Dealing with frozen pipes

1st March 2018

Dealing with frozen pipes

Not only are frozen water pipes inconvenient, but the pressure built up by frozen water in a pipe can cause the pipe to burst, resulting in serious damage and expensive repairs. 

To minimise the risk of pipes freezing during cold spells here is some information to be prepared for all eventualities and minimise the risk to your belongings and your property.

When pipes freeze the water/ice expands and this extra pressure along with the frost/thaw process damages pipes associated connections joins and seals.  Damage can be caused by these processes over the long term action or quickly as the result of an exceptional cold snap. 

Burst pipes will cause damage to the building and may affect your personal contents.  The inconvenience also includes not having running water until the pipes are replaced or repaired. 

Freezing temperatures challenges the best of properties but some simple steps can prevent some of the dangers:

  • Know where your stop cock is. In the event of an escape of water, you should turn the water off, to minimise the damage. Normally the stop cock is located under your kitchen sink and closes by turning the valve clockwise. You may want to test this now so that you are familiar with the process so you can’t act quickly if the need arises. Once the water is turned off, run the system until the tank is emptied.  The water won’t refill until the stop cock is turned back on.
  • During the very cold temperatures, have your heating set on a low heat 24/7 when you are out. This is better than having the heating coming on at periodic times at a higher temperature. 
  • Look out for any external exposed pipe work, which is not insulated.
  • Dripping taps – a small trickle of water can freeze and completely block the pipe. If maintenance of this kind is required it is best to repair these as soon as possible.
  • Ensure doors and windows from unheated parts of your property are kept closed to minimise any draughts from outside, you might like to consider whether to install draught seals or replace old or damaged ones. This also benefits the property in terms of heat retention and can save you money on your heating bill over the course of the winter.
  • If you are leaving the property for several days leave a key with a neighbour, friend or family member who can check the house regularly.

Dealing with Frozen Pipes

  • Turn off the water supply at the stop tap/valve.
  • Thaw along the pipe, starting from the end nearest the tap.
  • Don’t use a blow lamp or naked flame.
  • Put hot water bottles or a thick cloth soaked in hot water over the frozen pipe or use a hair dryer at its lowest setting to thaw pipes. Be careful not to warm them too quickly.
  • Don’t leave taps dripping or running. The water may not flush down the plug hole if the pipes below are frozen

While the above steps will generally work, if, after taking such steps, the pipe still remains frozen, do not take any chances and call your plumber immediately.


For information on staying warm in winter visit NI Direct.