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How to prevent pipes freezing

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Written by  Joe Minihane
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Reviewed by  Donna McConnell
5 min read
Updated: 23 Dec 2023

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.

What causes pipes to freeze?

Pipes freeze when the temperature drops and no warm water has passed through them for an extended period. There is usually always some residual water found in pipes, including those outside the home.

Frozen pipes can be caused by turning off your heating for an extended period, either by switching it off manually or not having your thermostat timer turned on to ensure the heating runs throughout the day. This typically happens when people go away on holiday in the winter.

How do I thaw frozen pipes?

First of all, it’s important to remember that when pipes freeze and then thaw, they can burst. If you are concerned about this happening, it’s best to call in a professional.

If you can locate the frozen pipe easily, then you can attempt to thaw it using a hair dryer, wrapping it in a warm towel or even placing a hot water bottle on it. Make sure you turn a nearby tap on. Even if no water is getting through, this will help release any pressure building up in the pipe. Doing so for 30 to 60 minutes should help thaw the pipe and return your pipes to normal.

Never use a naked flame, such as a blow torch, as this can melt plastic pipes and cause damage to metal ones, and lead to them bursting.

You can also try to thaw frozen pipes by turning on the heating, but doing so will take a lot longer.

Do I need a plumber if my pipes freeze?

If you have an exposed pipe that has frozen and know that it hasn’t burst, try thawing it yourself first before calling out a plumber.

However, if you cannot locate the pipe that you think is frozen, or you find that no water is coming out of your taps, then it’s highly advisable to call a plumber to help you thaw frozen pipes. They will have the correct tools to find any hidden pipes that may have frozen.

If your pipes have burst, then turn off your water supply at the stopcock (usually found under the kitchen sink) and get a plumber to attend to the issue as soon as possible.

How do I know if my pipes are frozen?

If the temperature drops below 0ºC, then there is a high chance that pipes which are not being used may freeze. This tends to take a few days to happen if the heating or hot water has not been turned on, and requires the cold to be sustained.

There are numerous other telltale signs to look out for.

  • Frost or ice may form on the outside of pipes, especially those which run outside the home.

  • If your water pressure seems to drop and taps do not run at their usual strength, you may want to check for frozen pipes

  • Bad smells coming from taps or drains. If your pipe is frozen, any nasty smells can come into the home

What are the top tips for preventing pipes freezing?

Frozen pipes can be a real concern when the temperature drops and the nights draw in. However, they can be easily avoided with the following steps:

  • Keep heating on low or set regular timers to ensure it runs throughout the day. Smart thermostats mean you can still control your heating when you are away for an extended period.

  • Insulate pipes. This is a no brainer for all pipes. As well as preventing frozen pipes, it will also save you money on your energy bills. Be sure to insulate water tanks too.

  • Get your boiler serviced every year. Doing so will keep it running properly and mitigate against any issues with your pipes.

  • Use your taps. It sounds simple, but make sure you run your taps every day so that water can pass through them.

  • Get home insurance that includes pipe problems. This way you can get hold of a plumber quickly at busy times of year. Frozen pipes are common in winter, meaning professionals can get booked up.

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