Eco-Saturday: Insulate your pipes

Here’s a quick, easy project to cut your energy and water bills: Insulate your hot-water pipes.

You can measure first and do the project all at once, or you can sneak up on it a little at a time. If your house has a basement, the latter approach is easy enough, but if you have a crawlspace that makes it difficult to access your pipes, I’d recommend getting organized and doing the whole thing in one shot.

Because I am lazy and my basement doesn’t get that cold, I kind of halfassed this project, but if your pipes are exposed to truly extreme temperatures, you’ll want to take an extra step, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Materials:
(the lazy way)
Foam pipe insulation tubes in the appropriate size to fit your pipes
Scissors
Tape measure

(the right way)
All of the above, plus rubber pipe tape

This project is ridiculously easy if you have an unfinished basement.

Use your finger to open up the slit so you can install the insulation around the pipe.
Use your finger to open up the slit so you can install the insulation around the pipe.

1. Stick your finger into the slit in one of the insulation tubes. Run your finger all the way down the slit to split open the tube.

Slip the insulation over the pipe. That's pretty much all there is to it.
Slip the insulation over the pipe. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

2. Slip the tube over a pipe.

If you come to a T...
If you come to a T…
… just notch the insulation to fit around it ...
… just notch the insulation to fit around it …
… like this. You can seal the seams with rubber tape later if you want.
… like this. You can seal the seams with rubber tape later if you want.

3. Cut sections of insulation to fit as needed. If you come to a T, work around it by cutting a notch the width of the pipe, about a third of the way around the tube, to make room. (Alternately, you can buy T-fitting insulators, but I didn’t have any handy, so I just did it the Red Fork way.)

If you want to maximize the effectiveness of your insulation, come back and seal the seams with rubber pipe tape. Personally, I’m taking the “Meh. Better than nothing” approach to my basement insulation projects, but my basement doesn’t get terribly cold, either. If it did, I’d pay a lot more attention to the details. (Of course, if I’d bothered to install my fiberglass insulation properly, I wouldn’t need to insulate most of these pipes at all, but as we’ve discussed before, I like to have my plumbing and wiring as visible and accessible as possible in case something gets screwed up.)

This project helps keep the water in the lines at the proper temperature, so the water heater doesn’t have to work quite as hard to keep up, and you don’t have to run the water as long before it gets warm. It also lowers the odds of a pipe freezing and bursting during a cold snap.

You can buy about 12 linear feet of pipe insulation for $3 at the hardware store. If you have a big house with a lot of exposed pipes in the basement, and you don’t have the time or money to do the whole project at once, you can start sneaking up on it now — just buy a couple of packs of insulation every time you go to the hardware store — and you should have it well in hand by the time winter really starts to set in.

Emily

 

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