Not many things will ruin your day like having frozen pipes in your home.
Unless that is, those frozen pipes decide to burst, causing not only a nightmare but thousands of dollars in damage and countless hours of clean up and restoration.
In fact, the average insurance claim for water damage and freezing comes in at $10,234 in recent years. Now that’s a major headache.
A pipe’s exposure to freezing cold temperatures causes it to freeze. You’ve heard that spray foam insulation is an option to help prevent pipes from freezing in your crawl space, basement, existing walls, or under the kitchen sink, but at the end of the day will spray foam keep pipes from freezing?
Being a specialty foam insulation contractor in Michigan, we see homeowners facing the challenge of frozen pipes each winter when Jack Frost decides to crank down the temperature.
In this article, I’ll discuss how the building envelope is extremely important when it comes to frozen pipes and the factors that will impact foam insulation’s effectiveness when it comes to preventing pipes from freezing.
Will Foam Insulation Prevent Frozen Pipes?
If a homeowner is considering using foam insulation to prevent freezing pipes in their home, there are a few things they need to consider first.
The best practice is to discuss their expectations with the insulation contractor to stop those freezing pipes. At this time, the contractor can explain how foam insulation can help in most situations, but also the factors that come into play that may still lead to frozen pipes even after spray foam has been installed.
Adding insulation to the building envelope of a home can greatly help with frozen pipes, but in some cases won’t fix the problem entirely.
If the pipes are outside of the building envelope, then they will continue to freeze. The key is to add an air barrier that prevents those cold temperatures from getting inside the home and making contact with the pipes, but sometimes it’s not that easy.
Factors that Impact Using Foam Insulation to Prevent Frozen Pipes
The construction of a home that puts the pipes outside of the building envelope is part of the problem that makes preventing frozen pipes difficult.
Mother Nature plays a role as well. If the region where the home is located gets hit with extremely cold temperatures, the foam insulation won’t stop those pipes from freezing.
Another thing to keep in mind is if the pipes aren’t exposed to any kind of heat source. The pipes need some manner of warmth to keep from freezing in the winter.
A situation we run into a lot is freezing pipes in a bathroom wall. One option is to add injection foam insulation to the wall to fill up the cavities to help prevent the pipes from freezing. Although the foam can definitely help, it may not completely solve the problem.
Even though the pipe is surrounded by thick foam, the waterline itself is not technically inside the building envelope and isn’t in the home’s conditioned space, hence it isn’t in contact with a heat source.
If temperatures get low enough, like we are used to seeing at least a few times during a typical Michigan winter, pipes can certainly still freeze even if they're really encased in insulation. If there's no heat source that's able to get to the pipe, you always run that risk.
Seal Up the Building Envelope to Prevent Frozen Pipes with Insulation
Not many things in life are guaranteed, and so it is with preventing pipes from freezing in your home.
From our experience, the greatest success comes when the building envelope is insulated with an air seal like foam insulation, and the water pipes are inside of the envelope with access to a heat source.
Keep in mind when we get into really cold temperatures anything could happen, but you will be much better off with your pipes completely separated from the freezing temperatures than if they weren’t.
About Eric Garcia
Eric brings his knowledge and training in building science, training in spray and injection foams from the manufacturers, more than 8 years installing foam insulation, as well as selling and managing in the foam insulation industry. He is also BPI and Dale Carnegie certified and has taken several building science courses including air sealing and building envelope. Eric’s responsibilities include overseeing and giving support to all of the branches of the RetroFoam of Michigan company, office, estimates, and installs. He is also the Professor of Foam on our educational YouTube series Foam University. Even when Eric is off he is usually still “working” or thinking about work, but when he can get away he enjoys camping, hiking, hunting, and woodwork.