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When temperatures reach freezing points, your home’s water pipes are at greater risk of freezing and bursting. While the damage it causes is often covered by your buildings insurance policy , it’s still a headache you would rather not have, especially when you consider it costs an average £8,800 to repair a burst pipe. So, we look at how to avoid frozen and burst pipes and what you should do if it happens.
What are frozen and burst pipes?
If temperatures plummet to below freezing, the water inside your water pipes can freeze too. When this happens, you may notice either restricted or no flow of water coming from your taps. When water freezes, it expands in size, which can damage or burst the pipes. Once the ice thaws, water can escape from the pipes, causing damage to the rest of your house and belongings. “Escape of water”, as it is known by insurers, is one of the most common types of home insurance claims, with insurers paying out £1.8 million for it every day.
How to avoid frozen and burst pipes
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to avoid frozen and burst pipes, including:
- Set the heating to turn on at regular intervals, even when you’re away from home, to keep your home from freezing.
- Insulate water tanks and lag your pipes. Pipe lagging is a type of insulation for water pipes and is available from most DIY stores. Make sure there are no gaps at bends, valves or fittings.
- Fix dripping taps – even a small trickle can result in a frozen pipe.
- Know where your stopcock valve is. The stopcock is the main valve that turns your water supply on and off in your home. If you know where it is and know how to turn it off, this will help you prevent damage if a freeze occurs. Most stopcocks are fitted under the kitchen sink and close by turning clockwise.
- Service your boiler regularly. A well-maintained boiler is more likely to keep the house warm.
- Check unheated areas. Look out for water tanks and pipes in unheated areas like loft spaces and garages, as they are the most likely areas to freeze. If you have tanks or pipes in the roof space, open the loft hatch to allow warm air to circulate
- If you’re away for a long period, turn off the water at the stopcock and consider draining down the system so there is no water left in the pipes.
If a pipe freezes
Despite our best efforts, a pipe can still freeze. If that happens, there are a handful of things you can do to prevent the pipe from bursting.
- Turn off the water supply at the stopcock.
- Check to see if the pipe has burst.
- Slowly thaw the pipe with hot water bottles or a towel soaked in hot water, starting at the end nearest the tap. You can also use a hair-dryer on its lowest setting.
If a pipe bursts
If a frozen pipe subsequently bursts, here’s what you can do.
- Turn off the water supply at the stopcock (if you haven’t done this already) to prevent further leaking.
- Open all taps to reduce flooding. This will empty some of the water in your pipes into the sink and waste pipe rather than your home.
- Soak up and block off escaping water with thick towels.
- Get help – if there’s not an easy fix that you can do yourself, call a qualified plumber.
- Call your home insurance provider – they can advise on how to make a claim for any damage caused and help you get your home back to how it was.
The cold weather we’re experiencing means there is greater risk of a frozen and burst pipe. But with a bit of preparation and knowledge, you can either eliminate the threat or reduce the impact of escaping water. Crucially, know where your stopcock is so you can stop the flow of water, and always call a qualified plumber should you need any help.
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