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How to avoid cold weather plumbing problems: getting your outdoor space winter-ready

Cold weather can create major issues for plumbing, but preventative measures can significantly minimise the risks

As we stand on the cusp of winter there’s one thing we know; the weather is only going to get colder and with cold weather comes the risk of freezing and flooding. Obviously we can’t eradicate all risk but there are a number of things that you can do now to make sure you’re prepared for the cold weather coming and significantly reduce the risk of something going wrong.

The best thing is, they’re mostly very easy things so you will definitely be feeling smug in deepest winter when you avoid the frozen pipes and boiler breakdowns that come with plunging temperatures.

Protect your plumbing pipes

Frozen pipes are one of the biggest issues when the temperature dips below zero. Lagging outdoor pipes with insulated foam will afford them protection against freezing temperatures. External pipes that are frozen up mean that water backs up indoors and can cause flooding. Frozen water also expands, potentially causing joints to distort and pipes to burst. If you have already lagged your pipes previously, just check that it’s still OK as the lagging does deteriorate over time. It’s worth refreshing it each winter and is inexpensive to do. You can buy lagging from any DIY store.

Obviously outdoor pipes are vulnerable to the cold but so are pipes in any unheated areas, for example in cellars, so give some attention to those as well.

Protect outdoor taps

If you have an outdoor tap, check to see whether it has an isolated shut off valve. You’re unlikely to need water outside over the winter so if it can be isolated, turn it off and drain the water from the pipes by opening the tap. This means there’s no water in the pipe to freeze and cause problems. Likewise, if you have a garden hose connected to the tap, drain as much of the water from it as you can, disconnect the hose and put it away in a garage or shed for the winter.

If you can’t isolate the outdoor tap it may be worth having a Surestop (remote stop tap) installed that would allow you to do that.

Protect your condensate pipe

Your condensate pipe is the pipe that runs from your boiler to outside the property to expel moisture created in the system. If this freezes up it can cause your boiler to breakdown at a time when you most need it. Again, this can largely be prevented by lagging the external part of the pipe. In very cold weather it’s worth just keeping an eye on it and, where necessary, warming it through using warm water or a hot water bottle.

Protect your drains

A common cause of flooding is drains being blocked and therefore unable to cope with large amounts of water, such as excessive rain or melting snow/frozen water. Before winter sets in just double check your drains and make sure they’re clear of leaves and other debris. If any grates are damaged, get them replaced or repaired as these prevent larger items getting into the drains that can block them.

Likewise, blocked guttering can lead to water build up or leaks so get that cleared out as well.

This is something you need to keep on top of regularly, especially over the autumn while leaves are still falling. Just check your drains periodically and sweep excess leaves and debris from surrounding areas. If you are concerned there may be blockages further down the drain due to water backing up, we would recommend having some drain investigations done before winter weather kicks in.

Why bother doing any of these things?

All these things are pretty easy and inexpensive to do and you could probably get them all done in a day but if you’re one of those people who prefer to wing it through and don’t really worry about this stuff you may be absolutely fine and get through the winter unscathed. However, is it worth the risk when it’s so easy to be prepared? Burst pipes and flooding can cause significant damage, both inside and outside the home, and a boiler breakdown in freezing temperatures is no fun for anyone. Not only does a little bit of forward planning help avoid these problems but consider how difficult it can be to get a plumber out when cold weather is causing the same issues on a large scale across the region. Prevention is always better than the cure.

If you need any assistance with proactive measures such as replacing a grate, drain investigations or installation of a Surestop please give us a call on 0800 032 6478 or send us a message. If not, we’ll probably see you in January...

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