Preventing and Dealing with Frozen Pipes in Winter

Did you know that frozen or burst pipes are among the most expensive insurance claims made during the winter? With high energy prices, more and more of us are reluctant to turn on the heating, although this could cost us more in the long run. Experts at Zurich state that “households risk facing damage costs of up to £12,791 if frozen pipes lead to escape of water in their home”.[1]

When temperatures drop below freezing for a prolonged period, the pipes at our homes, properties and businesses are at risk of freezing. Find out how to prevent pipes from freezing and how to deal with frozen pipes if they occur.  

Firstly, do you know where your stopcock is?

Before we get into the dos and don’ts when it comes to frozen pipes, we need to first talk about your stopcock. When it comes to plumbing, it is essential that you know where your stopcock is and how to use it to stop the water flow into your home or commercial property should your pipes freeze. If you aren’t sure, ask a plumber to show you where and give you a guide on what to do. Make sure that area is cleared of any clutter for ease of access in an emergency. 

How to prevent pipes from freezing

As we prepare ourselves to brace the cold weather, we must also prepare our home and business too. Frozen pipes are usually preventable if you follow a few simple precautions. 

  • Draining the system when not in use - If you’re away from home for more than a few days and cold weather is a possibility, it’s worth turning off your water and draining down your system. For unoccupied properties, this can be a requirement of your insurance policy, and this can also apply to short periods of unoccupancy too. Please review your policy or contact your local Towergate office where a member of our team will be happy to check the terms of your cover and advise you. 
  • Lagging pipes - By adding insulation to your pipes (both inside and outside) and water tanks, you reduce the risk of them freezing. Hawkins, a specialist forensic investigation company, has pulled together a very insightful article highlighting some of the key factors to take into consideration when it comes to lagging the pipes in your property. These include the quality of lagging, how ambient heating comes into play, hidden pipework, faulty thermostats and servicing your boiler. Read the article here to find out more about what their investigations concluded
  • Regularly service your boiler - If your boiler is not working correctly then it makes your system vulnerable to the cold. In the run up to winter, preferably during the warmer months, make sure to get your boiler serviced annually so that you’re less likely to encounter issues when you start using your boiler more regularly in winter. Some insurance policies are contingent on having an annual boiler check so make sure you comply.
  • Circulate warm air flow - If you have pipes and tanks in enclosed spaces which do not have access to heating, open the doors/hatch or set up fans to blow warm air in to circulate around them. Think about areas such as unheated loft spaces, pipes or tanks in cupboards, pipes under sinks or in pantries. 
  • Frost protection – Despite the cost-of-living crisis, try to keep heating on frost-protection at minimum. British Gas recommends “keeping your thermostat set to at least 7°C - even if you’re not at home” to prevent it getting too cold inside and your pipes freezing.[2]  

What to do if your pipes freeze

Frozen pipes can be a big problem but don’t panic. If you act quickly, there are a few things you can do to stop the pipe from bursting. 

  • Turn off the water supply - The first thing you should do when you detect a frozen pipe is turn off the water supply. You should then drain the system to minimise any water damage should the pipe burst. If possible, make sure to save some water in a bucket to help wash hands and flush toilets in the interim. 
  • Call a plumber - Once you’ve turned off the water, contact a plumber for assistance. 
  • Protect your possessions - Move any portable possessions away from the affected area(s) to prevent further damage and cover your electricity mains box if the pipe is nearby. 
  • Gently thaw - Depending on what the plumber’s advice is, if you are recommended to thaw the pipes yourself, it’s best to do so slowly. Use a hairdryer, fan heater, towels soaked in hot water or hot water bottle. Do not use a naked flame or blowtorch. Not only could that damage the pipe, but it can also lead to fire. Open any taps near the frozen pipe to let water escape.  

What to do if your pipes burst

As water freezes, it expands which can, in some cases, lead to burst pipes. Should you find yourself in this predicament, there are several things you will need to do. 

  • Turn off the water supply and drain your system Similar to if a pipe is frozen, if it bursts you will need to get as much water out of the system as possible to prevent water damage to property. Start by turning on all cold water taps and flushing toilets, making sure to remove the water. 
  • Turn off your heating system Next, you need to turn off the central heating and the boiler. Don’t forget to turn off immersion heaters. Once you’ve done this, drain the system further by turning on all hot water taps. 
  • Contact a plumber - Once you’ve turned off the water, contact a heating engineer and/or plumber for assistance. 
  • Collect the water -Use buckets, pans, and any large receptacles to collect the water from the burst pipe. If ceilings start to bulge, stand well back and use a long-handled implement to release the water. 
  • Switch off the electrics if necessary -If your burst pipe is near any electrical switches or fuse boxes, turn the electrics off at the mains. 
  • Protect your possessions - Move any portable possessions away from the affected area(s) to prevent any immediate or further damage. 
  • Contact your usual Towergate office for assistance - In an emergency, please refer to your policy documents for guidance, there are 24/7 emergency contacts in your documents. For any questions about your property cover, please contact your usual Towergate office and we will be pleased to assist you. 
  • Keep a record of the damage -To pursue a claim against your policy, insurers will require evidence of causation and damage. Take photographs of affected areas before removing or repairing damage. If you take a professional in to repair the damage, ensure they provide a report with their findings and suspected cause.
  •  Get the leak fixed -Keep all receipts and details of work carried out as some aspects of the repairs may be covered by your policy. As above, your insurer will need an expert to confirm in their professional opinion, the cause of the escape of water. 

Property insurance from Towergate

If you have any questions about your property insurance, please contact your local Towergate office and the team will be happy to help. In the event of an emergency, please refer to the 24/7 contact details in your policy documents or get in touch with your local Towergate adviser.