How to Wrap Pipes for Cold Weather

Two Methods:

Pipes can freeze or even burst in times of cold weather after a period of disuse. Products to insulate pipes, such as a pipe sleeve and electrical heat tape, can be purchased and placed around pipes to prevent them from freezing. If a pipe has already frozen, wrapping it with an electric heating pad that is then warmed or towels heated with hot water can allow sufficient water to run through the pipe again. Here are steps to wrap pipes for cold weather.

Method 1

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    Go through your house to check for leaky water pipes. Check bathroom and kitchen cabinets, the attic, basement, crawl spaces, and garage. Look for pipes running along outside walls of your house or through your foundation as well.
    • Use tools or have a professional licensed plumber repair any leaking pipes or pipe joints before wrapping them.
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    Know what type of pipe material you will be wrapping. The pipe's material can determine what kind of insulation product you use. Check hot and cold water supply pipes since both kinds of pipes can freeze.
    • Plastic pipes should only be wrapped with automatic heat tape. This kind of tape is insulated with heavy rubber around its wires.
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    Find the length and diameter of each pipe you will wrap. Count the number of faucets or valves along each pipe. These figures can help you determine how much insulation product you will need to buy.
    • Consult your pipe manufacturer's guidelines to help you decide how much insulation you will need.
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    Visit your local building supplies store. Purchase enough pipe insulation product, such as heat tape or cable, for your pipes.
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    Follow any specific directions from the product's manufacturer to wrap the pipes. Wrap pipes carefully with the insulation product.
    • Heat tape has a plug at 1 end to heat a pipe electrically. From the plug end, run the tape straight down the length of the pipe if directed to by the manufacturer. You may need to wrap heat tape in a spiral or corkscrew fashion around a pipe instead.
    • Wrap areas of pipe that go below ground with heat tape until you reach the frost line.
    • Secure the heat tape to the pipe with bands of electrical tape wrapped around the pipe's diameter. Space the bands of electrical tape according to the heat tape manufacturer's directions.
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    Encase pipes and their heat tape in a pipe sleeve, jacket, or other insulation. Cover the insulation with a waterproof material if it does not have weather protection.
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    Plug in your heat tape's plug to an outlet. It should go directly into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet without using an extension cord.
    • Look for a GFCI outlet under your home, near where your water supply comes in.

Method 2

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    Turn on a water faucet in your house. If the water that comes out of the faucet is a trickle or lower in pressure than usual, its water supply pipe is likely frozen.
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    Leave the water faucet on. As the water running through the pipe is above freezing temperature, it will help thaw the pipe.
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    Find the faucet's frozen pipe. Places to look are where exposed pipes run along outside a house or through the foundation where your water supply enters the house.
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    Wrap a frozen piece of pipe in an electric heating pad. Apply heat from an electric hair dryer or a portable space heater. Make sure no flammable items or materials are nearby.
    • Towels soaked in hot water can also be used to wrap frozen pipes in. Heat the water for the towels in a pot or other suitable container on the stove.
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    Have someone else check that water running through the faucet works normally if necessary.
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    Check other faucets 1 at a time around the house. Thaw any other frozen pipes you can access.
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    Call a licensed professional plumber to thaw the pipes you cannot reach, find, or unfreeze yourself.


  • Another material to wrap unfrozen pipes with is newspaper. This is best if you live in a region where temperatures do not often drop below freezing or remain below freezing for long. Try wrapping pipes in a layer of newspaper that is at least 1/4-inch (0.63 cm) thick.
  • Check your heat tape once a year or more for deterioration and maintenance. If deteriorated enough, heat tape may melt plastic pipe, leading to a fire or damage from the pipe's water.
  • If going away during a cold weather period, continue heating your home while away. Leave the thermostat's temperature around 65 degrees F (18 degrees C) or no lower than 55 degrees F (13 degrees C).
  • Keep the garage closed to prevent pipes located there from freezing during cold weather.
  • Leave bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors open so warmer air can circulate around the cabinets' water pipes. If doing this, keep harmful cleaning and chemical products usually stored in these cabinets out of the reach of children.


  • Be sure to carefully follow any instructions provided with your heat tape. There have been cases where an improper installation has caused a major fire.
  • Never use a kerosene or propane heater, a blowtorch, or other open flame device to thaw a frozen pipe. The flame can make the water in the pipe boil, leading to the pipe exploding.
  • Other dangers of using an open flame device include starting a fire and risking exposure to a deadly level of carbon monoxide.
  • Do not wrap heat tape so it crosses or overlaps itself or apply it to a pipe at a 90 degree angle.
  • Never wrap leaking pipes or pipe joints in heat tape.

Things You'll Need

  • Plumbing and pipe repair tools
  • Professional licensed plumber
  • Pipe material
  • Measuring tape
  • Pipe length and diameter
  • Number of pipe faucet and valves
  • Pipe manufacturer's guidelines
  • Building supplies store
  • Heat tape
  • Heat tape manufacturer's directions
  • Electrical tape
  • Pipe insulation
  • Waterproof cover
  • Water faucet
  • Electric heating pad
  • Electric hair dryer or portable space heater
  • Towels
  • Stove
  • Pot or container for heating water
  • Hot water
  • Helper

Article Info

Categories: Plumbing Drains Waste and Vents | Insulation