How to Prevent Frozen Pipes this Winter

From ‘The Beast from the East’ to ‘Storm Emma’, the UK has borne the brunt of some pretty extreme weather over the last few winters. In fact, according to the Association of British Insurers, insurance claims rocketed by 290% in the first quarter of 2018, with sub-5ºc temperatures causing the ‘perfect’ conditions for pipes to freeze and then burst. With claims to repair a burst pipe potentially rising to around £7,500 and the UK weather becoming increasingly more unpredictable, it’s important to learn how to prevent frozen pipes and what to do should yours become frozen.

How to Stop Pipes Freezing 

Prevention is the best cure, as they say, so the best way of avoiding burst pipes and potential water damage is to guard against your pipes freezing in the first place.

  • Insulate your plumbing – The best way to stop pipes freezing is to give them their own insulation, especially if they are in unheated areas of your home such as the garage, loft or basement. Low-cost pipe-lagging material can be found in most DIY shops and can be easily fitted with no professional help required.
  • Allow your tap to drip – On a list of the most annoying things you can have in your home, a dripping tap would probably be right there at the top. However, water is much less likely to freeze if it’s moving, so a dripping tap that keeps water moving around your plumbing system could well make all the difference when it comes to preventing frozen pipes.
  • Leave the heating on – While it’s tempting to switch the heating off whenever you’re not at home during winter, the damage done by a burst pipe will often cost more than if you’d just left the heating on in the first place. You don’t need to leave it on too high – between 12ºc and 15ºc should be enough to stop pipes freezing.
  • Keep doors open – Pipes are often located in cupboards or behind loft doors that can prevent warmth reaching them, even if you do leave the heating on. These are the sorts of pipes that are most vulnerable to freezing or bursting, so try to leave any barrier doors open in order to allow warm air to circulate around your plumbing. 
  • Drain the system – If you’re going away for winter and it’s not feasible to leave the heating on for such a long time, your safest bet is to drain your plumbing system completely. Switch your water off at the stopcock and run the taps until all water is safely out of your pipes.

What To Do About Frozen Pipes

Hopefully our top tips should be enough to prevent frozen pipes in your home but, should your pipes succumb to the cold, follow these steps to thaw them out and stop them from bursting.

  • Locate the frozen pipe – A frozen pipe might sometimes have frost on the outside of it or show bulging where ice has built up.
  • Open taps – Opening up your taps will relieve any pressure in your plumbing system and prevent pipes from bursting, as well as provide an outlet for water as it starts to thaw. If you don’t have mixers, remember to open both hot and cold taps.
  • Start thawing – There are several ways you can thaw pipes. One of the easiest is to use a hair dryer on the frozen section but hot towels, heat lamps, and electrical heating tape can all be effective. Remember to start the thawing process as near to your tap as possible to prevent thawing water getting trapped behind ice blockages and bursting the pipes.

If you can’t locate the frozen pipe or it’s not easily accessible, it can be safer to seek professional help as thawing frozen plumbing does come with risks such as fire or bursting. This is especially the case if you suspect a pipe has burst already, in which case you should turn off your mains water at the stopcock and contact an emergency plumber immediately.

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