How to protect your pipes in winter

John Conlin / 26 November 2014 ( 08 November 2017 )

Nine tips to help you protect your pipes in winter and prevent unnecessary expense and damage to your home.



With the weather turning colder, there is a real risk that water in one or more of your pipes could freeze over the next few weeks – especially if your home is left empty for a period.

If a pipe freezes, it can expand and burst. If water escapes, it can then cause serious damage to your property, including flooding and broken boilers.

According to insurers, "escape of water" makes up a large proportion of their claims at this time of year, so you need to be on your guard.

Eight tips for keeping warm in winter...

The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of your pipes wreaking havoc this winter should we experience a big freeze.

1. Keep your heating on

A good way to protect your pipes during the colder months is by keeping your heating on constant, but at a lower-than-normal temperature.



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2. Check insulation

Make sure insulation is in place on water pipes, and also in your loft and other areas of water storage, such as a water tank. The more insulated your pipes are, the better protected they will be.

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3. Repair dripping taps

Repair dripping taps and replace washers where needed. If you don’t do this and the tap freezes, it may block the pipe and cause damage.

Chartered Surveyor John Conlin advises a reader on fixing a dripping tap

Question:

I have a dripping tap in the bathroom. A friend tried to undo the tap to replace the washer, but the tap would not move. Please, what can I use to 'unstick' the tap?.

John’s reply:

The first thing is to get two pairs of plumbers adjustable grips one to hold the body of the tap and the other for the removable part. 

With these in place you can apply great opposing force without risking loosening the fixing of the tap to basin or bath. 

Next wrap the tap in a tea towel and repeatedly douse it with boiling water (at least five full kettles) - the idea is to heat the tap sufficiently to cause it to expand and loosen the bond that limescale may have made.

4. Leave cabinet doors open

Keep the doors on kitchen and bathroom cabinets open, as this will allow warmer air to circulate and reach pipes that are under sinks and next to the outside wall.

How to protect your home in winter...

5. Thaw out frozen pipes

If a pipe has frozen, thaw it out gently using hot water bottles or a hairdryer.

6. Leave the heating on low while you’re away

If you’re heading off on holiday over Christmas or New Year, keep the heating on at a low temperature (around 12°C-15°C). Also keep your loft hatch open slightly to let the warmer air circulate, as this can prevent the pipes in your loft from freezing.

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7. What should you do if you discover your pipes have burst?

If you suspect you have a frozen pipe, first check if your neighbours have water, as it could be an issue with the local supply.

If they do have water, you need to take action. First off, turn off the stop-cock, and then call in a plumber to help you fix the problem with your pipes.

8. Check your cover

All of this should serve as a timely reminder to ensure you have adequate home insurance in place to protect your home during the winter months.

Dig out your paperwork and check you are covered for common incidents such as burst pipes.

Generally speaking, damage caused by “escape of water” is covered as standard under most policies.

9. Check the small print

That said, it is worth double-checking the small print, as burst pipes may not be covered as standard when properties are left unoccupied without heat, or unfurnished.

Revisit your policy to ensure you’re completely familiar with the clauses involved and the level of cover you have. This should help avoid any unexpected costs should the worst happen.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.