Freezing temperatures can be ripe for plumbing disasters


In Consumer Advice, For the Public, Plumbing Disasters

The Met office has officially declared January the coldest on record since 2010 as average temperatures failed to rise above 2.2oC. For those of us who battled against the elements this news may come as no surprise, but did you know that freezing weather conditions can be ripe for plumbing disasters?

When the temperatures drop below freezing, the water within exposed or uninsulated pipework can freeze. In plumbing systems this can limit water supplies to taps, showers and toilet cisterns. In heating systems this can limit water supplies to your boiler or heat source. As an added complication, water expands when frozen, so this can lead to boiler damage, cracked or burst pipes and substantial leaks.

With the country still in the grips of a lockdown, you should know what to do if you need to wait for an emergency plumber to arrive. The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE) has offered the following advice for dealing with the havoc that sub-zero temperatures can cause:

  • If a pipe freezes or has burst, turn off the mains water supply at the stop-valve - often sited under the kitchen sink.
  • If there isn’t an internal valve or you don’t know where it is, turn off the water at the external valve - often found under a cover in your garden or path.
  • If the pipe is burst, you have turned off the mains water and the leak cannot be controlled immediately, open all COLD water taps and flush the WC so that the pipework and storage system drains quickly. DO NOT OPEN HOT TAPS.
  • If you have a frozen pipe running from a storage cistern (that is not controlled by a valve) and you suspect the pipe has split, you should empty the cold water storage cistern by opening the cold water on the bath, shower and taps - then call a professional plumber.
  • If any part of the hot water system is frozen or affected by a burst pipe, there could be a risk of explosion if the boiler (or other heat source) is kept alight, so ensure it is turned off, or for solid fuel systems, extinguish the fire. Switch off any electric immersion heater and then call a professional plumber.

Thawing pipes:

  • If your frozen pipe isn’t split, thaw it out slowly by applying hot water bottles.
  • Always start at the end closest to the tap.
  • Be careful - although water may be flowing from taps, other parts of the system may still be frozen.
  • Don’t try to thaw the pipe too quickly as there may be splits in the pipe which are not immediately noticeable.
  • Never use a naked flame to thaw a pipe.
  • Only ever attempt to thaw pipes that are easily accessible and/or at ground level. If you ever don’t feel competent thawing the pipe yourself, call in a professional.

Don’t have a regular engineer? You can find a plumbing and heating professional online at, by phoning 01708 472791 or emailing