How to deal with frozen pipes

Got no water? If you suspect that the cause of the problem is a frozen pipe, this article will help you locate the blockage, defrost it and make sure your pipes don't freeze again.

If you find yourself without water, the first thing you need to do is check whether your neighbours are also affected. If they are, the lack of water will most likely be caused a problem to the mains supply and you will need to contact your water company.

If you're the only one without water, you probably have a frozen pipe. It's important to try and defrost this blockage as quickly as possible as the expansion of the water could cause the pipe to burst, leading to thawed water leaking from the break.

Defrosting the pipe

The following steps should help you get things back to normal quickly.

Step 1: Identify the blockage

If one of your pipes is frozen, you'll need to find out where the blockage is located before taking action. You can do this by:

  • Looking for evidence of freezing along the pipes.
  • Using your hands to feel along the pipe until you reach a section that feels colder than the rest. You may find it helpful to compare the temperature of the blocked pipe to that of a pipe where you know the water is flowing freely.

Remember, during very cold weather, you may find multiple frozen areas within one pipe. This is especially common in exposed sections of pipe (such as pipes exposed to draughts or where a pipe enters your home).

Step 2: Protect your possessions

If a pipe appears to be frozen, protect everything around it to avoid any damage if it bursts. Move smaller items out of the way and cover up larger items.

Step 3: Turn off the stop tap

Turn off the main stop tap. You should find this under the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters your home. If you have a cold water tank, turn off the stopcock (this is usually found in the attic or loft).

Step 4: Run the closest tap

Open the cold tap closest to the part of the pipe that's frozen. This will allow the water to flow away when it melts.

Step 5: Start defrosting

Using a hairdryer, carefully thaw the ice in the pipe (starting at the tap end and working backwards towards the cold water tank). Take care as the pipe could burst at any time and spray water as it starts to thaw.

If you don't own a hairdryer you can slowly thaw out the frozen section by covering it with hot water bottles or heat packs.

Remember, never use a naked flame or a heat gun to thaw out ice as this could damage your pipes and creates a fire hazard.

Step 6: Check pipe for damage

Once you've thawed out your pipes, check them thoroughly for any signs of damage or leaking. If the pipes have been damaged, you will need to call out an emergency plumber to fix the problem.

Step 7: Turn on the taps

Once the blockage has thawed, turn your stop tap and stopcock back on and run water until normal flow is restored.

What if the pipe has burst?

If a frozen pipe does burst, it's important to know the best way to remove the water and sort out any damage to your home and possessions.

  • Check your insurance policy
    It's a good idea to check your insurance policy as soon as possible, as this may cover the costs of alternative accommodation for you and your family (if necessary).
  • Drying out your home
    Dry out any affected rooms by keeping doors and windows open (where possible) and leaving your heating on. Leave cupboard drawers and doors open to allow them to dry more quickly and consider hiring a de-humidifier, which will help to dry out the room further.
  • Keep any damaged items
    Don't immediately throw away any water-damaged possessions, as your insurance company may need to take a look at them. Store everything together in a dry place.

How to avoid frozen pipes in the future

A burst or frozen pipe in your home can cause you a whole lot of hassle and expense. Take a look at our tips on how to prevent burst and frozen pipes this winter.

Important information regarding our DIY help and advice

We try to make the advice on our website (www.HomeServe.com) as useful and reliable as possible. However, the purpose of this advice section of the website is to provide homeowners and private landlords with general guidance and useful tips only. It doesn't necessarily deal with every important topic or cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals and might not be relevant or appropriate in all circumstances. It is not designed to provide professional advice or financial advice and should not be relied on as such. Click here to read the disclaimer in full.