How to deal with frozen pipes

How to deal with frozen pipes

Posted on 28/02/2018

It’s freezing! Who doesn’t love sitting by the window and watching the snow flutter down to settle on the garden? But when the temperatures plummet, pipes can freeze and this can not only lead to no water, but can damage the pipes.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes can be a major problem in winter. Not only does a frozen pipe mean your water supply may be restricted, it can also burst and create a serious leak.

This happens because when water turns to ice it expands, putting pressure on the pipe and potentially splitting it. You may not see the result of this split when the pipe is still frozen, but as the pipe thaws water will leak from the split.

When starting the thawing process, it’s crucial that you start the thaw at the end of the pipe, i.e. the tap.

The best way of fixing a frozen pipe is stopping it from happening in the first place.

The first job is to locate pipes that are in danger of freezing. These could be pipes on the outside of the house, pipes in the house in rooms that are typically un-heated, or pipes that are subject to draughts (such as in crawl spaces).

Be careful using electrical appliances to thaw frozen pipes

These pipes should be insulated using foam insulation or electrical tape or, in the worst case, wrapping rags or towels around the pipe. This will help keep the water in the pipe flowing except in the most extreme weather.

What should you do if you think your pipes have frozen?

Locate the frozen pipe

Start by going through the house and turning taps on, both hot and cold. If the water comes out in a trickle, drips or no water comes out at all, it’s probably frozen.

Even if you find that one tap has no water coming out, still check all your other pipes as the chances are, if one pipe is frozen, so are others.

Once you know which pipes are frozen, try to locate the plumbing itself. If you can see the pipes it will make them easier to thaw. Open the cupboards or cabinets under the sink and try to see if any of the pipes are frozen, i.e. with icicles.

Start thawing

When starting the thawing process, it’s crucial that you start the thaw at the end of the pipe, i.e. the tap.

This means that when water starts to flow, it has somewhere to go. If you start melting the ice in the middle of the pipe near the blockage, and the ice, steam and water has nowhere to go, pressure can build up and damage the pipes.

If you start melting the ice in the middle of the pipe near the blockage, and the ice, steam and water has nowhere to go, pressure can build up and damage the pipes.

If the pipe is exposed e.g. under the kitchen sink or behind a bathroom sink pedestal, aim a hairdryer at the pipe and apply the air evenly or use a space heater. However, be careful using electrical appliances as melting ice can drip and be dangerous.

If you would prefer not to use electrical appliances, try wrapping the pipe in a warmed towel.

If the pipe is behind a wall or in another unexposed space, turn your heating up as high as you can.

Burst pipes

Even without attempting to force thaw the pipes, pipes can still burst due to the water expanding as it freezes.

If you suspect your pipe has burst, disconnect the water supply wherever you can, this is usually at each unit but can also be located at the water meter.

Once this has been done, you will need to contact a local plumber.