How to deal with frozen pipes 

Burst pipes can be a common occurrence in the winter months, especially in second homes that may go unoccupied for longer periods of time. This can cause significant damage to a property’s structure and contents.

Water freezes at 0C and while this is pretty cold even by the UK’s standards, frozen pipes are a regular winter hazard and studies have found that extreme winter weather is becoming more and more common. In 2018, Britain experienced a dismal winter where the Beast of the East caused disruptions and turmoil across the nation, with some areas seeing 67 consecutive days of snow and temperatures plummeting to as low as -15C.

It’s best to be prepared and take the proper preventative measures. If not dealt with correctly or caught too late, frozen pipes can burst and flood your home.

What causes a burst pipe?

One of the most common causes of a burst pipe is when cold temperatures freeze water in the pipe. The water then expands and creates pressure which can result in a rupture.

Properties that are vacant for long periods are especially at risk and if a pipe does burst it’s likely the flood will go unnoticed for longer, potentially causing more damage.

How can you prevent a frozen pipe?

Insulation

Ensure water and lag pipes are covered, water tank jackets and lagging material are available at most DIY stores. Doing this will not only help protect against frozen pipes, but reduce standby heat loss considerably.

Check when your last boiler service was

Your boiler should be serviced annually, and doing so can pick up on any issues before they get worse. 

Keep the heating on while you’re away

If you are going to be away during the colder months, leave the heating on low and If the property is going to be vacant for the longer term, get someone to check the property occasionally.

Run water through exposed pipes

Allowing cold water to drip through the tap of an exposed pipe helps prevent them from freezing.

How can you tell your pipes are frozen?

There are a few signs your pipes could be frozen, they include:

No running water

The most obvious sign of a frozen pipe is that water will not be running at all from the tap.

Frost on the pipes

Frost on the outside of the pipe suggests the water inside is also frozen.

Noises

Blockages and increased water pressure caused by frozen pipes can result in irregular noises when you use a tap or flush a toilet. These include; rumbling, whistling and bubbling. 

Location of the pipe

Pipes located in attics or basements are particularly susceptible to freezing as it’s likely they aren’t exposed to much heat.

How do you thaw a frozen pipe?

If you suspect you have a frozen pipe try the below methods to thaw the ice:

  • Provided the pipe hasn’t burst, keep the tap on and water running. Even if it’s just a drip, the flowing water will expedite the thawing process.
  • If the pipe is exposed you can thaw it by using a hair dryer, warm towels, warm water, electrical heating tape or a portable heater.
  • Once the pipe is thawed be prepared – there may have been a build-up in water which will gush out once the ice has melted.

What if my pipe has burst?

A burst pipe can cause some severe damage, it’s important to act as soon as you can.

First things first, turn off the main water supply, then move any possessions to prevent them from being further damaged and begin getting rid of the water. Be careful not to touch any electrical wiring or switches and it may be a good idea to turn off your electricity by the mains while you control the flood. Next you should call your plumber to get the pipe fixed.

Does homeowner’s insurance cover burst pipe and water damage?

The good news is that many home insurance policies will cover the cost of repairing a broken pipe and the damage to the house structure and your possessions caused by the water provided your policy includes both building and contents insurance. However, policies can differ with providers and it’s important to check the policy terms and conditions of your policy to ensure you’ll be fully covered should the worst happen.

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