Frozen and burst pipes are not something anyone wants to experience, especially when you need your heating and hot water to be working. Why do water pipes burst in cold weather? When water freezes, it expands and that pressure can rupture pipes. So what can you do to prevent them freezing in the first instance? Read our tips below to find out.
Remember your condensate pipe
If you have a boiler that’s less than 10 years old, it’s most likely a condensing boiler. These have a white plastic condensate pipe that may discharge outside. To avoid the boiler shutting down from frozen condensate that’s backed up, it’s a good idea to lag this pipe by wrapping it in a foam sleeve.
If you notice that your boiler has stopped working and that the water inside the condensate pipe has frozen, try pouring warm (not boiling!) water over it. Hit the reset button on your boiler and keep your fingers crossed that it fires up!
Wrap it up
For added protection, lagging pipes can insulate them from extreme cold. This is especially important for pipes affixed to external walls, in basements and in attics. This goes for loos and outside taps as well.
Put on a jacket
All new-ish water tanks and cylinders will be insulated with a hot water jacket, but if yours is not, you can find inexpensive pre-cut jackets or blankets at hardware shops.
While you’re away
To prevent pipes from freezing, you have two options:
- Leave your heating on. You may be tempted to turn your heating off when you go away over the winter in order to save money on energy bills. But be aware that the money you may save on fuel costs will be a drop in the bucket compared to the money you’ll spend on repairing water damage to your home and contents. Keeping the heating on will prevent the water in the pipes from freezing. If you have a thermostat, set it to at least 10°C; heating to this temperature may also prevent mould from forming during the colder months. Please be mindful that
- The snowflake setting (also known as the frost setting) on many heating systems may not prevent the water from freezing – you’ll need to check that the frost- or room-thermostats are set high enough.
- Setting heaters to come on for an hour in the morning and evening can still cause pipes to freeze if the home isn’t heated through. If you think this may be the case, it’s best to drain your tank and pipes.
- You have enough oil or LPG before you go away if you use these to heat your home.
- Turn the water off if you’re planning to be away for a while. You may have to look for the stop valve in front of your home on the footpath or near the driveway. Shutting off the water supply, even if there is a leak, will greatly limit the amount of water damage that can happen.
- Just turning off the water may not be enough to prevent pipes from freezing. You’ll also need to either keep the heating on (see above) or drain the system.
Stay electrical and gas safe
Open fires, wood burners, portable heaters and electric blankets pose their own safety risks that you can reduce with the following tips:
- Use and test carbon monoxide alarms for fires and wood burners.
- Keep electric heaters clear from furniture and belongings, and don’t cover them with drying clothes. Also make sure the heaters are secure and stable so they won’t fall over and try not to plug them into an extension lead.
- Roll or store electric blankets flat. Unplug them at night unless they have specific all-night controls. Avoid buying secondhand so you can be sure the blankets are safe and come with a guarantee. We also recommend getting them tested by a qualified electrician at least every few years.
Prepare for winter weather
Winter weather can wreak havoc on more than just your home. Would you be prepared with sand or salt if your path got icy or snowy? Do you know your neighbours and the help they might need? Check out our advice guide for more ideas on how to prepare.