Updated January 17, 2024
While most homeowners understand why it’s beneficial to insulate areas of their homes like the walls and attic, it doesn’t always occur to people to do the same thing for their plumbing pipes. It’s a simple home improvement project that can reduce your monthly energy bills as well as protect your home from frozen pipes and moisture problems.
Below, we’ll explain how you can benefit from insulated plumbing, as well as what common types of materials you can use to insulate your pipes.
Insulation improves heat retention
Heat Loss in Hot Water Delivery Systems
Do you feel like you have to wait an eternity whenever you want hot water from a faucet in your home? You’re not alone. The Energy Information Administration found that the average household wastes over 3,650 gallons of water annually while waiting for hot water to get to the point of use. People often believe their water heater is to blame, when, in fact, their hot water delivery system might be the bigger issue.
Think about what your “hot water delivery system” is: it’s a series of cold pipes leading away from your water heater to wherever the hot water will be put to use. A lot of that water’s heat can get lost along the way. To put that heat loss into perspective, take these findings from the EPA into consideration:
- About 10 to 15 percent of the energy that goes toward hot water delivery systems is wasted in distribution losses (heat lost by the water along the way to its destination).
- On top of that, heating water is most people’s second-largest use of energy in their homes after space heating and air conditioning.
In other words, you’re already spending a good deal of energy (and money) on heating water for your home, but right off the bat, 10-15 percent of that energy (and money) is a waste. Insulating your hot water pipes is the best way to minimize the energy that gets wasted every time you use hot water in your home.
Heat Retention in Insulated Pipes
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, insulated hot water pipes will cut your heat loss by 2°F to 4°F. While that may not seem like a lot, the difference is noticeable against the skin, and it will allow you to lower your water heater’s thermostat setting significantly, which also has some perks. By lowering your water heater’s thermostat from 140ºF to 120ºF, you’ll reduce how quickly corrosion and mineral buildup occur in your water heater and pipes.
Insulation helps control moisture
Yes, insulation can be used on cold water pipes too! In a high-humidity climate like Shreveport’s, insulation can prevent condensation from collecting on cold water pipes, particularly during the warmer months of the year. This condensation can cause significant problems for a home, including water damage, mold growth, reduced indoor air quality, and increased humidity.
Insulation prevents freezing
Although winter temperatures tend to be less extreme in the South than in the North, a cold snap can still put the pipes in Southern homes at risk of freezing and bursting. Usually, the pipes most in danger of freezing are located in a home’s unheated areas (the garage, attic, basement, etc.). Insulation prevents pipes from transferring heat to the freezing-cold air around them and freezing as a result.
Best type of insulation for your hot water pipes
Pipe insulation is easy to find in major hardware stores. Depending on which material you choose, you can install the insulation safely on your own. However, if you’re unsure how to proceed, it’s best to consult a plumber to complete the installation for you.
Some of the most common and efficient materials used for pipe insulation include:
- Foil and Foam Insulation. The foam is thin, self-adhesive, and backed by aluminum foil.
- Tubular Polyethylene Foam. This material is easy to install because it comes in pre-slit tubes as well as self-sealing varieties. It should not be installed over heat tape or heat cables.
- Tubular Rubber Insulation. Unlike polyethylene foam, the material is able to expand and contract with your pipes when temperatures change, and it’s also safe to install over heat tape and heat cables.