Just because we are coming out in winter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with pipe insulation. In fact I am often asked by home owners about ways to be efficient, pipe wrap is one of them and should not be overlooked. During many of the Utility sponsored audits, I install pipe wrap on the hot water line for savings. But energy savings are not the only concern to be aware of. Condensation, Pipe freezing, and Energy savings are the main issues.
Condensation is a concern when the pipes are operating below ambient temps. Then the moisture in the air condenses and drips. Depending where this happens in the house it can be an issue. Above a drop ceiling in a cool basement, for instance can result in a lot of damage; I have seen the damage first hand.
Pipe freezing is obviously a concern for some when pipes are in questionable outdoors areas. In short, pipe insulation cannot be an absolute guard against pipe freezing. What it can do is prolong the time needed for the pipe to get down to freezing. And the concern here is when water freezes it expands and cracks the pipes. You may not know you have a crack until the pipe thaws and then it may gush water.
Energy saving is often an issue that comes to light during the energy audits. It seems trivial, but for an electric water heater you may save up to 10 watts of energy per foot of wrap on the hot side. We try to put on about 6’ of pipe wrap where possible. This can be a savings of 60 watts, enough to power a light bulb.
So when thinking of ways to save, try 6’ of pipe foam from the hard ware store. They come in 3’ lengths usually, and are split on one side to conveniently wrap around the pipe. The pipes entering and leaving the water heater are standardly ¾”, within a few feet they may transition to ½” , so get the appropriate size pipe wrap. If you cut the joints at a 45 degree angle you can insulate the corners well, and tape the joints if you can. Duct tape will work, it is handy but will not last a long time. Electrical tape often works well.
So wrap your pipes to avoid pipe freezing, condensation damage, and energy conservation. You could save money in more ways than one!