How to prevent burst pipes wreaking havoc this winter

With the cold winter weather comes a greater likelihood of a burst pipe. This can cause a great deal of inconvenience, considerable damage and unwanted repair costs, especially if it happens over the Christmas period. But the problem is largely preventable. Here are our top tips on how to take care of your pipes.

What causes your pipes to burst?

In cold weather, if a pipe is old, unprotected or exposed, the water inside it may freeze. As the water freezes, it expands and increases the pressure inside the pipe. If this happens too frequently the pressure will get too high and something will give, causing the pipe to rupture. Older pipes are more vulnerable, as they may rust which will cause them to weaken and rupture more easily.

Prevention is better than cure

There are a number of things you can do to keep your pipework in good working order and prevent the inevitable damage a burst pipe will cause:

   1. Check your central heating system 

Make sure your boiler and central heating system are serviced regularly (preferably annually) and are in good working order. This will not only help prevent burst pipes but will also ensure you have an efficient system and save you money on emergency repairs. Check also that the thermostat works properly.

Are your radiators heating completely? If there is a cold area at the top, they will probably need bleeding. This is cheap, quick and easy to do yourself. 

   2. Know how to turn off your water supply 

There’s nothing worse than discovering a leak or burst pipe and not being able to turn the water supply off because you can’t find or turn the stopcock. Do you know where yours is? They are usually located under the kitchen sink but may be elsewhere, such as in the hallway or a cupboard. If it helps you locate it quicker in an emergency, label it.

Check regularly that the stopcock is working. Turn clockwise to turn off and anti-clockwise to turn on – a good way of remembering this is ‘right for tight and left for loose’. If it has stiffened up, apply some lubricant such as WD40 to help loosen it – and oil it regularly to prevent further problems.

   3. Fix dripping taps

Keep an eye on your taps regularly and fix any that are dripping. If they freeze, they’ll block the pipe. As well as minimising the possibility of a frozen pipe, you’ll also save water, potentially up to a litre a day, and money. Check the water flow in your cold taps regularly but don’t leave taps running. Not only is this wasteful, if the pipe is already frozen the water will not drain away.

   4. Insulate your pipes and tank

Make sure your water pipes and cold water tank are protected with lagging or similar insulation, especially those in the attic or other vulnerable or unheated spaces, such as a garage. Check there are no gaps at bends, valves or fittings. You can buy lagging material relatively cheaply in most DIY stores and no special equipment is needed to fit it. 

If you also cover your hot water pipes, you will find that your hot water stays warmer for longer and your energy costs will be reduced. If you have tanks or pipes in your roof space, open the loft hatch regularly to allow warm air to circulate.

   5. Keep your property warm

Have the heating on throughout the winter months, or for short periods of time throughout the day, to keep the place at an ambient temperature. You can thermostatically control the temperature. Your thermostat may have a frost protection setting, which comes on automatically if the temperature drops low enough to cause pipe freezing.

Close the curtains at night or during particularly cold spells to keep the heat in. Use draught excluders where there are gaps and make sure your windows are sufficiently insulated. Allow the warm air to move around the building, but minimise draughts from outside and close doors and windows to unheated parts of the property.

   6. Have a regular leak detection survey

It is a good idea to have a leak detection survey carried out periodically. This is one of the services Sarrani provides. Using specialist water damage equipment and techniques, we can investigate damp, identify the cause of any leaks and the extent of the resulting damage, repair the source of the problem and report upon findings. Such a survey may also detect any weakened pipes, meaning you can plan for repair or replacement when necessary.

   7. Check your insurance

Does your property’s insurance cover pipe repair and damage from burst pipes? Check the policy to ensure you are covered should the worst happen. Pipe repairs can be costly and time-consuming, especially if parts of your property need digging up to get at the damaged pipes.

If you’re going away

Are you going away for Christmas? If you’re away even just for a few days in colder weather, make sure your pipes are properly protected so you don’t come home to a flood. As well as taking our tips above into account, keep the property heated while you’re away – leave the heating on low or set the timer so it comes on a couple of times a day.

If you’re away for a long period, shut off and drain down the water system, so there’s no water left to freeze in the pipes. This is a good idea in warmer weather too, to prevent other leaks while you’re away. Also ask someone you trust to check your property regularly. Early discovery of a leak can reduce the eventual repair cost.

What to do if your pipes are frozen

If you discover a frozen pipe, turn off your water supply immediately at the stopcock. Slowly thaw the affected pipe by introducing gentle heat to the area, such as towels soaked in warm water, a hairdryer on the lowest setting, a hot water bottle or a heater. 

Do not attempt to thaw the pipe with a blow torch or naked flame! At best this could damage the pipes; and at worst it could cause a fire.

And what if a pipe has already burst? 

If a pipe does burst, stop any more water getting into the system by turning off the water supply at the stopcock. Try to catch any excess water in a bucket or other container. Open all of your taps to allow the water to escape. Block any flooding with thick towels or cloths to minimise the damage and call a plumber or Sarrani to help you fix the burst pipe.

If a pipe has burst that is beyond your property’s boundary, call your water company.

Providing you have insurance, calling Sarrani will ensure you get your property put back in order as quickly as possible. We are paid by your insurer, meaning that there are no additional costs to you for our help in project managing the repairs. All work carried out under our supervision comes with a 1-year guarantee. Full details are contained in our terms and conditions, available on request.

For more information on how we can help, email us at info@sarrani.com or call us on 020 3006 3126.