As colder weather sets in, the pipes in our homes are at risk of freezing, which can lead to bursts and flooding. This is because water expands when it freezes, which can put pressure on the metalwork and cause your pipes to buckle and split.

Burst pipes can cause real damage and be complicated to fix, with the average insurance claim following a burst pipe sitting at £7000. The good news is that there are steps that we can all take to protect our pipes from the cold.

Five ways to prepare ahead of frosty weather

Follow these simple steps to protect your pipes to avoid bursts and flooding:

1) Insulate your pipes

Pipes and water tanks don’t like the cold – whether they're outdoors or indoors, metal or plastic. Insulating (lagging) is one of the best things you can do to protect them from frosty weather. Here are some simple steps, or find out more with this step-by-step guide to insulating pipes.

  1. Prioritise pipes in exposed areas of your home such as pipes exposed to exterior walls, in basements, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets and on the outside of the house, leaving no valves, fittings or gaps at the bends behind.
  2. Start by roughly measuring the diameter and length of your pipes. Ask for tips on the best form of insulation (lagging) at your local DIY or home improvement store.
  3. Cut to the length required and slip the insulation over the pipes. Insulation should be laid on top of pipes rather than underneath to prevent rising heat reaching them.
  4. Wrap up water tanks, cisterns and boilers in insulating jackets.
  5. Cover outside taps with a tap cover. Some water suppliers offer these for free so check with yours to see if they do.

2) Locate your stop tap 

If a pipe freezes or bursts, the first thing you’ll need to do is to turn off the main water supply at the stop tap. To save time it’s best to know where the stop tap is located beforehand, and to tell your friends and family too.

Stop taps are usually found in your kitchen, below the sink unit, but it could be located in a front or back hall or outside.

3) Fix drips

A small trickle can lead to a burst pipe, so fix dripping taps in time for winter. 

4) Make a note of your plumber

Find an approved plumber here and leave their details somewhere handy. Tell your family or flat mates so they know who to call in case of a burst. 

5) Temperatures dropping? Check in with your thermostat

If temperatures drop to below 5° C degrees it could worth leaving the heating on a low setting (5° C - 10° C) or set it to come on a couple of times a day.

Going away?

Leave the heating on a low or frost setting to avoid a frosty return. If you're going away for a while consider shutting off your water supply at the stop tap, and draining the system. It’s also worth asking a trustworthy neighbour to check in on your house while you’re away in case there’s a leak.

Four signs that your pipes may be frozen

  1. There’s no running water, or only a trickle. This may mean that the pipe leading to the tap may be frozen.
  2. If you can see frost on a visible pipe, such as a water pipe running along the outside of your house or flat, there’s a good chance that it’s frozen. This is more difficult to check on pipes that are not in visible areas.
  3. You notice odd smells. If a pipe is blocked because of freezing, it may cause an unpleasant smell coming from the taps or drains.
  4. Your boiler or central heating system won't switch on, or makes unusual gurgling sounds when in use.

How to fix frozen pipes

If your pipes have frozen but haven’t yet burst, act quickly to reduce the damage. Here are some immediate steps that you can take yourself.

  1. Turn off the water supply at the stop tap. Most stop taps can be closed by turning clockwise.
  2. Locate and open the affected tap and slowly thaw the pipe using a hot water bottle, hairdryer or towel soaked in hot water. Start thawing at the end nearest the tap. Start thawing at the end nearest the tap and never use a naked flame or blowtorch. Here’s the advice you'll need to thaw your pipes correctly.
  3. Consider contacting an approved plumber to help with defrosting your pipe and avoiding a burst (you can find one here).

What to do if a frozen pipe bursts

Turn off the stop tap immediately and call your plumber. Follow these 5 steps to limit the damage while waiting for your plumber to arrive: 

  1. Turn off your electricity and avoid all electrical appliances.
  2. Turn on all taps to drain the system and reduce the flooding risk (make sure that you remember to turn taps back off once the repairs are complete before turning on the stop tap).
  3. Clear the area. Remove furniture and carpets, where practical, near the frozen pipe.
  4. Soak up water using the thickest towels available. Contact your insurance provider and take photos to document the damage.

For more advice on how to deal with a frozen or burst pipe contact your water supplier or visit Watersafe to find an approved plumber. 

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