During periods of very cold weather when frost penetrates deep into the ground, tenants may experience problems due to frozen water pipes. The two most common sources of the problem are:
- A frozen service pipe between the water main and the house: - because of the depth at which it has been laid.
- A frozen pipe in the attic: - because of inadequate lagging.
Because of the diverse nature of each individual case, it is not feasible to issue “one size fits all” advice. In general, tenants experiencing problems with frozen pipes are advised to contact their own plumber. The plumber should be able to locate the blockage and may be able to advise on ways of freeing or bypassing the frozen pipe in the short term.
Individual tips which might help to avoid frozen pipes are:
- Wrap a towel around an outside tap.
- Open the attic trap door to allow heat into the attic.
- Use a frost protection heater in attic.*
- Leave a light on in the attic.
- Leave heating on longer than normal.
- Place a piece of insulation eg. Carpet/Matting over your external stopcock.
- Park a car over your external stopcock.
*use only a CE approved thermostatically controlled frost protection heater installed per manufacturer’s instructions.
When carrying out any measures to ensure pipes do not freeze, people are reminded to ensure that the measures are carried out in a manner that is safe and does not create a hazard for either themselves or for the general public.
In the longer term, when the thaw sets in, some of the frozen pipes will have burst and will need repair. With this in mind, tenants should familiarise themselves with the location of their stopcock, ensure there is access to the stopcock and know how to turn off the water supply to the house. Early action to turn off water will reduce the potential for damage, particularly from burst pipes in the attic.
FROZEN PIPES AND WATER TANKS
Turn off the water at the main stop cock (stop valve): this is normally found near where the water pipe enters the building, often under the kitchen sink. If there is a stop valve fitted on the outlet pipe from the header tank (the small water tank for your central heating system usually found in the attic), this should be turned off too. Do this even if you only suspect your pipes are frozen, since they could also have burst, and, by turning off the water, you will reduce the amount of water that can escape, and so minimise damage to your home.
Examine the water system for fractures in pipes and fittings for any sign of pipes being pulled from joints. Ice on the outside of a pipe is often an indication that it has burst. Before you start to thaw the system, do what you can to protect or remove anything that might be damaged by thawing water running from the burst. Cover electrical junction boxes and wiring. Switch off the central heating and any other water heating installations at the same time, to avoid further damage, or even an explosion. Begin thawing the pipe from the tap side of the frozen area, by warming it gently, and work back towards the header tank. Thaw the pipe using a hairdryer or hot water bottle - DO NOT USE A BLOW LAMP OR HEAT GUN. Cloths soaked in hot water can also be placed on the pipe. Start at an open end and work back from it. Heat the dwelling generally with appliances not connected with domestic hot water or water-based central heating. Open all your taps to drain the system. If water is coming through the ceiling, collect it in buckets. If the ceiling starts to bulge, pierce the plaster with a broom handle to let the water through.
Turn off the water at the main stop valve. Switch off the central heating and any other water heating installations at the same time, to avoid further damage, or even an explosion. If your wiring, or any electrical appliances have been affected, do not touch them until they have been checked by a professional electrician. If in doubt, turn off your electricity at the mains. If the flow of water cannot be stopped, open all the cold taps to drain the system. If the burst is on a pipe from the storage tank, turn off the stop valve in the storage tank, turn on all hot taps to drain the system, allow the fire to burn out or turn the heating off until the burst pipe has been attended to by a plumber
NO WATER AT YOUR TAPS
Do not switch on or light any water heating appliances whether fuelled by gas, oil, solid fuel or electricity. Examine the water system for fractures in pipes and fittings also for any sign of pipes being pulled from joints. The presence of ice on the outside of a pipe is often an indication that it has burst. If you notice any of these symptoms TURN OFF THE CONTROLLING STOP VALVE and call a plumber.
If no damage is visible open all taps and thaw out pipe work with an electric fan heater or hairdryer. Start at an open end and work back from it. Cloths soaked in hot water can also be placed on the pipe. Heat the dwelling generally with appliances not connected with domestic hot water or water-based central heating. If the house has to be left unattended, shut off the main stop valve and drain down whatever can be drained.
Leave windows, doors and built-in cupboards open during the day, if possible. Keep affected rooms heated, but do not over-heat them, as this could result in further damage. Store damaged items in a dry place – your own insurance loss adjuster may want to inspect them.
IF YOU ARE AWAY
Leave your heating on while you are away from home. In severe weather, or if severe weather is forecast, you should leave your heating on day and night at your usual temperature setting, especially if you are going to be away from home for any length of time. This will help to stop your pipes freezing. Open your loft trap door. This allows warm air from other parts of the house to circulate in the loft, and will help prevent pipes freezing.