How to stop your pipes from freezing
At this time of year we are all at risk of having our water pipes freeze. This can cause pipes to burst, spilling water everywhere and destroying your home. Make sure it doesn’t happen to you this winter by reading our tips on how to stop your pipes freezing.
The unexpected cold snap in January 2009 caught many of us by surprise. Water pipes and tanks froze in the icy conditions, leaving unprepared homeowners to deal with burst pipes and severe water damage to their homes. According to AA Home Insurance, £40 million in claims were lodged because of this in the first six weeks of 2009 alone.
Worse still, many of those affected by burst pipes found that they were not covered by their insurers. Steve Sweeney, head of home insurance at moneysupermarket.com, said at the time: “Facing a situation where your pipes have burst and you are not covered would be a real blow to family finances. I advise homeowners to scour the small print of their policies and contact their insurer if there are any uncertainties.”
As well as checking you are insured for burst pipes, why not work on making sure they don’t freeze in the first place? Jan Slade, of A&J plumbing in Slough, agrees that prevention is the answer: “You need to be careful in winter not to let your pipes freeze, especially if you are going away. What you can do if you’re away is leave the loft hatch open a little bit and the heating on just a touch so that the house stays warm,” she says.
Jan adds: “If you do have a pipe leak and need repairs it is best to get a professional plumber to fix it for you. It is also a good idea to find out where your stopcock is. I had one lady phone in a right panic because water was coming through her ceiling and she didn’t know how to turn it off at the mains. I tried to give her some idea of where the stopcock might be, under the sink for example, but she still couldn’t find it and neither could her neighbour!”
Top tips for preventing your pipes from freezing
- Ensure that your loft and walls are insulated.
- If you have a hot water tank this also needs to be insulated, particularly if it is in the loft. However, take care only to insulate the sides and top of the tank as hot air from below helps to heat the water in the tank.
- Insulate your pipes all year round. You can even use electric heated cable for sub-zero temperatures – but make sure you don’t overlap the cable as this can cause a fire.
- Fix any leaky taps and replace washers. This will stop water from freezing and blocking the pipe.
- Leave the heating on low in cold weather, this helps to heat pipes. It is especially important to do this if you are going away or leaving your home unattended for a period of time, the last thing you want is to come home to a flooded house.
- Leave your loft door or hatch open on really cold days to give heated air a chance to circulate in the loft, warming pipes or tanks.
- If there are any draughts in your home, get them sealed before temperatures outside drop. Cold air can freeze both cold and hot pipes.
- Disconnect your hose and turn off the inside valve. You can leave the outside valve open to drain any surplus water.
What to do if your pipes freeze or burst
- The first thing you must do if your pipes burst or freeze is to turn off the water at the mains, so it’s important to find out where your mains are in case of an emergency. Stop taps are usually located under the kitchen sink or in the garage.
- We recommend that you contact a plumber to deal with burst pipe repairs.
- If the pipe has not burst, protect any electrics around the pipe in case it does.
- If the pipe is next to a gas supply, call a plumber immediately and don’t try and thaw it out yourself.
- You can attempt to thaw the pipes yourself by working from the tap towards the frozen part of the pipe. Apply heat to the pipe using a hairdryer, hot wattle bottle, lamp or towels wrapped round the pipe and drenched in hot water.
- Try not to heat the water too quickly and never let the water in pipes boil – this will cause steam pressure which could burst the pipe.
- Open the tap to which the frozen pipe supplies water so that when it starts to thaw it can flow out easily.