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Prevent frozen pipes and taps this winter

Frozen Pipe

As the temperature continues to fall and the icy evenings set in, it’s time to think about preparing your home for winter. 

At the top of your list should be preventing frozen pipes and taps. You’ll want to keep your pipes flowing and avoid any disruption or costs that can come with plumbing repairs due to freezing weather.

In this blog, we offer our advice to protect your pipework and prevent burst pipes.

Already have frozen pipes? Check out our handy guide on what to do here.

Jump to:

Spotting the early signs of frozen pipes
Insulate your water pipes
Check for leaks
Use your heating and encourage warm airflow
Turn your water off during your winter break

Spotting the early signs of frozen pipes 

It’s important to know the signs of frozen pipes, and catching the symptoms early can help prevent costly repair callouts.  

Some obvious things to look out for: 

  • Toilets not filling back up, or making strange gurgling sounds, after flushing
  • No water coming from taps or the shower
  • Radiators not heating up
  • Boiler not working
  • Exposed pipes that appear frosty or wet e.g. outside taps
  • Sewer smells coming from taps or drains

Steps to prevent your pipes from freezing 

1. Insulate your water pipes

Pipe Insulation

Even when you’re not using them, there is always a little bit of water in your pipes. When the temperature drops, this expands and puts pressure on pipes, which can sometimes cause them to burst. 

An inexpensive way to fend off the frost and save money on your energy bills is to insulate your pipes and any water tanks you have. 

Most DIY shops sell affordable pipe lagging, tank jackets, and insulated tap covers. 

Measure all of your materials properly and you should be able to fit everything easily yourself. 

Some details to consider upon installation: 

  • Remember to cover pipes in the coldest areas of your home, including hidden, lesser-used areas like garages and storage lofts.
  • Some older homes can include cold water tanks that are usually located in the roofspace. Water tanks can be hit hard during a cold spell – and a frozen tank may lead to burst pipes. Make sure you insulate them well with a good tank jacket.
  • Don't forget to cover the bends and valves on your exposed pipework, especially outdoor pipes like drainpipes and overflow pipes. Insulated tap covers should be used to protect outdoor taps. Which brings us to our next point... 

2. Check for leaks

Outdoor Tap In Frost

If you’ve noticed a drop in water pressure, this can be an early sign of a leak in your water pipework and should be investigated. 

It’s a myth that leaving your tap dripping during winter can stop your pipes from freezing. In actuality, leaking taps can wreak havoc on your water system, causing drains to become frozen and water to back up to your sink, which leads to overflow.

Luckily, you can reduce the risk of frozen taps by simply making sure that taps are always turned off completely.  If you’ve discovered a leaky tap, we’ve got a helpful step-by-step guide on how to fix them here.

3. Use your heating and encourage warm airflow

Turning On Heating

Although many people wait until they absolutely must turn the heating on to save money, this can often have an adverse effect on your water pipes. 

When it starts to get icy outside, letting your heating system run on a low heat is recommended to help protect your pipework. Set your thermostat to at least 7°C, this is the minimum temperature to keep pipes from freezing. 

Periodically open any loft hatches or storage cupboards that house water pipelines to allow warm air to flow into these spaces. 

Keep windows and external doors closed and keep draughts at bay by sealing window edges and using draught excluders on doors to help reduce heat loss. 

4. Turn your water off during your winter break

Pipes can freeze in as little as 6-8 hours, which means the frost could get to them over just one night.  

If you’re planning on going on a break away from home this winter, turn the water off at the stopcock mains and turn on taps in your kitchen and bathroom(s) until the water stops flowing, to empty the pipes as much as possible. This will help to minimise the risk of the remaining water freezing in the pipework.  

If you’re able, set your heating to come on periodically at a low temperature while you’re away. 

Going away for longer than a couple of weeks? It may be beneficial to drain the water system completely.