How to deal with frozen and burst pipes

How to deal with frozen and burst pipes

Beware of a sudden cold snap. When water freezes in a pipe it expands and it doesn’t take long to build up enough pressure to rupture it. Burst pipes cause misery to homeowners - not only is there the ch-ch-chill factor, there’s also the nightmare clean up operation and costly repairs.

Facts

  • One in six people don’t know where their stopcock is. Make sure you do.
  • A leaking pipe can spill 2.200 gallons per day if left unchecked. Be safe!
  • Only 42% of homeowners insulate pipes to prevent freezing.

Here is everything you need to know about preparing your pipes for plunging temperatures and what to do in the event you're, alas, too late.

Scroll down for advice or jump to the following sections:

Preparing for a sudden freeze

Before the barometer dips below zero be sure to do a reccy:

  • Make sure pipes are lagged
    All visible pipes, particularly exposed pipes in crawl spaces in the attic, should be lagged with pre-formed foam (the type that wraps around the pipes) available from plumbers’ merchants and DIY stores. Remember, the thicker the lagging, the better: a minimum of 50mm in diameter but preferably 75mm. When insulating bends and tricky-to-reach pipes use gaffa tape to fix it securely.
  • Make sure your tank is insulated
    The best option is a preformed jacket that hugs the tank (a bit like the Puffa jackets from the 80s!) They’re filled with glass fibre matting and attach securely to the tank – this is important as you don’t want it to dislodge. With the exception of a header tank in the loft which should be completely enclosed, there should be no insulation beneath your tank as this will prevent warm air rising from below, increasing the likelihood of it freezing.
  • Repair dripping taps
    If you have any dripping taps replace the washers. If dripping taps freeze they’ll block your pipe and cause damage.

How to deal with a frozen pipe

You’ll know if you have a frozen pipe because one or more of your taps won’t work but before you start on your frozen pipe action plan it’s worth first checking with the neighbours that they have water – if they don’t it’s likely there’s a problem with local supply.

Assuming you do have frozen pipes you need to:

  • Turn off the water supply
    Turn off the water at the main stoptap, usually under the kitchen sink. Now turn off the stopcock in your cold water tank, usually in your loft. Doing this will minimise the amount of water that escapes (and the damage to your home) if one of the pipes has burst.
  • Protect your possessions
    Next move or protect anything in your home that’s near to potentially eruptive pipework and cover your junction box.
  • Locate the freeze
    If you’re not a confident DIYer now’s the time to call in a reputable plumber. If however you have a good basic knowledge of plumbing you can now attempt to locate the freeze and thaw it. Do this by checking the flow of water from all appliances – taps, toilets etc – throughout your home. Once you’ve narrowed down the area you suspect to be frozen, look for further clues, eg an unlagged section of pipework or draughts next to a pipe, feeling with your hands for areas that are noticeably colder to the touch.
  • Let the thaw commence
    Now inspect the pipe and nearby fittings. If they are all intact you can gently thaw the affected area using a hair dryer or a hot water bottle. NEVER use a blowtorch or heat gun. If the pipe has split read below.

How to deal with a burst pipe

A burst pipe can cause serious damage to the structure and wiring of your home so take action immediately:

  • Turn off the water supply
    As above.
  • Drain the system
    Turn on all your cold taps and flush your toilets.
  • Turn off heating
    Switch off central heating, immersions and other heating installations. If your heating uses solid fuel let it die out. Once the water heating has shut down, turn on the hot taps to further drain the system.
  • Turn off the electrics
    If water from a burst pipe is leaking near any electrics, switch off the mains but if the mains switch is wet DON’T TOUCH IT! Call in a qualified electrician instead.
  • Collect the water
    If the leak is small you can mop it up using towels but you’ll need buckets if it’s coming through the ceiling. If the ceiling starts to bulge stand well out of the way and pierce the plaster with a long screwdriver or a broom handle.
  • Fix the leak
    If you’re unqualified or unconfident, now’s the time to call in the professionals and also your insurance company if there’s significant damage. If you’re a handy DIYer you can fix the damage with an infill connector, repair putty, a pipe clamp, fibreglass tape or a temporary patch.

Preparing before you go away

Don’t return from your winter sun or ski trip to a deluge of water from your front door. Here’s what to do before you head off:

  • Check the forecast and if severe weather is due leave your heating on.
  • Leave open your loft trap door, kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets open to allow warm air to circulate.
  • Ask a friend, relative or neighbour to visit whilst you are away. If you do have a burst pipe this will minimise the damage.
  • If you’re away for a long time turn the stoptap off and drain the whole system.
  • Check your insurance is up to date and that you’re covered for the full value of your contents. If you’re an Aviva customer you can check your policy details quickly and easily online.

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