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Winter water pipe problems

Cold weather isn't just an inconvenience. It can trigger/produce 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's also the nightmare of the clean-up operation and costly repairs.


  • 1 in 6 people don't know where their stopcock is - make sure you do
  • A leaking pipe can spill over 2 gallons per day if left unchecked
  • Only 42% of homeowners insulate pipes to prevent freezing

Preparation is prevention

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: a minimum of 50mm in diameter but preferably 75mm. When insulating bends and tricky-to-reach pipes use Gaffa 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.

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.

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.


Dealing with a frozen pipe

If one or more of your taps are not working this usually is the first clue that you have a frozen pipe. 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 its 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 stop tap, usually found under the kitchen sink. Now 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 a pipe bursts.

Protect your possessions

Move or protect anything in your home that's near to potentially eruptive pipework and cover your junction box.

Find the freeze

If you're not a confident DIYer now's the time to call in a reputable plumber. But if you have a 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 outlets - taps, toilets, etc. - throughout your home. Once you've narrowed down the area you suspect to be frozen, look for further clues, e.g. 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

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. 


Dealing 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 described above.

Drain the system

Turn on all your cold taps and flush your toilets.

Turn off the heating

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.

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, do not touch it and call in a qualified electrician.

Collect the water

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.

Fix the leak

If you're unqualified or unconfident, now's the time to call in the professionals. You'll also need to call us 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. 


Going away in winter

There are few things worse than returning from a winter holiday and opening your front door to a flood. Here's how you can head off disaster before you head off:

  • Check the forecast and if severe weather is likely, set your heating to come on at a low temperature.
  • Leave open your loft door, kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets, to allow warm air to circulate through the entire house.
  • Ask a friend, relative or neighbour to look in on things while you are away.
  • If you're away for a long time, turn the stop tap 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. You can check your policy details quickly and easily online here.

Looking for home insurance?

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