Winter is often a time when most problems occur. Here are some simple ways to reduce the risk of problems occurring:
• Repair dripping taps and faulty ball valves.
• Check the lagging on pipes and tanks and improve it where necessary – this will help to stop pipes freezing in the first place.
• Check that loft insulation is thick enough to withstand cold weather, and is in good enough condition.
• Keep the house warm – block out draughts.
• Lag all external pipe work (e.g. garden taps) with foam tubing.
• In very cold weather, open the loft trap door to allow warm air from other parts of the house to circulate.
• Leave the heating on while you are away from your home, to help prevent pipes freezing or, if you don’t have central heating, consider draining down the system while you are away.
• Ask a friend or relative to visit your home while you are away – so a burst pipe may be found in a reasonable time.
• If you increase the insulation in your loft area make sure you also increase the insulation to water pipes and storage tanks. Whilst increasing the degree of insulation in your loft space will help keep your house warmer, your loft space will become colder, which could place water pipes and storage tanks at bigger risk of frost damage. This can be avoided by ensuring pipes and tanks also receive additional insulation.
And if your pipes do freeze up
As water freezes it expands. This expansion is potentially damaging where the water has no means of escape. If water in a pipe freezes it may eventually increase the pressure within the pipe until it bursts. The bursts sometimes only become apparent when the water thaws and can run freely again. Pipes can also crack and fracture as they contract when the water inside them thaws out.
If your pipes do freeze you need to carefully help the system to thaw out whilst monitoring for leaks and burst pipes.
• Turn off the internal stop valve.
• Check pipes for splits or forced joints – have any repaired by a registered plumber
• If there are no splits, apply gentle heat to the pipe to help it to defrost. Start with an open tap, and thaw along the pipe, starting from the end nearest the tap.
• Use a hot water bottle or cloth soaked in hot water against the pipe. Gentle heat from a portable heater or an electric hairdryer can also help to thaw water in a pipe. Do not use heating appliances in enclosed spaces where there may be a fire risk or where there is a risk of electrocution.
• Do not use a blow lamp or other naked flame or heat gun. Do not turn on your central heating system to try and thaw out frozen hot water or heating systems.
Remember to close the tap once the pipe has defrosted and water is flowing again. Do not leave taps dripping or running – the water may not flush down the plughole if pipes below are frozen.