Frozen pipes are the last thing you want this Winter. However, they’re a major concern in cold weather climates, like our chilly old British Isles, as they can stop our entire water supply dead and even lead to burst pipes. So, while we homeowners and landlords can’t control the weather, we can definitely take steps to avoid frozen pipes, cold baths and shivering children this winter. We’ve pulled together some tips and common myths about frozen pipes to prevent yours from freezing, along with a few suggestions to follow if it does come to the worse.
Where do pipes usually freeze?
Most often, it’s the pipes in the unheated areas of your home that are prone to freezing, such as those in your loft, an unfinished cellar or a garage.
What causes pipes to freeze?
There are a couple of common myths around frozen pipes bursting that we’d like to clear up concerning when, where and why it occurs.
It’s ice expanding that causes pipes to burst
Water pipes burst when the water freezes and changes from a liquid to a solid. The expansion this creates has enough force to rupture the pipework wall, the extent of the damage would only become apparent once the pipework thaws.
Myth No. 2
A pipe bursts while it’s freezing
Pipes don’t always burst once they’re frozen or during the process of freezing. The force created by the expansion of the water turning from a liquid to a solid can rupture the pipe wall, this would only be identified when the ice thaws.
What temperature do pipes freeze?
In order for pipes to freeze, the outside temperature needs to be below -6 degrees celsius for at least 6 consecutive hours.
How to check that you have a frozen pipe
The first sign of a frozen pipe is when you turn on the tap and no water comes out. Here’s what to do next:
1. Check under the kitchen sink to see if the mains is still on.
2. Check to see if there is a leak near the tap that’s not working.
3. Follow the pipe from the inactive tap to check for a burst pipe which could mean spraying or dripping water, or even icicles if it happened a while ago. If the pipe is behind a wall you may see a damp floor, wall or ceiling.
4. If the pipe is frozen but hasn’t burst, you’ll either see some ice, frost, or the pipe may be bulging slightly.
5. If your search reveals that your pipe is frozen but hasn’t burst, you need to thaw the pipe yourself or, if you’re not comfortable doing this, call a professional who can.
How to thaw a frozen pipe
Again, if you’re not an experienced DIY-er or you don’t have the time to fix this confidently yourself, it’s safer to delegate this task to a professional. If you’re not covered by HomeServe or anyone else for your plumbing and pipework, call us for a one-off emergency repair and one of our Excellent-rated approved plumbers will quickly arrive to sort it, wherever you live in the UK.
However, if you’re a trusty DIY-er, there are some temporary fixes you can try:
1. Make sure your tap is open. It will allow for water to flow through the pipe, which will speed up the thawing process.
2. Now apply heat to the frozen part of the pipe. You can do this with a hair dryer or, if you have an electric heating pad for relieving back pain, you can wrap that around the pipe. If you don’t have a hair dryer or heating pad, the lo-fi version is a towel soaked in hot water, which is messier, so put a second towel down underneath it. WARNING: Do not leave a heating pad, hairdryer or hot towel unattended.
NEVER use the following to thaw your frozen pipes:
- Propane or kerosene heater
- Charcoal stove
- Any other open flame device
- Space heater, just in case there’s any flammable material around
3. Continue applying heat until water starts flowing out of the tap at its normal amount of water pressure.
4. Once the pipe is thawed, turn on the other taps in your household to make sure no other pipes are frozen.
5. Take action quickly if the frozen pipe runs close to an exterior wall, or is hidden behind a wall or ceiling. A burst pipe here can potentially be very damaging so you should call a professional plumber, who may need to cut a hole in the wall to warm the pipes.
How to stop pipes from freezing
If you don’t have a frozen pipe right now, that’s a relief! So let’s look at ways to prevent pipes from freezing and causing any damage. Here are some tips:
- Disconnect your garden hose from your external tap, drain the hose and then store it in your garage or shed. You can also close the indoor valves that feed into these outdoor taps, so make sure you do that too.
- Insulate, insulate, insulate. Roof, walls, ceilings and floor to stop heat escaping.
- In areas outside the heated envelope of the property ensure that water pipework is suitably insulated to prevent freezing.
- Allow your taps to drip cold water on the coldest days. When water flows, it’s harder for it to freeze.
- If your home is particularly susceptible to freezing pipes, regulate your thermostat! It needs to be set at the same temperature every day. Don’t let it fall below 12 degrees Celsius when you leave your home.
- Ensure all your doors and windows are properly sealed.
How to cover water pipes from freezing
If you want the peace of mind of knowing you’re completely covered in emergencies like these and a professional will soon be fixing it, get our HomeServe Plumbing and Drainage Plus cover, either as a standalone policy or part of a larger home emergency policy.
This covers you for burst or frozen pipes, leaking pipes, blocked drains, blocked sinks and toilets, and dripping or seized taps. If you’re looking for a one-off home repair, we can send an experienced plumber or Gas Safe registered engineer to help in a jiffy.
Will frozen pipes thaw on their own?
Technically, yes, frozen pipes can thaw on their own. But do you really want to wait and watch while the ice thaws and potentially causes a burst pipe? That’s why we recommend carrying out a controlled thawing or calling a professional.
How do you unfreeze pipes fast?
Call a professional if you’re not an experienced DIY-er. Or you can attempt to thaw the frozen section of pipe yourself with a hair dryer, an electric heated back pain pad, or a towel soaked in hot water. Make sure the tap is fully open while you do this.
Will moving water freeze in pipes?
No, if water is moving and flowing then it’s difficult for it to freeze.