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How to prevent frozen pipes and bursts in unoccupied homes

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October 18, 2023
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An unoccupied home is more vulnerable than a home that is lived in, especially during the winter months when plummeting temperatures can cause frozen pipes and bursts.

Last year was one of the worst on record for insurance claims caused by “freezing events” in unoccupied homes, according to Chelsea Shakespeare from insurance experts Adrian Flux. Here the household insurance team provides some advice on preventing frozen pipes and what you can do if they do freeze.

frozen pipes

Five tips to avoid freezing pipes in your unoccupied home

If cold weather is forecast it makes sense to take some simple precautions to prevent your pipes from freezing:

1. Insulate pipes and water tanks

Wrap outside pipes and those in colder areas of the home with insulation. Insulate water tanks, especially those in colder places like the loft.

2. Leave the heating on

If it’s feasible, set your thermostat to 15C. This keeps the air inside warm to help stop internal pipes from freezing. Open cabinet doors and loft hatches to allow warm air to circulate around pipes under sinks or in the loft.

3. Turn taps on regularly

If your home is to be unoccupied during a big freeze, arrange for someone to visit regularly to turn the taps on. It’s harder for water to freeze if it’s running.

4. Isolate outside water supplies

If you do have exposed pipework and outside taps consider having isolators fitted inside the home so you can turn off the supply before a big freeze. Better still, only turn the supply on when you are actually using exterior taps.

frozen pipes

5. Drain the water system

If you know your home will be unoccupied in cold weather, think about draining the water system. Read our useful blog on whether you should turn the utility services off when a home is left unoccupied.

What to do if your water pipes freeze

If your pipes do freeze there is a risk they may burst or joints rupture. If a pipe has burst, turn off the supply at the stop cock and contact a qualified plumber. Visit the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering to find a plumber in your area.

If your pipes are only frozen but there are no leaks it’s still advisable to get a professional in, but you could try defrosting them yourself.

How to defrost frozen pipes

Turn on the taps to relieve pressure on the water system. It will also indicate which pipe is frozen.

If water doesn’t come out of several taps, you should call a plumber but if only one tap is affected, you can probably tackle this yourself.

Outside pipes or those in unheated places such as lofts are more vulnerable to freezing temperatures. You may be able to work back from the affected tap to find the section that you will need to thaw.

If you’re not sure where the frozen pipe is or it’s not easy to get to, turn up the heating. Increasing the air temperature by a few degrees may thaw affected pipes.

Open cupboards and loft hatches to let the warm air circulate around all pipework. To speed the process you could use a portable heater for unheated internal areas such as the garage or loft. If you have identified the pipe that is frozen a hair dryer could be enough to thaw it.

frozen pipes

When does an empty home become considered as unoccupied?

If your home is to be left unoccupied for an extended period read our blog outlining 12 jobs you must do before leaving your property empty.

Most insurance policies regard a property as being unoccupied if it is to be left empty for 30 days or more, but it’s a good idea to check on your policy document.

Great insurance, whatever the weather

If your home is to be left empty for an extended period it should be protected by specialist unoccupied home insurance. Call Adrian Flux on 0800 369 8590 for a rapid and hassle free quote – alternatively book a callback at a time that suits you. If you so think you need to make a claim after your pipes have frozen, check the terms and conditions of your insurance as they all differ slightly and could be the difference between a paid and un-paid claim.

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