where access would otherwise be difficult,” says Taylor.
Also, if you have asbestos-based insulation, Taylor recommends getting a professional to safely replace it.