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How to prevent pipes freezing

Ashton Berkhauer
Written by  Ashton Berkhauer
5 min read
Updated: 25 Mar 2024

Worried your pipes are frozen? Or looking to ensure that your pipes stay safe during the winter? Then our comprehensive guide is here to help. Read on and we’ll explain how to prevent your pipes from freezing.

As winter's icy grip tightens, homeowners face a chilly adversary: frozen pipes. This common cold-weather conundrum not only causes inconvenience but can also lead to costly damage if not addressed promptly. In this article, we'll delve into the frosty depths of why pipes freeze, how to recognise and safely thaw them, and most importantly, how to prevent this frigid fiasco from happening in the first place.

What causes pipes to freeze?

The science behind frozen pipes is simple yet unforgiving. When temperatures drop below 0ºC, the stagnant water inside pipes can turn to ice. This transformation isn't just a matter of solidifying water; it's a volumetric expansion that exerts tremendous pressure on the confines of any pipe. This is particularly problematic for pipes that haven't seen much use recently, as they are more likely to contain water that can freeze.

Recognising Frozen Pipes

Identifying frozen pipes early can save you from a potential burst and the ensuing water damage. Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:

  • A frosty layer or ice visible on the exterior of pipes

  • A noticeable drop in water pressure or a weak flow when you turn on the tap

  • Odd smells emanating from your taps or drains, which may indicate a blockage caused by ice

If you notice any of these symptoms, it's crucial to act swiftly to mitigate the risk of a pipe bursting.

Thawing Out: How to Safely Unfreeze Pipes

Thawing frozen pipes is a delicate operation that requires patience and care. If you're fortunate enough that the pipe hasn't burst, here are some safe methods to unfreeze them:

  • Employ a hair dryer, carefully moving it back and forth to evenly distribute the heat. Keep the hair dryer moving to avoid concentrating heat in one spot

  • Envelop the pipe in a warm towel or press a hot water bottle against it

  • Open a tap nearby to allow the ice to melt and relieve built-up pressure

  • Turn on the heating to help thaw pipes, albeit more slowly

Remember, thawing can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes, and it's imperative to avoid open flames, such as blow torches, which can damage the pipes and pose a significant fire risk.

When to Call a Plumber

Sometimes, the frozen section of pipe eludes detection, or your thawing efforts don't restore water flow. In these cases, it's time to call in the professionals. And if you discover a burst pipe, immediately shut off the water supply and contact a plumber without delay.

Prevention: The Best Defence Against Frozen Pipes

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to frozen pipes. Here are some proactive steps to keep your pipes flowing freely:

  • Maintain a consistent temperature in your home, even when you're away. Use timers to maintain this consistent temperature

  • Insulate pipes and your water tank, which can also save on energy bills, particularly those in unheated areas

  • Service your boiler annually to ensure it's in tip-top shape and less likely to contribute to pipe problems

  • Make it a habit to use your taps regularly, ensuring a constant flow of water through the pipes

  • Consider smart thermostats to control heating remotely and run taps every day to ensure water passes through them

  • Verify that your home insurance policy covers pipe issues, giving you quick access to plumbers during the busy winter months and ensure it covers damage from frozen or burst pipes

By implementing these strategies, you can avoid the hassle and expense of dealing with frozen pipes.

Wrap Up

Navigating the winter months requires a solid understanding of the causes and solutions for frozen pipes. Being proactive in prevention and knowledgeable in response can go a long way in protecting your home from the ravages of ice. And when the situation is beyond your control, don't hesitate to seek professional assistance. Stay warm, stay safe, and keep those pipes flowing.

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