How to protect your water pipes

Updated on 27 November 2014

As the weather turns cold, we need to do more to protect our water pipes.

Why you need to protect your pipes

Burst pipes, which come under the umbrella of “escape of water” claims, are most common over the colder months. During the worst part of the cold spell in 2010, insurers dealt with 3,500 claims for burst pipe damage every day, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

And we could do more to protect ourselves from having to make a claim.

Research by CCWater reveals that in 2013 only 46% of water customers took action to avoid frozen pipes, down from 55% in 2012. Young people aged between 24 and 35 were most at risk of problems, while one in five hadn’t a clue what to do if the pipes in their home froze.

Insulate your pipes and water tanks

Not only will it protect your pipes from bursting when the weather gets cold, but it will also save you money on your energy bills!

You can get supplies from DIY shops or online. Be sure to wrap bends or hard to reach sections of pipe with securely fixed strips of insulation.

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Find the stop tap

Find the stop tap; it’ll be below the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters your property. It controls the water supply going into your home, so you'll need to be able to turn it off if there are any problems.

There's a nice video on the Thames Water website about how to find and use your stop tap.

You should also insulate outside taps or turn them off at the stopcock and drain the water from them.

Repair dripping taps

Make sure you repair any dripping taps or overflows as even small build-ups of ice can cause blockages.

Get contact details of a good local plumber

If disaster strikes, you want to know that a good plumber is on hand to come help. There are plenty of sites which can help you find recommended tradesmen in your local area, such as and the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors.

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Leave the heating on

Leave your heating on low (10-15C depending on your insurance policy) if you go away for a few days and set it to come on at least once a day. Ask a friend or relative to visit your home every day so that if a pipe bursts, it’ll be detected as soon as possible, minimising damage.

Make sure you have insurance

It’s also vital that you look at your home insurance before the really chilly weather starts to kick in. Check it to make sure it covers everything you may need, particularly if your policy is a bit cheaper than most.

If the worst is to happen, building insurance will cover the cost of the pipe itself while contents insurance will cover any damaged items in your home.

For those of you who rent, your buildings insurance should be taken care of by your landlord but it’s a good idea to have contents insurance in place for yourself as well. 

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I have a frozen pipe!

If you do discover a frozen pipe, deal with it as quickly as you can.

First of all, find your stopcock and turn it off, then make sure any nearby cold taps are turned on to let water escape when it thaws. Don’t turn any hot taps on until the central heating is switched off. 

As for your possessions, move or cover anything which could get damaged if the pipe bursts when the water thaws.

After that, check all visible pipes for damage or signs of freezing. If you can pinpoint the frozen pipe, lay a hot water bottle or a hot wet towel on it. You could also warm it with a hairdryer if there’s an electrical point within reach.

If you notice a leak once the water has thawed and pressure in the pipe has built up again, turn off the stopcock and call your plumber.

Making an insurance claim

It’s wise to contact your insurer as soon as possible. Some have a 24-hour emergency line which you can call in this type of situation.

Double check what you’ll need to support your claim such as photographs of damage or receipts for plumbing repairs or decorating.

A loss adjuster will be in touch within 24 hours (be prepared to wait longer if it’s a particularly cold time of year) to assess the damage and in extreme cases, arrange alternative accommodation.

After they’ve done their initial assessment, they should be able to give you a rough timeline detailing what needs to be done to restore your home, who will do it and how long it will take.

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