Frozen pipes? These smart hacks will thaw them and stop them bursting over winter

Prevent frozen pipes and the ensuing chaos (and hefty bills) in your home with these easy tips

Frozen pipes: Prevent your water pipes freezing and cracking with some simple tips
(Image credit: Boiler plan)

Worried about the coming cold snap causing frozen pipes at home? With the deluge of rain we’ve had recently, you’d think our biggest concern would be an excess of free-flowing water in our streets and even in our homes, but with the threat of a cold winter and plummeting temperatures on the horizon, it's pipes freezing that we need to start worrying about.

Harsh frosts can quickly freeze water solid in pipes, leading to small cracks that can allow damaging leaks to seep out – and burst pipes that can send water cascading down walls and ceilings, causing hundreds, even thousands of pounds worth of damage. 

And if you are one of the 88 per cent of Brits who don’t have plumbing and drains as part of their home insurance, you may have to foot that hefty bill yourself. So how do you prevent this happening? 

Well, as with many common plumbing problems you can DIY, the solutions are surprisingly simple. We talked to the boiler suppliers (and experts) at Boiler Plan, and they gave us these handy tips to stop pipes freezing, and how to deal with them if they do.

5 ways to prevent frozen pipes

1. Ensure water is regularly run from exposed pipes by turning taps on frequently. If frost has been forecast or suspected on any pipes, leave the connecting tap on drip for a while.

2. Leaving the heating off to save money and then cranking it up for a short time when it’s really cold could create problems, as the pipes can cool down to freezing temperatures when not being used. Opt for a consistent, relatively low temperature to save on heating bills.

3. Insulating the loft and cavity walls can make sure indoor pipes are at a temperature that won’t freeze. Add foam insulation directly to exposed pipes, which is inexpensive and very effective. Heating tape can also keep the temperature at a safe level.

4. Make sure doors are kept closed to the garage or porch if exposed or ‘at risk’ pipes are in these areas, especially at night time. Cabinets and pantries that conceal pipes should also be kept open to allow heat from the home to reach them.

5. Stay alert for signs that a pipe may have frozen, such as weak water supply or strange smells from taps or drains. Check pipes for frost on the outside as this will also indicate the water is frozen inside.

Prevent your water pipes freezing and cracking with some simple tips

(Image credit: Boiler Plan)

5 ways to deal with frozen pipes

The main risk is the expansion of the water inside frozen pipes, which can damage them and the entire water system. Here's what to do:

1. Make sure you’ve turned the water supply off at the mains before starting, as the constant flow of water could cause more problems as you try to thaw the pipes. Close the water supply valve, which is usually located by your water meter near the boiler or under the sink.

2. Outside pipes (particularly the wastewater pipe) often get frozen, but can be easily thawed with a hot water bottle. Fill it with a mixture of boiling and cold water so the heat is not too extreme, then cuddle your pipes with it.

3. Place a portable heater in the same room as the frozen pipe and leave it to heat up and thaw the pipe slowly.

4. Use a hair dryer to direct a stream of hot air at the frozen pipe (making sure the dryer is away from any water). The temperature of most hair dryers is adjustable so you can be careful not to overheat the pipe.

5. Place a heat lamp close to the pipes and wait for the water to thaw. There can be mild swelling or expansion in the areas of the pipes containing frozen water, which will influence where you place the lamps. This should disappear once the water starts flowing.

How to spot if boiler pipes have frozen 

The telltale signs of a frozen condensate boiler pipe are flashing lights, a gurgling noise from the boiler when it's switched on and the front display saying ‘blocked’.

1. First locate your pipe: brave the cold and go outside to find your condensate pipe – it’s usually a white or grey plastic pipe coming out from the back of your boiler to the outside wall of your home. It discharges wastewater vapour from the system. If it’s blocked, it forces the boiler to shut down for safety reasons.

2. Thaw it out: the easiest way is to put it in contact with warm water. A couple of jugs of warm – not boiling – water poured over the exterior of the pipe will melt the ice inside. If it’s too hot, the rapid change of temperature could crack the plastic pipe. If you don’t have a jug to hand, use a hot water bottle or warm flannel.

3. Turn it on: with the frozen blockage melted, reset the boiler and your central heating system should work as normal.

Alison Jones
Alison Jones

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.