Frozen pipes are something you definitely don’t need in winter. Here we look at ways to stop your pipes from freezing and how to thaw them if they do freeze.

Why do pipes freeze?

Your pipes usually have a small amount of water in them, even when the taps aren’t turned on. This water can freeze when the temperature drops. Frozen pipes can leave you without running water. And they’re at risk of bursting and flooding your home.

How to thaw frozen pipes

If your water pipes have burst, turn off the stop cock and contact a qualified plumber. Get in touch with your water supplier if you don’t know where your stop cock is.

If your pipes are only frozen, you could try defrosting them yourself. Make sure you’re safe before you do any work. If you’re not confident, get in touch with a plumber.

Turning on the taps

  1. Turning on the taps in your home helps to relieve the pressure on the system. And it can show you where the frozen pipe(s) are.
  2. If water doesn’t come out of several taps, you should call a plumber to investigate. But if the problem affects only one tap, you may choose to sort out the frozen pipe yourself.
  3. Outside pipes or pipes in unheated places like attics are most likely to freeze. You may be able to work back from the affected tap to find the section that needs thawing.

Warming pipes by turning up the heat

If you’re not sure where the frozen pipe is or it’s not easy to access it:

  1. Try turning up your heating. Increasing the air temperature in your home can be enough to thaw affected pipes.
  2. Open up cupboards and loft hatches to let the warm air circulate around your pipes.
  3. You could use a portable heater for unheated internal areas like garages or lofts. If you do use a space heater, don’t leave it unattended

Applying heat to frozen pipes

  1. For an exposed pipe, you can try applying heat to the pipe itself.
  2. First feel along the pipe until you find the frozen section.
  3. You need to warm the pipe slowly. Try using a hairdryer. If you’re not able to plug one in, you could wrap a warm cloth around the frozen section of the pipe instead.
  4. Do not use a direct flame like a blow torch. You could boil the water, causing your pipes to explode, or melt the pipe itself.

Avoiding frozen pipes

If cold weather’s on the way, it’s worth taking some simple steps to prevent your pipes from freezing:

  • Insulate pipes and water tanks
    Wrap pipes in cold areas with pipe sponge covers. Insulate any water tanks, especially in colder places like the loft.
  • Leave your heating on
    Set your thermostat at 12-15C when you're away from the property. This keeps the air inside warm to help stop internal pipes from freezing.
  • Open cabinet doors and loft hatches
    Allow warm air to circulate around pipes under sinks or in the attic.
  • Run your taps
    It's harder for water to freeze if it's running, so turn your taps on and off regularly. Or let your taps trickle so water is always passing. If you’re on a water meter, make sure you keep an eye on your usage if you do this.
  • Drain your water system
    If you know you'll be away in colder weather, think about draining the water from your system completely.

Our water hub has useful articles about your water and plumbing. There's water saving advice, and you can also find out what to do if you have a mains water leak.