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Preparing for Winter with Proper Insulation

November 21, 2016


Heat smallerKeeping heat in and cold out is an age old problem, especially in northern climates. In Canada, cold temperatures are normal for a large portion of the year and yet some walls and roofs are not equipped to deal with this.  As a result, freezing can occur in pressurized water piping which may cause residential pipes to burst.  Let’s take a look at typical wall construction and how freezing can be prevented in cold climates.

Typical residential wall construction consists of wood framing filled with insulation. The interior face of the wall is then covered with vapour barrier and gypsum board (dry-wall). The exterior side of the wall is covered with plywood sheathing and then siding or stucco. In most cases, the insulation does not cover the studs but only goes between them, making the studs subject to cold temperatures during winter months. Even though studs take up only a small portion of the surface area of your walls, they are responsible for a large portion of the heat loss. This effect is called thermal bridging, which is when heat transfer takes the path of least resistance and bypasses the better insulated portions of the wall.

The area between floors is the most common area for pipes and ducts to be run. As such, this can be a recipe for disaster, especially in older homes where the joists are usually uninsulated, leaving the areas between floors subject to colder temperatures.

Luckily, this is not overly difficult to fix. With proper installation of insulation these areas can be as well insulated as any other part of the home or building.

However, it is important to be mindful that improper use of insulation can actually aggravate the situation. Let’s say, for example, that an unfinished basement is being developed, and plumbing is run through the ceiling and then the ceiling is closed with drywall. If the rim joists are not properly insulated then not only will cold get in, but heat will be kept away from the piping. The plumbing in this area, even if it is not right next to an exterior wall, could now be at risk of freezing.

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to weather-proofing your house:

1.    Make sure insulation is tight to the framing on all exterior walls. Poorly sized insulation increases the heat transfer out of your home.
2.    Make sure the joists between floors are insulated at all exterior walls.
3.    Always place insulation on the cold side of any water piping. Placing the insulation between the heated space and the pipe aggravates the problem.
4.    Heat rises, making heat transfer more aggressive at roofs and ceilings. Proper insulation in ceilings can prevent costly heating bills and conserve the temperature in your space for longer.
5.    Check in bulkheads and closets for proper insulation. Often the transition from the wall to the roof can leave unintended gaps in insulation, and these areas are often isolated from heated spaces (i.e. there isn’t usually a heating vent in your closet).
6.    Take special care if the building in question has metal structural components. Metal is an even stronger conductor of heat (and cold) and can lead to faster thermal bridging than wood studs on cold days.
7.    Avoid long straight sections of pipe along exterior walls, even if their insulated.
8.    Don’t rule out the possibility of freezing just because a pipe itself is insulated. Insulation does nothing to heat the pipe. It only slows down the temperature change. If the pipe doesn’t have another source of heat, the pipe can still freeze over an extended cold snap.


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