How to deal with frozen pipes in winter

Keep your home warm and toasty with our guide to preventing and treating frozen pipes.

Updated

frozen pipes in winter

Key steps

To deal with frozen pipes:

  1. Keep your central heating set to at least 12°C even when nobody is home.
  2. If you have a frozen or burst pipe, turn off your water supply and open the tap.
  3. Thaw from the tap end using a gentle heat. Do not use a flame.
  4. If a pipe has burst, drain your water system and contact a plumber.

Even when your house is empty, it’s best to keep it heated in very cold weather to avoid frozen pipes. If, despite your best efforts, the worst still happens then follow our tips to dealing with frozen pipes in winter and prevent the damage commonly caused by them.

Frozen pipes often come in groups – if you find one, check for others!

How to deal with frozen pipes in the home

If a pipe has frozen that you’re able to reach in your property, try these steps to thaw it out:

  1. Find the stopcock that controls your water supply and turn it off.
  2. Turn on the tap that the frozen pipe leads to, even if it isn’t letting out any water right now. Leave it open until you’re finished to reduce pressure in the pipe.
  3. Starting at the end nearer the open tap, begin to thaw the pipe by applying gentle heat. Try a hairdryer, hot water bottle, or wrap a hot towel around the pipe.
  4. As you thaw the ice, move slowly down the pipe.
  5. Turn off the tap and switch the water supply back on once you’re done.
  6. Keep an eye on the pipe and turn off the water and contact a plumber if it leaks.

If you can’t get to pipes that you think may be frozen, you have two options:

  • Turn the heating up slightly and see if it can thaw out the pipes.
  • Contact a plumber for professional help accessing the pipes.

How to deal with frozen pipes in the boiler

Frozen boiler pipes can shut down your boiler exactly when you need it most. The culprit is probably a frozen condensate pipe which will usually be made of white plastic and either be found underneath your boiler or fixed to an external wall over a drain.

  • Thaw an internal frozen condensate pipe by placing a hot water bottle over it, as described above.
  • Thaw an external frozen condensate pipe by pouring warm (not boiling) water over the pipe.

Reset your boiler afterwards and see if this fixes the problem.

Warning! Never use a naked flame to thaw your pipes.

How to stop pipes from freezing in the first place

More important than learning how to thaw pipes is learning how to stop pipes from freezing in the first place.

  • Don’t leave your home completely unheated in very cold weather.
  • Set the heating to come on if the temperature dips below 12°C when unoccupied.
  • Set the heating warmer when people are home – use our central heating temperature guide.
  • Fix leaks as soon as possible as they increase the chance of pipes freezing!
  • Prevent condensate pipes freezing on your boiler but using foam insulation.

How to deal with burst pipes in winter if you miss a frozen pipe

The reason it’s so important to deal with frozen pipes is that they can leak once they thaw out as the freezing can cause the pipes to swell and burst. This means that burst pipes in winter may be the first sign you have of a frozen pipe problem.

  1. Use your stopcock to shut off the water supply.
  2. Turn on your taps to drain the water that’s still in your system.
  3. Call an emergency plumber –burst pipes are not an easy DIY fix!
  4. Mop up the water that’s already leaked while you wait.
  5. Dry the floor with towels.

How to know if you have frozen pipes

Frost on a pipe is a sign it may be frozen but as you can’t always see your pipes, there are a few other signs of frozen pipes you should be aware of.

  • If a tap is letting out much less water than usual or isn’t dispensing water at all.
  • If your boiler isn’t working normally in winter.
  • If there is an unpleasant smell in the vicinity of drains or taps.

Originally published