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Preventing Frozen Pipes By Recirculating Hot Water

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Julie in Missouri, which is probably freezing, just like everybody else in the United States of America has been this winter.

    JULIE: Yeah, like way below freezing. So, that’s part of my question. We have a couple of huge hot-water heaters that are a problem: an 85-gallon and a couple of 50s. We have a bed-and-breakfast and the hot-water heaters are in the basement. And it seems like it’s always the people on the third floor that get up first. And so there’s a lot of water going down the drain of all that hot water. Plus, over the past couple of years, we’ve had frozen pipes and not the outside walls; it’s been in the middle of the room. Because the house was built in the 1800s, so there’s pretty drafty walls.

    So, I remember somebody telling me once about some recirculating hot water so the pipes always have hot water in them. Maybe those hot-water pipes wouldn’t freeze.

    TOM: Well, first of all, hot water is only half of the equation here. You know, you’re going to be running cold water up to those rooms, as well, correct? Like for a bathroom?

    JULIE: Well, I guess. That’s why I’m calling you, because you’re the man.

    TOM: Yeah. So I mean I would think recirculating hot water is not the solution here.

    Look, if you’ve got frozen pipes or pipes that are – that tend to freeze, there’s really only a couple of things that you can do about this. And the most sensible thing is to insulate them.

    Now, if it’s in an interior wall space and you know where that wall is, one thing that you could think about doing is adding blown-in insulation to the interior wall. Now, normally, you wouldn’t do this, right? Because why insulate an interior wall? But that would be a lot easier than tearing a wall open. You’ve got to get insulation on these pipes if they’re prone to freezing. And nothing else short of that is going to solve this.

    I have, in my house, a kitchen sink that had a pipe that ran up the exterior wall. And invariably, in the coldest winters, it would freeze. The only solution there is to insulate the pipe. And when we couldn’t get to that pipe to insulate it, what we ended up doing was actually moving the lines to a different location so they would be less likely to freeze.

    So there’s always a solution. It’s not always easy but you’ve got to insulate those, as a start. And if it’s an interior wall, I would simply blow insulation into that wall. That’s the fastest way to get some warmth around those pipes and stop them from freezing.

    In terms of recirculating hot water, yes, there are ways to do that. But it tends to be very wasteful and I don’t think it would be cost-effective when you consider all of the electricity it takes to run that water 24-7. Plus, when you’re running that water back to the water heater, remember, your water heater is going to run more frequently, too, because it’s actually going to be heating a lot more water: not only the water that’s in the water heater but all that extra water that’s running through the pipes. So I don’t think, from a cost-effective perspective – even though it seems like you’re wasting resources and wasting money and wasting water, I don’t think you’re wasting so much that it would be anywhere near a break-even for you to put in the equipment it would take to recirculate it.

    JULIE: OK. Alright. Well, thanks. I appreciate it.

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