Looking after your pipes in cold weather

When the weather becomes very cold, the water pipes in your home can freeze. This can lead to a burst pipe. Water from a burst pipe can cause a lot of damage to your home and belongings.

Tips to prevent frost damage

Follow these simple steps to help prevent your pipes from freezing:

  • Keep your boiler well serviced to keep the house heated and leave the central heating on for short periods of time throughout the day
  • Let warm air into your roof space by keeping the loft hatch open
  • Let warm air move around the house by keeping room doors slightly open. Keep the cupboard door under the sink open. This will let warm air move around the pipes
  • If you are going to be away from your house while the weather is cold, ask a friend or neighbour to check the house, and keep the heating on. Write down the name and contact details for a number of registered plumbers in your area
  • Insulate water tanks and pipes in unheated areas like lofts, roof spaces, garages, and outbuildings
  • Fix dripping taps - a gentle trickle of water can freeze and completely block the pipe
  • Make sure doors and windows from unheated parts of your property are kept closed and minimise any draughts from outside
  • Know where your stopcock is
  • Watch this video from Northern Ireland Water - it shows you exactly what to do
  • Download our leaflet which is filled with handy tips on protecting your home during the winter - Don't freeze up this winter!

What to do if your pipes freeze or burst

Burst pipes can cause a lot of damage to your home and belongings. If your pipes burst, follow these steps.

If water is in contact with your electrics

  • If the water has come in contact with electrical sockets/lights you should turn off your electric at the mains.
  • If the water has come in contact with the mains box:
    • DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TOUCH.
    • DO NOT USE ANY ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT IN THE HOUSE THAT REQUIRES ELECTRIC MAINS SUPPLY.
  • Switch off the central heating, immersion heater and any other heating systems. If the central heating uses solid fuel, let this die out. Once water heating has shut down, turn on the hot taps to help drain the system.
  • You can then follow the steps below

If water is not in contact with your electrics

Step 1: Turn off the water supply at the stopcock (clockwise) which is usually located under the kitchen sink unit. In some modern kitchens the stopcock may be connected to an electronic shut off button located above the worktop; simply push this button to turn off the water.

Step 2: Use a bucket to catch any water and lay a plastic sheet over any possessions that are close to the leak. 

Step 3: Drain down the water system by turning on your cold water taps and run the water into the bath and sink to catch the water. This can be used for flushing the toilet later and it clears the water held in the pipes.

Step 4: If the water has been leaking through for some time and the ceilings are bulging, it may not be safe to enter the room. If you notice the leak quickly you can catch dripping water in buckets. 

Step 5: Call a plumber

Step 6: Don't forget to turn off your taps once the problem is fixed!

Frequently asked questions about burst pipes

Question: If I have no water or have turned off the water supply, can I still use my central heating? (gas, oil, room heater, open fire)
Answer: This depends on the type of heating used in the property.

For Solid fuel heating systems:

  1. Turn off the stopcock (usually located under your kitchen sink), turn it clockwise.
  2. Drain the cold water storage tank by running your bath taps.
  3. Keep some of this water in your bath so you can use it to flush the toilet.
  4. Make sure you put your fire out!

For oil, gas or wood pellet boiler systems:

  1. Turn off the stopcock (usually located under your kitchen sink), turn it clockwise. 
  2. Drain the cold water storage tank by running your bath taps.
  3. Keep some of this water in your bath so you can use it to flush the toilet.

Question: There is water coming through the ceiling – is there a chance the ceiling may fall down?
Answer: If there is, or has been, water coming through the ceiling you should not use that room until the contractor arrives.

Question: The ceiling looks bowed, should I put a hole in it to let the water out?
Answer: Under no circumstances should you go near the ceiling – you should not enter the room.

Question: The leak is coming from the flat above, what can I do?
Answer: Check if your neighbour is in the flat above. Move your belongings from under the leak and cover and belongings or furniture that cannot be moved

Question: Can I still use my immersion heater?
Answer: If you have hot water coming out of the hot tap you can still use the immersion heater.

Question: Can I flush my toilet if I have no water?
Answer: If you have filled the bath/sinks with water when draining the system you should use this to pour into the bowl to flush the toilet.

Knowing what to do when your pipes freeze can prevent them from bursting and damaging your home. If your pipes freeze, follow these simple steps to help them thaw.

If you have no water due to frozen pipes follow these steps:

Step 1: Check that the mains supply is not affected. If there is cold water at the cold tap in your kitchen then the mains supply is working – if not, contact NI Water in the first instance. 

Step 2: If a pipe appears to be frozen, protect everything around it to avoid damage if it bursts.

Step 3: The pipe needs to be thawed out. First, open the tap nearest to the pipe that is frozen (so the water can flow through once it’s melted), using a hot water bottle or a hairdryer on its lowest setting, carefully thaw the ice in the pipe (starting at the tap end and work back toward the cold water tank). Don’t ever use a heat gun or blow torch.

Step 4: If the pipes are frozen in the roof space, open your trap door slightly to allow warm air into the roofspace - if this can be done safely. Leave it slightly open until the pipe thaws and remember to close it afterwards.

Step 5: If there is running water from taps in the bathroom, fill the bath and sink with water - this can be used for flushing the toilet.

Step 6: Turn off the mains water stopcock to prevent further damage if the pipe bursts. The stopcock is usually located under the kitchen sink - turn it clockwise to turn off water.

Further information

Do you have a way of heating your home? If not, we can arrange for a contractor to supply you with temporary heaters.

If we are receiving a high volume of calls it may take the contractor/s at least 24 hrs to respond. We will send a plumber to your home but it is unlikely that he will be able to restore your water supply if the pipes are frozen. However, he will give you advice on how to thaw the pipe yourself and what to do in the event of it bursting.

Frequently asked questions about frozen pipes

Question: If I have no water can I still use my central heating? (gas, oil, room heater, open fire).
Answer: This is dependent on the heat source in the property:

  • If the source is solid fuel, under no circumstances should the heating system be used when there is no water supply.
  • If oil, in most circumstances the heating system may be used.
  • If gas, in most circumstances the heating may be used – however, where a combination system is present in the dwelling the heating system must not be used.

Question: Can I still use my immersion heater?
Answer: If you have hot water coming from the hot tap you can still use the immersion heater.

Question: Can I flush my toilet if my pipes are frozen and I have no water?
Answer:  If you have filled the bath/sinks with water when draining the system you should use this to pour into the bowl to flush the toilet.


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