Cold weather isn't just an inconvenience. It can result in serious problems too. A burst pipe can cause damage to the structure of your home and to electrical wiring - not to mention damage to your carpets and electrical equipment.
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 chill factor, there can also be the nightmare of the clean-up operation and costly repairs.
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How to prevent damage
1. Lag your pipes
All visible pipes, particularly exposed pipes in crawl spaces in your loft or outside the house, should be lagged with pre-formed foam (the type that wraps around the pipes) which is available from plumbers' merchants and DIY stores. Remember, the thicker the lagging the better use a minimum of 50mm in diameter but preferably 75mm. When insulating bends and tricky-to-reach pipes use strong tape to fix it securely. To keep your pipes in good condition and minimise any problems, lubricate stopcocks and valves with thin oil. Then turn them on and off to make sure they don't seize up.
2. Make sure your tank is insulated
The best option is a preformed jacket that hugs the tank. 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.
3. Check for drips and leaks
If you have any dripping taps replace the washers. If dripping taps freeze they'll block your pipe and cause damage. Check your pipes, looking for moisture around the joints, or any discolouration of the pipes or surrounding walls or floors. To keep your pipes in good condition and minimise any problems, lubricate stopcocks and valves with thin oil. Then turn them on and off to make sure they don't seize up.
4. Make sure you're covered
If you don’t have home and contents insurance, consider whether it could be worthwhile. If you do have home and contents insurance it’s worth checking what you’re covered for and making any updates to your policy if need be.
What to do if you have a frozen or burst pipe
If one or more of your taps are not working this could indicate that you have a frozen pipe. But before you start taking action, it's worth first checking with the neighbours that they have water - if they don't its likely there's a problem with local supply. If you have frozen pipes or a burst pipe, here’s what you can do.
1. Turn off the water supply and heating
Turn off the water at the main stop tap, usually found under the kitchen sink. Then turn off the stopcock in your cold water tank, usually found in your loft. Doing this will minimise the amount of water that escapes - and the damage to your home.
If it’s a burst pipe, switch off central heating, immersions and other heating installations. If you're 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. If water from a burst pipe is leaking near any electrics, switch off the mains but if the mains switch is wet, do not touch it and call in a qualified electrician.
You may also want to drain the system by turning on all your cold taps and flushing your toilets.
2. Protect your possessions
Move or protect anything in your home that's near to potentially eruptive pipework and cover your junction box. If water from a burst pipe is leaking near any electrics, switch off central heating, immersions and other heating installations. If you're 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.
3. Collect water and thaw
Small leaks can be mopped up with towels, but you'll need buckets if you have water coming through a ceiling. If the ceiling starts to bulge, pierce the plaster with a long screwdriver or a broom handle, standing as far back as possible.
Inspect the pipe and nearby fittings and, providing they are all intact, 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.
4. Find the freeze
If you’re not a plumber yourself, this is the time to call one. Find a reputable local plumber, or call the Aviva claims team for advice.