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How to Prevent Damage from Burst Frozen Pipes

The damage caused by a burst pipe can lead to severe inconvenience and a very expensive bill

Damage caused by a burst pipe

Damage caused by a burst pipe

Pipes which burst in the loft can soon release thousands of gallons of water, which cascade through ceilings and could ultimately result in collapse. The volume of water which can escape a burst pipe is astonishing, with some experts estimating the figure to be as much as 2,200 gallons a day. Exposed to this amount of water, it is not long before favourite fixtures and fittings are ruined beyond repair.

The severity of recent winters means that an increasing number of holiday home owners have experienced the trauma of burst pipes. We know of one heating engineer in the Poitou Charentes region who was kept in full-time work for more than a year as a result of problems caused during the winter of 2011/2012.

What Causes Burst Pipes?

When temperatures drop below 0oC, water begins to freeze, causing it to expand. This creates pressure on the inside of the water pipes and, should this pressure become too great, the pipe bursts.

Of course, it’s not the burst pipe itself that causes the trouble. The main culprit is the water which begins to trickle, and eventually gush as the pipe thaws out. Unchecked, water can flow freely for days, or even weeks before the burst is noticed and by that time you have passed the point of no return.

How to Prevent Your Pipes from Freezing

Prevention is far better than cure when it comes to burst pipes. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that you can take to make sure that it doesn’t happen to you

  1. Insulating pipes is an excellent way to protect them from freezing. Exposed pipes have a greater chance of freezing than those which are inside the main body of the house and particular attention should be paid to those in lofts or close to outside walls. Don’t forget to insulate outdoor pipes as well. Outside, the same principles apply and, whilst the damage caused by these bursting may not be as dramatic, if an exterior pipe bursts, you may find yourself without running water for several days.
  2. If you have outdoor hoses or sprinkler systems, disconnect them and drain, if possible, to prevent damage. If you have an outside tap which can be isolated from the water supply then disconnect it but leave the valve open. That way, any residual water within the pipe has room to move and your tap will not become damaged.
  3. Remember that garages are particularly cold areas of your property. Keep garage doors closed if you have water pipes which run through it.
  4. Leave kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets open to allow warmer air to circulate around any plumbing they may contain.
  5. If you have central heating, leave it on a low heat (around 13C) to prevent your pipes from freezing.
  6. If you are not going to be returning to your holiday home for some time, ensure that someone nearby knows the location of your stop cock, so they are able to turn off the water as soon as any damage is noticed. It is also worth checking from time to time that the stop cock turns freely. A burst pipe situation is not the time you want to find out that it won’t budge.

What to do When Pipes Freeze

If pipes do freeze, it does not necessarily mean that it is time to panic as there are certain measures you can take to avoid disaster.

  1. Turn the water off at the stop cock. This is usually under the kitchen sink or at the point where the water enters your home.
  2. Protect the area around the pipe as much as possible to prevent damage to the surroundings if the pipe does burst.
  3. Open all taps to relieve pressure as the pipes begin to thaw.
  4. Remove insulation (this will only keep the cold in), and wrap in rags instead to try and initiate the thaw.
  5. Encourage the pipe to thaw slowly using a hot water bottle or hairdryer. NEVER use a blow torch or heat gun.
  6. If all else fails, call a local plumber. He will have dealt with this situation on countless occasions and will know what to do

What to do if Pipes Burst

If pipes burst, there are a number of precautions you should take to avoid further damage.

  1. BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, check to make sure that there is no danger of electric shock from being in or near standing water. If you are in any doubt at all, call an expert and let them deal with it.
  2. If it is safe to do so, turn off the water immediately to prevent any further damage.
  3. If the damage is particularly bad, specialist drying equipment such as a dehumidifier will need to be brought in. Many home insurance policies include home emergency protection and will arrange this for you.
  4. Make a record of damaged items and take photos to forward to your insurance company if you intend to pursue a claim.

By taking a few simple precautions to protect your holiday home, you can successfully prevent the damage caused by burst frozen pipes.

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