We have an outdoor counter and sink, and a family of squirrels decided that it was a good place to live. Unfortunately they ripped off a good portion of the PEX piping insulation. (Pretty sure it's PEX...)

Raccoon bedding from our insulation

Now that temperatures are getting colder, I'm worried about freezing. Unfortunately the counter base is made of masonry, and the entry points to it are too small for me for me to get at the damaged area. I imagine a small adult might be able to squeeze in there.

Thoughts on the best course of action? I'd guess there are 20 feet of piping and about 6 feet are exposed. Is it worth fixing?

If so, what are my options? Hire a small plumber to reinsulate? Or rerun the damaged section. (There is access before and after the damage, and PEX is flexible, so this is doable.)

This is in central TX, where we get a couple freezes a year, and the lowest temp in the last ten years was 17 Fahrenheit, which was exceptional.

  • 3
    That insulation doesn't keep your pipes from freezing. Unless you run the water to keep it heated, it'll freeze. It's just to keep the water hot on its way to the sink. – isherwood Nov 1 '19 at 15:56
  • Both the hot and cold water are insulated. This is in central Texas. We get a few freezes a year, and maybe one or two are hard. I think the lowest temp I've seen in 10+ years here is 17 Fahrenheit, and that was exceptional. – aggieNick02 Nov 1 '19 at 19:55
  • @isherwood--maybe/maybe not. Depending on the locale, insulation may keep pipes from freezing. It is a multi-variable problem depending on pipe type, temp of the water, ambient temp, wind, insulation type, insulation thickness. The following is a good website to gauge these parameters and make a determination for a specific case. insulation.org/io/articles/avoiding-the-deep-freeze – peinal Nov 2 '19 at 14:30

As Michael Karas' answer said, cost will be minimal and it will be easier just to run a new pipe.

Additionally, do you use the outdoor sink in the winter? Insulated or not, you should probably winterize that plumbing if it's susceptible to freezing.

  • i.e. there should be valves in a non-freezing area to allow draining the supply pipes, which you should empty, and put some RV antifreeze in the drain/trap, before things freeze up. Insulating a pipe where the water does not flow in a below-freezing situation slows, but does not prevent, freezing – Ecnerwal Nov 1 '19 at 15:25
  • It does not need to be used during the winter; unfortunately, I do not think there is a shutoff before the pipe exits the main house structure and runs to the sink. I should have added some info about the climate too - freezes happen, but not super frequently - I'll update above. – aggieNick02 Nov 1 '19 at 19:52
  • 1
    freezes happen, but not super frequently all it takes is one freeze to cause a pretty significant disaster. A burst pipe can erode soil or cause other damage at an alarming rate! – dwizum Nov 1 '19 at 20:01

Since you say there is access on both ends it seems that the best course of action is to just pull in some new PEX line with insulation sleeve installed. The cost of materials should not be so much as to break the bank account and it would be far far easier than trying to save what is tunneled into that narrow area.

  • Thanks for the thoughts. The only concern I have is that I've read that while PEX can be somewhat resistant to freezing damage, PEX connectors are not, and the access point to splice in new pipe is similarly outside, so there would be a new PEX connector exposed to the elements. No idea if that is a legitimate concern. – aggieNick02 Nov 1 '19 at 19:54
  • @aggieNick02 - It is hard to really tell from your picture but I was really suggesting that you re-pull the water line from end to end and not try to splice it to some of the existing line. Presumably this line enters a building structure at some point in its route. On the inside, whether that be in a crawl space or not, you should re-install with a shut off valve. Such valve should have the small drain cap on the downstream side. On the extreme end under your outside sink you should equip the line at its lowest point with a TEE and another valve that can be opened to drain the line. – Michael Karas Nov 1 '19 at 20:14
  • Gotcha. I honestly am not sure where the other end is inside the building - sorry my description was confusing. I will look around and see if I can determine more about where the line starts. – aggieNick02 Nov 1 '19 at 20:43
  • Looked more closely - the PEX line actually passes through the exterior masonry of the house, with no apparent transition piece - I was hoping there would be a shutoff there, or at least a proper stubbing out. So rerunning the entire PEX line is not an easy option. Perhaps I should have a plumber cut the line at the masonry exit point and rerun from there? – aggieNick02 Nov 7 '19 at 14:37

I just had an idea that I'll experiment with since I don't know where one end of the PEX terminates - whether it works depends, I imagine, on the friction between the piping and the insulation, so feedback on that is welcome. :)

If the insulation slides back and forth fairly easily along the length of the pipe, I could install new sections at the point of access and then push them down a couple feet at a time. After doing that 6 or so times, the pipe would be fully insulated.

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