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Thread: insulating basement hot water pipes

  1. #1

    Default insulating basement hot water pipes

    A basic question.

    If I insulate the hot water heating pipes that run from my boiler in the basement to radiators on the floor above, I'll reduce the amount of heat lost from the pipes to the cold basement air.

    However, by doing this, I'm effectively removing the main heat source from my basement in the winter which might lead to frozen domestic water pipes or colder floors above.

    What's the common wisdom about insulating basment heating pipes?

  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Depends on if you want the basement warmer...
    Jim DeBruycker
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    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

  3. #3
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Where I grew up in MA, we had single pipe steam heat. The pipes running around the basement, just under the joists, were somewhat insulated, but a lot of the joints were not, and some pipes that were replaced over the years with boiler replacements were not. As a result, the basement temp was comfortable all winter! It was not a finished basement, but the laundry was down there, as well as our "toys"....train sets, ping pong, etc.

    I am sure that from an energy standpoint, it did not make sense. But gasoline was 22 cents a gallon, and the NG was also cheap. And the celing was not insulated, so I think a lot of heat just rose up to the living area of the house, and contributed to a nice even comfy warmth up there!

  4. #4
    Computer Programmer Bill Arden's Avatar
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    1. How deep is the frost line?
    If you insulate around the basement border and seal it up any air leaks, the basement will automatically keep it at the ground temperature.

    This will also reduce heat loss from the heated pipes by trapping the heat they release into the basement.
    Important note Ė I donít know man made laws, just laws of physics
    Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of Darwin awards.

  5. #5

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    The frost depth here is 48" inches below grade.

    The framed floor sits about 2'-6' above grade, so when I stand in the basement, there's about 1'-8" of concrete above grade and another 10" or so of framing above that. The basement floor is about 7'-6" below the framed floor above.

    Unfortunately, since the frost line is deep here, nearly all of the soil outside my foundation wall is is subject to freezing temperatures

    The basement is unfinished, so I don't care how warm it stays, just as long as the pipes don't freeze.

    I'm nervous about insulating the inside of the basement walls for fear of trapping moisture and growing mold. We're pretty close to sea level out here, and the basement tends to be damp.

    I agree that sealing all potential air leaks in the basement is a good idea.

    My gut feeling is that if I insulate the heating pipes in the basement, enough heat from the story floor above will transfer to the basement (through the pine sub-floor and hardwood finish floor) to keep the water pipes in the basement from freezing, but I'm still not completely sold.

  6. #6
    DIY Member D.Smith's Avatar
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    I would think for the most part you would be ok. I remember even in a craw space it would stay above freezing for most of the winters.


    For piece of mind you can place a heater set at a 33 degrees in bsmt to protect against freezing.

  7. #7
    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    Default heat

    The heat you are "losing" in the basement is helping to heat the upper level's floor, so it is not really "lost". If you remove that source of heat, the upstairs radiation will have to operate longer to compensate for it, so your total energy bill may not change, and you will lose the warmer floor and livable basement.

  8. #8

    Default

    Thanks for the information.

    Very interesting thoughts.

  9. #9

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    I don't think that I would insulate the pipes. While the cost should not be an issue, you might a fixing a something that isn't broken.

    As an aside, I live in a walk out basement and use a pellet stove to keep it well above freezing.

  10. #10

    Default I Have Insulated my Pipes

    A few years ago I insulated my pipes and noticed a drop in the basement temperature. I have three separate hot water zones and once I insulated the pipes the temperature in the basement dropped a few degrees. The coldest I've seen is 58F in the basement and I live in the northern part of New Jersey. My basement is made of cider block walls (1000 sq ft) and I would say the upper two rows of blocks are exposed to the air outside and the remaining part of the basement is underground. My basement ceiling is uninsulated but I am currently installing a new green insulation on the ceiling which is called UltraTouch (recycle jeans), so my basement temperature should drop futher. I'm not really worried about the pipes freezing since my boiler, water heater and dryer give off enough heat. But let see what happenes this winter.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvernt View Post
    A few years ago I insulated my pipes and noticed a drop in the basement temperature. I have three separate hot water zones and once I insulated the pipes the temperature in the basement dropped a few degrees. The coldest I've seen is 58F in the basement and I live in the northern part of New Jersey. My basement is made of cider block walls (1000 sq ft) and I would say the upper two rows of blocks are exposed to the air outside and the remaining part of the basement is underground. My basement ceiling is uninsulated but I am currently installing a new green insulation on the ceiling which is called UltraTouch (recycle jeans), so my basement temperature should drop futher. I'm not really worried about the pipes freezing since my boiler, water heater and dryer give off enough heat. But let see what happenes this winter.
    I am in central Jersey, same situation. Smaller house, 625 sq ft basement. As long as the air temperature is above the temperature of the basement concrete walls and floor, there will be heat loss to them. The greater the difference in temperature, the greater the loss. I insulated the pipes, the air temp is lowered. The risk of pipe freezing is often not colder air temperature but more of air leak. The pipe near the perimeter of the basement or near a window frame run the risk of an air leak stream of cold blast like a blow torch. It is important to seal all air leaks. Insulatig the walls and floor is another big job. Issues of mold is a concern for me as well. Insulation may cause problem. There is also heat loss from the first floor to the basement ceiling. I never insulate the ceiling because I was afraid of the fibeglass flying around. The chopped old denim jeans is a very good idea. I think I will go that route. It should make the floor in the first floor much more comfortable and the basement even colder. Not insulating the hot pipe will make your floor warm but at a cost. I do not believe heating space I am not using. Put in a few electric heating dish in the basement. When you go down there, you will need to turn on the light. Wire the heat dish to turn on with the light.
    Last edited by xroad; 10-12-2008 at 07:38 PM.

  12. #12
    Plumber jimbo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob in Maine View Post
    My gut feeling is that if I insulate the heating pipes in the basement, enough heat from the story floor above will transfer to the basement (through the pine sub-floor and hardwood finish floor) to keep the water pipes in the basement from freezing, but I'm still not completely sold.
    Generally, heat does not radiate DOWN.

  13. #13
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    Heat radiates equally in all directions...convection moves the hotter air up. If heat only radiated up, we'd be in a very bad state without the sun...which way is up anyways? Gravity doesn't affect radiation...
    Jim DeBruycker
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  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by jimbo View Post
    Generally, heat does not radiate DOWN.
    Heat radiates from hot to cold.

  15. #15
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    If you want to get technical, there is no such thing as cold...it is the absence of heat. Energy levels move to attain equilibrium, all things being equal.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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