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Crawl space heater (C) Daniel Friedman Where & How to Add Heat to Prevent Frozen Pipes

  • HEAT SOURCES to AVOID FROZEN PIPES - CONTENTS: How to Add Heat, Heat Tapes, or simply increase building warm air circulation to prevent frozen pipes. Should we add insulation in spots where water pipes are likely to freeze? - How to winterize pipes: frost protection for plumbing systems
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to protect buildings from freeze damage: prevent frozen pipes, frost heaves, cracking due to freezing, and prevent water and mold damage that follows frozen, burst pipes.
  • REFERENCES
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Freeze-protection for buildings: this article explains where, why, and how to add heat at cold problem spots to avoid freezing pipes. We discuss the safe use of heat tapes in buildings and warn about unsafe heating tapes and fire hazards.

The articles at this website will answer most questions about freeze protection for piping and other building plumbing and heating system components: how to winterize a building to avoid frozen pipes, and how to thaw frozen water supply & drain piping, wells, & water tanks.

We discuss various methods to give each spot in danger of freezing its own heat source. For example simple passive heating may be sufficient to avoid freezing in some locations: in kitchens and bathrooms we may leave open vanity cabinet doors to permit warmer building air to reach pipes in those areas.



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How & Where to Add an Active Heat Source Heat to Protect Plumbing Pipes or Components from Freezing

Crawl space heater (C) Daniel Friedman

Adding heat to protect plumbing in un-heated areas such as crawl spaces: you may add heat either by installing a short section of heating baseboard, an extra opening cut in a warm air supply duct running through a crawl area, a small thermostatically-controlled electric heater set to operate only at low temperatures, or in small but cold areas, a simple light bulb may provide enough heat to prevent freezing.

Check these auxiliary heaters frequently to assure that the heat source is still working; be sure to respect fire safety when installing any heat source.

Adding small point-sources of extra heat in a building to protect from freezing is likely to be more economical than running the central heating system to a higher temperature just to warm up a cold corner or two.

Particularly if the thermostat set-back temperature results in the heating system turning on less often, adding point source heating may be needed.

We can add heat to protect plumbing and heating piping using any of the methods listed below and described in detail in this article:

Types of heating tapes & cables for roof ice dam prevention and pipe freeze protection (C) Daniel Friedman

Pipe heating cables to avoid frozen pipes (at right in the photo above) are discussed
at HEAT TAPES to AVOID FROZEN PIPES

Roof heating cables for ice dam protection (at left in the photo above) are discussed
at HEAT TAPES & CABLES for ROOF ICE DAMS

Increase warm air flow: Another way we've added heat to problem areas where pipes freeze is to simply make one or more openings to permit warm air to circulate from the building into the cold area.

After finding freezing water pipes entering a bathroom located over a kitchen in a home with warm air heat, we cut an opening in the kitchen ceiling and installed a heating register there to make the hole look nice. Warm air rising from the kitchen proved sufficient to prevent a future freeze-up of the pipes in that location.

In any cold area where you are adding heat to avoid freezing pipes, the amount of heat you need to add will be reduced a lot if the cold area itself is insulated. Fiberglass insulation is fine for most building locations, but to reduce the risk of mold growth, we prefer to use solid foam insulation in areas like crawl spaces that are exposed to dampness.

How to Add Passive Heat Flow to Protect Plumbing Components from Freezing

Air register added to stop freezing pipes (C) Daniel Friedman

Adding heat to protect plumbing in un-heated areas such as crawl spaces: you may add heat either by installing a short section of heating baseboard, an extra opening cut in a warm air supply duct running through a crawl area, a small thermostatically-controlled electric heater set to operate only at low temperatures, or in small but cold areas, a simple light bulb may provide enough heat to prevent freezing.

Check these auxiliary heaters frequently to assure that the heat source is still working; be sure to respect fire safety when installing any heat source.

Adding small point-sources of extra heat in a building to protect from freezing is likely to be more economical than running the central heating system to a higher temperature just to warm up a cold corner or two. Particularly if the thermostat set-back temperature results in the heating system turning on less often, adding point source heating may be needed.

Our photo (above left) shows how we stopped freezing pipes under the second floor of a home.

On the first floor we cut an opening into a pipe chase through which both supply and drain piping rose upwards to the floor above. Just allowing air to enter the pipe chase by natural convection stopped the freeze-up problem we had experienced in the bathroom above this location. The orange arrow indicates the direction of warm air flow by convection.

The red arrow in our photo (above left) shows a cover we constructed to hide hot and cold water supply pipes that we had moved out of the wall cavity and into the building interior stop freezing. Moving those pipes to the inside of the wall and keeping the pipe cover an inch off of the floor permitted enough warm air to enter the covered space that the horizontal pipe run never froze again.

Air register prevents frozen pipes (C) Daniel Friedman

After finding freezing water pipes entering a bathroom located over a kitchen in a home with warm air heat, we cut an opening in the kitchen ceiling and installed a heating register there to make the hole look nice. Warm air rising from the kitchen proved sufficient to prevent a future freeze-up of the pipes in that location.

In any cold area where you are adding heat to avoid freezing pipes, the amount of heat you need to add will be reduced a lot if the cold area itself is insulated.

Fiberglass insulation is fine for most building locations, but to reduce the risk of mold growth, we prefer to use solid foam insulation in areas like crawl spaces that are exposed to dampness.

How to use a circulating pump to prevent water from freezing

Reader comment: Vincent 1/21/13: Great suggestions - good article!

Beside insulating pipes from cold weather, or trying to use heat tape, a very effective way of protecting pipes from freezing is to introduce a circulating pump into the water system. By installing a circulation system, the water from the 'hot' side of the system gets sent to the 'cold' water line. This greatly reduces the possibility of water pipes freezing because the water temperature never reaches the critical freezing point.

The best circulation system on the market that I've seen is available at http://avoidfrozenpipes.com/ It is the only circulating pump I've seen that doesn't need electricity to run. It can be installed anywhere in the water system, and save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in home repairs if frozen pipes burst from water expansion.

That's my two cents; I hope it helps! - Vincent 1/21/2013

This comment was originally posted at HEAT TAPES to AVOID FROZEN PIPES

Reply:

Thanks so much Vincent. We welcome content critique & suggestions for InspectApedia articles. Working together we are smarter than any individual. - Daniel

Reader Question: what is the best way to heat a well pit?

what is the best way to heat a well pit - Jim, 10/18/2012

Reply:

Jim:

A well pit is intended to protect its contents, well head, piping, possibly even a water tank and pump from freezing by its depth below ground. If you have to add heat then the pit was perhaps not properly constructed, not deep enough, or left uncovered.

That griping done, you could consider adding a small electric heater;

We have also used a simple light bulb in a small, closed well pit. The risk of course is that electricity fails or the bulb burns out.

That's why I think a small oil-filled electric heater is probably more safe. Be sure that ALL electrical components in a well pit are protected from water, including the occasional well pit flood. More suggestions for adding heat and cutting drafts that would help freeze-proof a well pit are in the article above.

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