Guidance on protecting your home during freezing conditions and preventing a Home Emergency

Below are suggested precautions that can help to reduce the risk of serious damage to your property – and prevent a home emergency during a severe weather event.

Be Prepared

Firstly, be prepared for winter. Following these tips could help prevent a Home Emergency and keep your home safe, warm and with running hot & cold water.

1. Check your boiler and heating system

If you haven’t done so already this year, get your boiler checked and/or serviced by a Gas Safe / Oftec / Hetas certified engineer, depending on your heating system, in plenty of time for winter. This will help prevent boiler failure and no heating and/or hot water.

 

2. Secure roof tiles

Check for any cracked, missing or loose tiles and replace them. If a roof is in disrepair, strong winds, rain and snow can be extremely damaging. Keep flat roofs maintained and check for splits, blisters and peeling of the flat roof covering.

 

3. Repair damaged chimneys

Look for cracks and loose render around chimney pots and at the roof join. High winds and heavy rain can damage chimneys even further so make sure they’re properly stable before the severe weather hits.

 

4. Keep the central heating on

Set the central heating to a minimum of 14 degrees Celsius throughout the winter. This helps prevent frozen pipes and frost damage, which is a popular cause of Home Emergencies. Always keep your heating on low, even when you’re out of the house or on holiday. If you’re going away, consider turning off your stop tap and draining down the system – so there is no water in the system to freeze.

 

5. Keep your pipes warm

Apply lagging to any pipes and water tanks in exposed areas such as lofts, garages and utility rooms, to prevent pipes freezing and bursting in the cold weather. Open loft hatches to allow the warmer air to enter the roof space, which will also help to stop the pipes freezing.

 

6. Dripping taps

If your taps are dripping, you should change your washer as drips can freeze. Fixing a leaky tap can also save up to one litre of water a day.

 

7. Clear your gutters

As the autumn leaves fall, gutters and drains can get clogged with loose foliage. Once the block becomes too much, water will start to collect in your gutter and eventually start leaking into your home. Check the condition of the gutters. Bent, twisted and uneven gutters will not allow the flow of water away from your property, again causing an overflow.

 

And…always check for severe weather warnings in your area.

Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes are a popular cause for Home Emergencies in the winter, especially during severe weather. Here is how to help prevent this happening:

 
  • Insulate your pipes and the loft water storage tank. Put the insulation foam on top of pipes rather than underneath them. It’s easy to fit with no tools needed, available from most DIY stores and relatively cheap.
  • Turn off any indoor valves on pipes leading to outside taps, then open the outside tap and leave it open to let any water drain out.
  • Regularly check all the taps in your home during the winter months. If little or no water flows, there may be frozen water in the pipes.
  • Most frozen pipes occur through the night when the temperature drops significantly. So, it is advisable to keep your heating on a min 14 degrees Celsius.
  • Find out where the mains water stopcock is, and make sure it turns off easily. If your pipes do freeze, turn the water off and thaw them out slowly with hot water bottles. Never use a heat gun or blow torch.
  • Ask someone to check your home if you're away for a while. This should help make sure leaking or burst pipes are spotted early and damage is kept to a minimum.
 

How to defrost a frozen pipe

Before you defrost your frozen pipe, you should turn off the main stop tap, which is usually found under your kitchen sink. Some properties, however, only have the main stop tap, which is generally located on the boundary line of the home. It’s advisable to have a set of plumber’s grips, or similar, in order to gain access to the main stop tap. If you have a cold water tank, you should turn off the stopcock in your attic or loft. You must then open the cold water tap closest to the frozen pipe. In doing so, you will enable the water in the frozen pipe to flow away once it has melted. To start defrosting your frozen pipe, you will need to use a hairdryer to carefully melt the ice in the pipe, starting from the tap end. If you do not own a hairdryer, cover the frozen section of the pipe with hot water bottles.

 

Checking your pipe for damage

Once you have thawed out your frozen pipe, you will need to inspect it for signs of damage. If your pipe appears to be in good condition and you are confident that you have fully thawed out the blockage, you should turn your water supply back on and run the water until you have restored a normal flow. If your pipe looks damaged, you may need to enlist the help of a professional.

 

Dealing with a burst water pipe

If your frozen pipe bursts during defrosting, you should turn off the main stop tap and contact a plumber. If water has leaked near or into your electrics, you must switch off the mains supply. If the mains switch is wet, you should not touch it. Instead, call an electrician immediately.

 

Condensing Boilers

Freezing winter weather can bring problems for condensing boilers. They can sometimes shut down if the condensate pipe freezes, leaving your home without heating just when you need it most.

 

How to prevent your condensate pipe from freezing

  • Cover your external condensate pipe with foam pipe insulation.
  • Leave your heating on overnight at a lower temperature to keep the condensate warm. Although this uses energy, your boiler will take less time to heat up your home in the morning.
  • Set your boiler thermostat to a higher temperature. This will use more energy and so reduce the amount of condensate. Only do this if you have radiators rather than underfloor heating. Be careful – the radiators will get very hot.

These steps may not prevent freezing in extreme weather conditions. If you want to take further action, detailed guidance will be available from your installer or service engineer.

What can I do if it does freeze?

If you feel confident and safe enough, try to thaw your pipe:

  1. Locate the blockage – it's likely to be at the most exposed external point, or at a bend or dip in the pipe.
  2. Thaw the frozen pipe – use a hot water bottle close to the blockage (don't pour boiling water directly on to the pipe).
  3. Restart your boiler – follow the instructions in your boiler's manual.

Blocked Drains in winter

The most common factor in blocked drains is substances other than water being poured down the drain. As the temperature drops below freezing, fat, grease and foreign objects such as wipes can solidify and completely block the drain.

 

How to prevent blocked drains

  • Put a plug screen over your plughole to prevent debris from going down the drain, and clean this regularly.
  • If you do not have a plug screen, remove hair and other substances from the drain every time you take a bath or shower.
  • Do not pour grease or oil down the drain. A drain can handle clean water, milk and other liquids without any hassle, but oil and grease can solidify and set within the pipes
  • Do not flush anything down the toilet other than human waste and toilet paper.
  • Use drain un-blocker regularly to get rid of any small blockages.

Important:

In case you do experience one of the above scenarios this winter, please ensure that you have access to your insurance company’s documentation, including the emergency contact numbers, so that they can get assistance to you, as quickly as possible. This may take longer during a severe weather event, due to the increase in volume of calls, and the impact snow and ice has on the roads.