Copy of a popular newsletter article published in our December 2008 home owner newsletter. How to avoid frozen pipes and practical advice if you do suffer from frozen water pipes in your home.
Even the newest property can be at risk from freezing pipes in the coldest of temperatures, and whilst we all hope it doesn’t happen, it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a few precautions before it does. Doing so could save you an awful lot of time, discomfort and money. Not to mention an increase in your contents insurance premium if the worst happens.
So before you’re affected by frozen and burst pipes, take a moment to read out tips and advice. At least you’ll be prepared for the worst.
Check your home insurance to see if you are covered for emergency repairs. Some may have approved plumbers that you should call in the event of an emergency.
Keep the name and number of a couple of reputable plumbers handy in case of emergency.
Find your main stop taps for the supply into your home. These are usually located in kitchens or utility rooms, ground floor bathrooms or even garages where the ‘mains’ enters your home. Check to make sure they work properly – it’s no good waiting until you need them to find out a valve won’t turn. It’s a good idea to label them one you’ve located them. You may not be the one who has to turn them off!
Outside stop valves (where the supply branches off to your home from the street) are usually best left to the local authority. They have specialist tools in case of a frozen pipe that renders the valve in-operative. Remember though that you are responsible for the pipework the moment it enters your boundary / your side of the street stop valve.
Maintaining a low heat in your home can help you avoid many problems, especially whilst you’re out during the day or asleep at night and especially if you’re planning on being away for a few days. Your home is more at risk if it’s vacant for a few days. Ask a reliable neighbour to check in occasionally and make sure they know where the stop tap is located.
Dripping taps are a sign of problems and repairs should be made straight away rather than leaving for weeks. Especially hot water taps – you’re heating water just to let it go down the drain! According to the experts, even a gentle trickle of water can freeze and block a pipe.
Pay special attention to outside taps. Make sure they are well insulated (including the pipework) or better still, isolate them by turning off their stop tap during the winter (usually located on the inside wall adjacent to where the supply pipe exits the wall).
Some advice suggests leaving your loft hatch slightly open to allow warm air to enter the loft space and help prevent the loft space freezing. Many modern homes where insulation has been fitted – you may find the space under the main loft tanks is a layer of insulation missing – deliberately to allow more warmth to escape to that area.
Even if your house is new, check the insulation is secure – check lagging around tanks is wrapped in place and pipework is not exposed.
You can source devices called “Frostat”. They’re fitted to the coldest areas within your homes central heating system and act like a normal thermostat although instead of turning the heating off when it gets too warm, these turn the heating on when it drops too cold and pipework is at risk.
Protect the pipework that leads to your water meter (if you have one). They seem to have a knack for being positioned in places especially vulnerable to freezing temperatures.
Insulate, insulate and insulate.
It’s a good idea to insulate all pipework and tanks in unheated areas like roofs, lofts, garages and outbuildings including outdoor toilets. Your local DIY store or plumbers merchants usually sell all the materials. It’s recommended to insulate your water tank around the sides and top only. Leaving the underneath un-insulated will allow warm air from your home to help reduce the risk of freezing.
Alternatively, call in a professional to carry out the insulation for you. It could still be cheaper than dealing with the clear up after a frozen pipe incident.
If the worst happens.
If you think you may be suffering from frozen pipes, check with a neighbour to see if their supply is also affected. If they have running water, then the problem may be frozen pipes in your property.
Check for signs of splitting in the pipes. If a pipe is damaged, it won’t show until the pipe thaws and water can run freely again.
Switch off the central heating and any water heating appliances (immersion heater etc). Turn off the water supply at the main stop tap inside the property. Drain your system by flushing toilets and opening the cold taps over sinks and baths. Make sure the plugs are removed! We don’t want to add to the problem.
If pipes are intact, use hot water bottles or heated cloths laid over the frozen pipe to thaw them out. Never apply a direct flame and beware of using electric hair dryers or fans as if water does suddenly escape, you run the risk of electrocution! It’s recommended you star thawing a pipe at the end nearest a tap.
Once you’ve thawed out the pipe/s affected and you’re satisfied there was no damage to the pipe itself and there’s no sign of any leaking, close the tap nearest to where you were working and slowly open the main stop tap. Check your work as now the system is under pressure. Once you’re satisfied there are no leaks, you can switch on the heating system and other water heaters. Don’t do this until you’re sure the system is completely thawed out! There is a risk of explosion if heat is suddenly applied after freezing has occurred.
If despite your best attempts, your home is affected and flooded. Check your insurance policy as it may cover alternative accommodation costs for you and your family. Leave windows, doors and any built in cupboard doors / drawers open to aid drying out.
Keep affected rooms heated but do not over heat as this could result in further damage. Store any damaged items in a dry place. Your insurance company may want to see them as part of your claim. Many tool hire centers will hire out de-humidifyers which you can use to draw moisture out of the air. Remember they usually need emptying periodically though!
It only takes a few minutes to check where stop valves are. That they work and that your pipe insulation and lagging is secure and effective. If you know of an elderly neighbour, why not pop round and offer to check their stop taps and insulation for them?
If you’re climbing into any loft spaces, please take care and make sure you use a ladder capable of the job. we don’t want any broken bones or other accidents.
Remember, the advice given above is general and if you are in any doubt whatsoever, you should always consult a qualified plumber first – especially if you are attempting to thaw out pipes yourself.