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How To Prevent Pipes From Freezing In Crawl Space

Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant

Crawl Space Freezing Pipes​Are you curious about how you can prevent the pipes in your crawl space from freezing?

Great! In this guide, we explain all you need to know about the freezing of pipes, answering questions like:

  • Why Do Pipes Freeze?
  • How Can You Prevent Freezing Pipes In Your Crawl Space?
  • Can You Put A Heater In Your Crawl Space To Prevent Frozen Pipes?

And much more!

Do you want to know how much it will cost to prepare your crawl space for cold weather conditions? Tell us more about your project in the form, and we will send you a free, no-obligation price quote, or keep reading to know more about freezing crawl space pipes.

Why Do Pipes Freeze?

One advantage of crawl space and basement foundations is that they provide room to install water lines, air conditioning, and electric cables, among other fixtures. While this arrangement makes for a neater and more spacious living room, it exposes these fixtures to the sometimes extreme conditions of the area.

During winter, your crawl space will probably be the coldest area of your home. This is because it is typically outside and will not benefit from your heating system like the rest of the house. Unless you take the necessary preventative measures, the pipes in your crawl space will freeze due to the cold temperatures. Frozen pipes are not something you want to deal with during the winter, especially because they can cause expensive damage to the other areas of your home.

Pipes From Freezing In Crawl Space

At What Temperature Do Pipes Freeze In Crawl Spaces?

For water to freeze, it must be exposed to temperatures lower than 32℉. However, this does not mean that the pipes in your crawl space will freeze when temperatures outside drop to 32℉ degrees.

Even though it is outside your house, the crawl space still receives a certain degree of shelter from the elements. It also absorbs some heat from the upper parts of the home, making it slightly warmer than the outside.

For the pipes in your crawl space to freeze, the temperatures outside must be lower than 20℉. However, the exact freezing point depends on how well your crawl space and the pipes are insulated, the design of your home, and how much moisture the space is exposed to, among other factors.

How Long Will It Take For Pipes To Freeze?

The pipes will not freeze as soon as the temperatures plummet to 20℉. The basic rule of thumb is to expect your pipes to freeze after about 3-6 hours of exposure to low temperatures of less than 20℉. Generally, a cold winter night will leave you with frozen pipes the next day. Here, again, the length of time your pipes can withstand cold conditions depends on various factors.

For instance, unprotected crawl spaces and pipes will freeze quicker than those with proper insulation. You should also expect those in damp crawl spaces to freeze faster than those in a dry environment.

When Are They At Risk Of Bursting?

In cold temperatures, pipes will quickly lose heat to the surrounding environment, causing the water within to turn to ice. When frozen, water will increase slightly in size by about 9%. This expansion occurs because when water freezes, its molecules move less, allowing for stronger and larger hydrogen bonds to form.

The increase in size comes with tremendous force, where the water pressure in the pipes could go from 40 psi to 40,000 psi. The pressure from pipes freezing is too much for most of them to bear, and they will end up bursting. The formation of ice will also cause blockages that will reduce the inner width of your pipes. The reduced width causes higher pressure which could, in turn, result in bursting.

The most vulnerable pipes to freezing problems are :

  • Those without insulation
  • Those located on the exterior walls
  • Those made of galvanized steel or copper
  • Those found in unheated attics, garages, crawl spaces, and basements

If you want to ensure that your pipes are fully insulated and not at risk of bursting, you should let a professional assess them to determine their weakness and at what temperature you should start to worry. Paying attention to your area’s weather reports during the winter will also keep you in the loop and help you prepare appropriately for extreme drops in temperature.

7 DIY Methods To Prevent Freezing Pipes In Your Crawl Space

Prevention always beats curing the problem, and luckily for homeowners, there are simple steps you can take to protect the pipes in your crawl space from the effects of low temperatures. These winterizing measures will not just save you from the extra costs of repairing or replacing broken pipes but also help you avoid any leaks or interruptions to your water supply.

Insulate Your Pipes

Pipe insulation is a simple and affordable way to keep your water pipes from freezing. These are either foam-rubber sleeves that you slip onto the pipe or insulated wraps that you will tie around them. The rubber sleeves are easier and quicker to install, but the insulated wraps allow you to choose how thick the protective layer will be, depending on the specific conditions of the pipes and installation area.

Besides protecting your pipes from cold temperatures, foam pipe insulation reduces the cooling rate in hot water pipes, keeping your water heating bills low. They also eliminate condensation on the surface of the pipes, helping to keep your crawl space dry. Since the insulation will wear out over time, you should inspect their state regularly and replace them where necessary.

Insulate and Waterproof Your Crawl Space

Insulating and sealing your crawl space is a sure way of protecting the pipes and other fixtures from temperature and moisture issues. By locking out moisture-laden and cold air out of your crawl space, it will be easier to keep the temperature closer to the one inside your home, keeping your pipes freeze-free.

nsulate and Waterproof Your Crawl Space

Another benefit of crawl space insulation and waterproofing is that the floor will absorb less heat from your home, reducing your energy consumption. Keeping the area dry will also save you from foundation problems, structural damages, health risks, and other effects of water in your crawl space.

Here is a step-by-step DIY guide on how you to insulate and waterproof your crawl space to prevent freezing pipes:

Step 1: Clean the crawl space

First, you should remove any tools or debris that will tamper with the installation process. Ensure you also get rid of any mold, mildew, insect shelter, and droppings from the area. If there are any odors left behind, disinfection will help maintain good air quality in your home.

Step 2: Repair any previous damages

Since the insulation and vapor barrier are long-term installations, you should make any required repairs before sealing the crawl space. Check the joists and wooden beams for any damages by termites, mold, or other physical issues and repair or replace accordingly.

Step 3: Seal cracks in the foundation wall

The next important step of encapsulating your crawl space is sealing all the cracks and openings that let in drafts and moisture. Use a sealant to cover any cracks on the inside and outside walls. Also pay attention to the areas around the entry holes for the pipes, cables, and other fixtures passing through the walls. Use caulk to seal off any cracks and openings found in these areas.

Step 4: Insulate the walls and floors

For maximum climate control, cover the walls and floors of the crawl space with 2.5” rigid foam. Use insulating tape to hold it in place.

Step 5: Seal the cavities between the floor joists and walls

Spaces between the floor joists, rim joists, and mudsills are also significant entry points for cold air. If there are any gaps under the mudsill, fill them with expanding spray foam insulation. You could also use fiberglass insulation to seal the spaces, but this is not recommended as it could absorb moisture and attract mold.

Step 6: Install a vapor barrier

Next, install a 20-mil vapor barrier on top of the insulation on the crawl space walls and floors. The vapor barrier is made of polyethylene plastic sheets that will prevent any moisture from getting into the crawl space.

If your crawl space already has water problems, you will first need to drain it away and dry the water before insulating or encapsulating the area. For areas prone to flooding, ensure you instance a drainage system before encapsulation. You could also use a sump pump and a crawl space dehumidifier to channel away excess water and to keep the area dry.

Temporarily Block Crawl Space Vents

For crawl spaces with air vents to facilitate air exchange with the outside, you should block them temporarily during cold spells. Although they help keep the crawl spaces aerated, they will let in cold air that will cause your water pipes to freeze during winter. To seal the vents, cover them with pieces of rigid polystyrene foam and secure them with double-sided tape.

Install Frost-Proof Faucets

If there are any outdoor faucets, also known as sillocks or hose bibs, you should insulate these too. Since they are more exposed to external temperatures, they are more susceptible to freezing. When freezing occurs on faucets of pipes outside, it will spread to the inner pipes regardless of whether or not they are insulated.

One alternative is to insulate the faucets using rigid foam covers, which should be thicker than the insulation used on internal fixtures. A better option is to replace the faucets with frost-proof sillocks. These have long stems with valves to shut off the water deep in the house where it is not exposed to low temperatures.

Line The Pipes With A Heat Cable

In some extreme situations, insulation alone is not enough to keep your crawl space pipes from freezing. If this is the case for you, you can use an electric heat cable for additional protection. Depending on the type, some heating cables are secured alongside the pipes using zip ties, while others are wound around the pipe. When you plug it into an outlet, the electrical current running through the cable will keep the pipes warm enough to allow the water to keep flowing smoothly.

Keep The Pipes Water-Free

If you will be away from home for extended periods during winter, you should first remove any water from the pipes. This is because when no one is home, water will sit stagnant in the pipes, increasing their rate of freezing. To prevent this, turn off the main valve and open all faucets then flush the toilets and sinks to drain out all the water. You should also leave the heat on and adjust the thermostat to around 50 – 60.

Keep The Water Running Slightly

This solution may seem counterintuitive compared to the previous one, but it will also keep your pipes from freezing. If you are around the house and, therefore, shutting off the main valve to keep the pipes dry is not an option, an alternative solution is to prevent water from sitting stagnant. Leave the faucets slightly open to ensure a continuous flow.

Can You Put A Heater In Your Crawl Space To Prevent Freezing Pipes?

Yes! You can use an electric space heater to warm up your crawl space. However, it should not be your first choice. First, try out the cheaper and more energy-efficient solutions suggested as they will be just as effective, if not more. If you still have a freezing problem even after insulating and waterproofing your crawl space, a space heater may be your only option.

The space heater is also a handy alternative for tight crawl spaces where insulation and waterproofing are impossible. Just place the space heater in a safe place near the pipes (away from any combustible items) and turn up the heat to the required levels.

Remember, the goal is not to make your crawl space warm and comfy but to prevent freezing. Therefore, you only need to keep the temperatures slightly above 20℉, just high enough to protect your pipes with minimal energy wastages.

How Can You Unfreeze A Frozen Pipe?

While frozen pipes will eventually thaw if left alone, the process is slow, and they could suffer damage in the process. It is therefore advisable that you speed up the process to prevent further inconveniences. You can thaw the pipes by:

  • Blowing warm air over the frozen region using a hairdryer
  • Placing heat pads around the region
  • Setting the thermostat to high
  • Draping hot water towels above the frozen spots
  • Placing a space heater near the region

When thawing your frozen pipes, remember to place the heat source closest to the edge, where any steam released can easily escape to the faucets or taps. Otherwise, the trapped steam could cause the pipes to burst.

Can A Professional Help Prevent Pipes From Freezing?

Yes, professionals can help you solve your freezing pipes problems. A plumbing professional is best equipped and skilled to cater to burst pipes caused by freezing. Plumbers are, however, not the only experts you should consult for such issues. After the pipes have been repaired, you should still fix your crawl space to prevent the problem from recurring.

Foundation Repair Experts are best placed to help you convert your crawl space into a suitable environment for your water pipes during the harshest conditions. At Regional Foundation Repair, our specialists have helped homeowners with moisture removal, insulation, and encapsulation of their crawl spaces to keep them in the best states and prepare the houses for extreme weather conditions. Contact us today, and we will help you create a comfortable, safe, and functional home for you and your family.

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Sam Smith Foundation Repair Consultant
SHORT BIO: Hey, I'm Sam Smith. I'm one of our service techs here at Regional Foundation Repair. I'm here to help you learn more about your home's foundation. I've been doing this for a while, so I have a few insider tips and tricks to share!

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