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How to prevent outside pipes and taps from freezing

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Skill Level: Beginner

Introduction

Every winter homeowners are at risk from severe weather conditions and its effects on outside pipe-work and taps. Extremely low temperatures will cause water pipes to freeze, and in some cases even burst. So it makes sense to safeguard your home before winter sets in, and know what to do in the event they do freeze. 

 
When water freezes, it expands. When it freezes in a pipe, it expands in exactly the same way, but if it expands enough, the pipe will burst; water then escapes and serious damage to your home and furnishings will result. Following freezing, an ice blockage in a pipe will continue freezing and expanding inside the pipe causing the water pressure to increase downstream - between the blockage and the nearest closed tap. It's this increase in water pressure that eventually leads to pipe fracture. The risk of freezing can be reduced by ensuring all pipes are adequately protected along their entire length. Pipes located outside are all vulnerable to freezing.   
 
If you have first hand experience of a frozen or burst water pipe you will know what a devastating impact it can have on your home. Repairing the broken pipe is actually not a big or complicated job; it is the cost and damage caused by the leaking water. That can be a real headache.

 

Plan for the worst

Consider which pipes are most vulnerable, that could potentially freeze when the temperature plummets. Water pipes located on an outside wall of your home, and any pipes that run through unheated crawl spaces or pipes running through walls to the outside are also at risk from freezing.
Why not simply turn off the water supply lines running to outside pipes and taps before the cold weather arrives, unless you have some particular reason for not doing so. You will usually find a shut off valve in the water supply line somewhere close to where it passes through the outside wall. Make sure you close the water off inside, then open the outside taps. This drains off any water remaining in the pipe or in the tap.

Insulating outside pipes

Insulate all pipes that run close to outside walls with preformed pipe insulating sleeves. Insulate along the full length of the pipe, and then tape the sleeve securely in place. Alternatively, insulate your pipes with fibreglass insulation or Rockwool, but ensure you get it between the pipe and the wall. This helps keep the cold temperature of the wall, well away from the pipe. Disconnect garden hoses and install covers on all outside taps.
During cold temperatures keep windows near water pipes closed; close air vents during these extreme cold snaps. Combining freezing temperatures with wind and drafts will increase the likelihood of pipes freezing considerably.

Frozen pipes and taps

If a pipe or tap inside your home freezes, you should be able to thaw it out using a hair dryer, but for safety reasons, do not operate a hair dryer in close proximity to standing water. Another method to thaw a frozen pipe is to soak a couple of old towels or rags in hot water and wrap them around frozen sections of the pipe. When thawing out a pipe, start nearest the tap, and make sure it is turned on so that melting water can run away. If the frozen pipe is an outside pipe then a how air gun or blow torch played gently and slowly over the frozen pipe usually does the job.

Burst pipes

If the worst does happen and you suffer a frozen pipe, the first thing to do is shut off the water at the mains stopcock. If the fracture is in a hot water pipe, the valve found on top of the water heater should be also shut off. Then unfortunately, you will need to call a plumber. For just such situations you are advised to keep an emergency plumbers number nearby for ready access.

Emergency solutions

If you have taken all reasonable precautions against freezing pipes and you do discover a weeping or burst pipe, then you might want to try and stem the flow of water until help arrives. There is a couple of means of applying a temporary fix you can do yourself, and they will definitely lessen the impact of water damage.
Pipe repair clamps can come in handy. For a quick effective solution to a burst pipe clamp the rubber collar over the damaged, leaking area of pipe and tighten up to seal.
Freezing kits are also handy for leaks where you do not want to drain the water system down. This aerosol type applicator inserts ice plugs into the damaged area of pipework: sealing the leak, but again, temporary.
Epoxy putty is also useful for fixing leaking pipes and leaks in joint areas.

Check your Home insurance

If you feel confident in the knowledge that if the worst comes to the worst, you have house insurance…then double check your policy – some insurance policies don't cover water damage to your home caused by burst pipes. If you plan leaving your home for an extended period during the winter months, you are advised to drain all the water from your water pipes, prior to your departure.

If you feel confident in the knowledge that if the worst comes to the worst, you have house insurance…then double check your policy – some insurance policies don't cover water damage to your home caused by burst pipes. If you plan leaving your home for an extended period during the winter months, you are advised to drain all the water from your water pipes, prior to your departure.

Tools you will need:

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