Wintertime can be a cold and treacherous time of year — especially in the unpredictable United Kingdom. And, just as harsh temperatures can create icy conditions on the roads, every property is at risk of burst water pipes — and the often costly damage as a result of escaped water.

However, all is not lost. There are certain precautions that homeowners can take to minimise destruction brought on by frozen pipes.

The cause and impact of frozen pipes

We often see cases of frozen or burst water pipes when homes have been left vacant for extended periods — putting heating and drainage systems under stress. Central heating pipes, tanks, and shower valves are constantly full of water, which can expand as the water turns to ice — causing severe damage to the property. 

If large volumes of water escape, it can eventually weaken the floor and cause ceilings in the downstairs rooms to concave. Skirting boards and other woodwork can warp and plaster can sometimes require complete replacement.

Simple ways to protect your pipes

All pipes exposed to the cold should be protected. This includes lagging pipes and taps on external walls, in the loft, in the garage, and in unheated rooms. Here are some suggestions for added protection:

  • Insulate water tanks in unheated areas and check that loft insulation is thick and in good condition, running over the pipework where possible.

  • An annual boiler check can help save you costly repairs, reduce heating bills, and ensure you meet the terms of your guarantee or warranty.

  • Minimise draughts making their way inside and keep doors to unheated parts of your home closed at all times.

  • Seal small gaps around the areas where your TV, cable, or telephone lines come through the wall.

  • Keep bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors open, when possible, to allow warm air to circulate throughout the home.

  • If you’re going away for an extended period — and the temperatures are likely to drop below freezing — keep your home central heating at a minimum of 15°C (59F) for a few hours each day.

  • If your property is unoccupied for long periods, turn off the water at the stopcock and consider draining down the system.

  • Leaving your loft hatch door open will help warmer air to reach the loft and prevent your water tank freezing.

What to do if your water pipes freeze

If the water inside your pipes freezes, they can expand — stretching the pipe to breaking point and causing a burst. If you can identify which pipe is frozen, you can gently warm it up by following the simple steps below:

  • Before you start to thaw any frozen pipes, make sure you turn your water off at the inside stop valve — and any nearby cold taps are turned on. This will help relieve any pressure on the frozen pipe when the water starts to thaw.

  • Use a hairdryer on its lowest setting — or a hot water bottle — to slowly and gently warm along the length of the pipe, starting at the end nearest to the tap. Please note: this process could take several hours as warming them too quickly could cause the pipes to burst.
  • Once thawed, check to make sure there are no leaks before turning the stop tap back on. Allow the water to run until normal flow is restored.

  • Only turn on heating appliances if the system is working normally and you have confirmed there are no leaks.

  • Wrap your water pipes in insulation to prevent your pipes freezing again.

If you are unsure about what to do, please contact a certified plumber. For further help or advice on protecting your home from water damage, please contact the Waterguard team on 01226 244200, and one of our dedicated and knowledgeable team members will be happy to help.