Plumbing

How do I keep pipes from freezing in a mobile home?

You prevent manufactured home pipes from freezing with insulation and heat tape.

Insulation alone will be enough in parts of the country without periods of sustained freezing temperatures. For rare nights when you fear insulation may not be enough, let water slowly drip overnight & open cabinet doors where pipes are on outside walls. In colder areas heat tape is essential. When installed according to the manufacturer’s directions, even mobile homes as far north as Canada prevent freezing problems.

Running water to prevent freezing

Dripping faucet

Water from your own well or supplied by your community will be well above freezing. If you let water drip from faucets the warmer water moving through the pipes will help prevent freezing. The trick is to accurately guess how fast the water has to run to make up for the heat being lost from the pipe.

A small amount of water dripping from a faucet near each end of the house may be all it takes to prevent freezing.

If the water supply to the kitchen sink or other fixture goes through or near an external wall they will be the first to freeze. Opening the cabinet door to let warm interior air into the space will help keep those pipe segments warmer.

Placing insulation between the exterior wall and the pipe would also be worthwhile..

Even a slowly dripping faucet can use a surprising amount of water. So you will have to balance your desire to prevent a frozen pipe with water cost considerations.

Insulation is a good place to start on freeze prevention

In many locations, freezing only becomes an issue when there is an unusual cold snap. Insulation that keeps the pipes above freezing overnight or for a few days may be all you need.

A well-insulated water line under a mobile home is already protected from some temperature change. The skirting is vented so there is some airflow under the home but the heat from the ground below and the heated plenum above moderates temperature extremes. Of course, a strong wind will quickly change that.

In places where it stays below freezing for weeks or months, insulation alone will not be enough.

Heat tape is required in colder regions

Heat tape is an electrical warming device you wrap around your pips to heat them when a thermostat senses the temperature of the pipe is too low. It’s cheap compared to the cost of frozen pipe repairs. Properly installed, it will protect mobile home water lines from freezing as far north as Canada and Alaska.

This link to my extensive article about heat tape will open in a new tab.

Why are frozen pipes a problem?

Beyond the obvious issues of no water, while the pipes are frozen, freezing can cause tremendous damage to your home. Water expands when it freezes. It expands with tremendous force. In a close system like your mobile home pipes, there is no place for the pressure to go except by ballooning the pipes.

PEX water lines have some capacity to stretch before rupturing. Galvanized iron, Polybutylene (grey), PVC, and CPVC do not stretch; they rupture.

Copper pipe is the worst because it will stretch a long section of pipe before splitting in a small area. Repairing the pipe is hard because it may have stretched enough to prevent repair parts from fitting for several feet on each side of the split! I distinctly remember making several trips to the hardware store trying to find the right size fittings before I figured out I needed to cut out a long section of copper to get back to the proper pipe diameter.

How can you tell if your heat tape is working?

It’s hard.

In spite of frequent strong suggestions to check it frequently that is almost never done. Here are some reasons why:

  • The water pipe is under the home, behind the skirting. To check for burned insulation, wet insulation, rodent damage, etc. someone has to open an access panel and crawl under with a light to check things out. Lots of people are claustrophobic and don’t like close encounters with snakes, rodents, feral cats, wasps, etc.
  • Many mobile home owners are to old, fat, or handicapped to manage the crawl.
  • Most heat tape is thermostatically controlled. That means it only turns on when it gets cold. So in warmer weather you can really only check to see if there is power to the outlet the heat tape is plugged into.
  • There is no consensus among the online advisors as to how often it needs to be replaced. Life expectancy estimates range from 3 to 15 years depending on the quality of the heat tape, environmental conditions, quality of the installation, etc.
  • Careful reading of many articles about how to tell if the heat tape is working confirms it’s complicated, with no single solution. I think there is a lot more opinion than fact.

My guess is there are two ways people deal with heat tape:

  • Proactive owners pick a length of time they think is reasonable and have it replaced before it fails.
  • Everyone else does what they can with dripping faucets, turning up the heat in the house, sealing up the skirting, and hopes for the best. With luck the pipes freeze enough to indicate a problem without breaking. 🙂

Relevant freeze prevention video

This video I found on YouTube has good production values and would be especially helpful for someone who is not familiar with how things are arranged under their mobile home. It gives a nice overview of heat tape plus pipe insulation and even mentions drain lines. Well worth the10 minutes to view it. The video will open in a new window. (Please wait for the ad to finish before you decide this is a bad link.)

https://youtu.be/oHhHquhihLU

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