Let it snow?!

Fri, Nov 15, 2019

With the forecast predicting that temperatures are set to plunge and snow could be on the way our thoughts turn to fluffy socks, hot chocolate, snowmen and open fireplaces, but also the dreaded burst pipes.

A bit of forward planning can greatly reduce the risk – we suggest:

  • Keeping the heating at least on a ‘frost control’ setting, or ideally maintaining a consistent temperature day and night rather than letting temperatures peak and trough (more economical than constantly re-heating a cold home too)
  • Maintaining a flow of water by regularly flushing the loo and running taps
  • Keeping external doors and windows closed as much as possible, while keeping internal doors open to allow warmth to circulate
  • Opening the loft hatch on very cold nights if you have water tanks so that accumulated heat can rise to protect them. Open kitchen and bathroom cupboard doors so sink pipes benefit too
  • Making sure internal and external pipes (even plastic ones) are well insulated, particularly in unheated areas like the garage or larders/storage areas. Foam and old towels will do as a temporary measure. Close off the flow to external hose connections
  • As some pipes are concealed in walls, having the cavity walls insulated can be a safeguard
  • Finding out where your stopcock is so that you can quickly shut off the water supply in the event of a burst pipe (there will usually also be individual isolators for kitchen taps and toilets so if these are affected you may not need to turn off the entire supply)
  • Having a couple of contact numbers to hand for reliable local plumbers, and the emergency line for your home insurer, just in case.

If you turn on a tap and nothing comes out, or is a noticeably slower flow, the chances are the pipes have frozen. Don’t panic; keep the tap turned on and if the pipes are visible – say, under the sink – see if you can detect the frozen section. Affected sections might be visibly ‘frosted’, noticeably colder to the touch, or even bulging due to the water expanding as it freezes.

Pipes burst because pressure from the expanding ice causes them to fracture, then leak as the ice melts and water pressure resumes, often built up behind the blockage. The break may not actually come at the point where the ice forms but at a weaker site nearby.

Your aim is to thaw the pipes slowly. Never use a naked flame to warm a pipe, or put electric heaters close by in case the pipe does burst. Increase the heat in the property overall. Towels soaked in hot water then squeezed out and applied directly to the pipes, or hot water bottles, are ideal. If in any doubt, turn the water off at the mains stopcock and call a plumber.

If thawing pipes yourself and they do burst, immediately turn off the water at the mains and keep taps on to drain away remaining water in the system. If the burst is anywhere near electrical sockets turn off the electricity too. Unless you can isolate the leak with a smaller stopcock, turning water off at the mains means you’ll also have to turn off your central heating.

Once you’ve called a plumber, take photos for insurance purposes. Unless your insurer tells you to wait for a visit from a loss adjuster, you can begin the clean up operation.