Frozen Pipes & Water Leaks
In our recent article about the Top 10 Water Leak Causes, number 1 on that list was frozen water pipes. On this page we are going to look into that in some more detail to understand practical examples of what causes frozen pipe water leaks, what you can do to prevent them, what to do if your pipes are frozen and, finally, what to do if you have a leak from having frozen pipes.
The image above is of a copper pipe which split, causing a leak, because of having frozen pipes. As you can see, it is quite a dramatic split and caused a major water leak. A frozen pipe like that, which has thawed and runs water out is almost like having a hosepipe running in your walls, floors or ceiling. In fact, using our water leak calculator, if you select ‘fast spray’ (50% if normal flow – best estimate for this) and ‘medium’ water pressure of 12 litres per minute.
That adds up to:
- 6 litres of water leaking per minute
- 360 litres of water leaking per hour
- 8,640 litres of water leaking per day!
- To put that into perspective, that is an estimated 100 bath tubs of water
- At typical water meter cost prices that is over £12 of water a day
You can see why, if you don’t catch such a leak early it can cause major water damage to your property and especially with things like loft tank leaks, which is not surprising given the amount of water involved. In some instances, frozen pipes can cause connections or joints between pipes to sheer completely which leaves you exposed to the full mains flow of water.
How to Spot Frozen Pipes
On our page about the Top 10 Signs of a Water Leak, we looked at some of the common warning signs that you may have a water leak and, if you have a water leak from frozen pipes, they all apply too. However, one of those things on that list (reduced water pressure) can be an early warning of pipes becoming frozen. Why?…
As pipes start to freeze, ice that has formed in the pipes can either cause blockages or reduce the diameter of the pipe inside, both of which can reduce flow to your taps. So if it is freezing weather and you notice this, be aware that your pipes might be starting to freeze.
We discuss this in our guide to a leak between meter and house on your land.
Winter Storms & Frozen Pipes
On the subject of cold weather, when you get a particularly bad winter storm, such as the Beast from the East, over a few days with especially cold temperatures, frozen pipe leaks are much more common, especially as the pipes thaw leaving otherwise sealed (by the ice) cracks or splits to allow water to run out of them.
This data below from google trends shows this for the infamous and unprecedented winter storms that struck the USA in early 2021, with Texas being particularly badly hit.
As you can see above, the amount of people searching on google for information about frozen pipes peaked at the same time as people searching for information about the winter storms. Also, it was a sudden spike, which is what you tend to see with frozen pipes, leaks from them often happen suddenly, and then reduce as weather warms up back to more normal conditions.
As you might expect, demand for water leak experts such as ourselves surges during this time and people can often get booked out and loss adjusters will be busy too. We are not only helping finding leaks locally but in providing the water damage restoration work afterwards. The two things often go hand in hand.
As we always say, if you have a water leak or water damage, get help quickly so you can get the problem focused on ASAP. Our trained technicians are experienced at helping to minimise the damage from such an incident. That can be harder in extremely busy periods such as the Beast from the East or other cold weather events which cause frozen pipe water leaks, keeping disaster restoration businesses busy.
How to Find a Frozen Pipe?
Once you believe you have a frozen pipe, the question is then how to find it. This is not always a simple task, however, there are ways that you can narrow down where it is likely to be.
Clearly every situation is unique depending on the property, how it is laid out, how well it is insulated (including pipes themselves), levels of maintenance etc. However, these are some general things to consider when locating frozen pipes (if in doubt get help from a professional):
- A good place to start is to, one by one, open taps in different parts of your home to see which ones flow. At the same time, checking to see if they flow at regular speed or slower.
- If a tap does not come on at all then it is possible that the flow to it is blocked by frozen pipes.
- Naturally, if a tap flows as normal then it is not affected in the same way.
- Once you have done this around your property, it starts to build a picture of what is normal and what might be affected by frozen pipes.
- Clearly it helps if you know the direction and location of pipe runs in your house.
- This is where pipe locators can help to trace pipes around a property.
- Once you have this information, you can look at the areas feeding it as more likely culprits.
- It also helps to know where the mains water supply pipe comes into your property.
- Often this is close to where your internal stop tap is located.
- Remember to turn the taps off because, when blockages thaw, the water will start running again and you don’t want that problem!
- If all the taps do not work, it is possibly a frozen pipe supplying your house that is frozen.
- Remember this can be still your responsibility – see our guide on who is responsible for a water leak and how to report them if needed.
- It can be a good thing to check with neighbours to see if they are affected because then that might indicate that the frozen pipe is a mains one external to the property.
- However, be careful because, in some instances, both can be frozen.
- It’s worth saying that mains water pipes in the street are laid underground at a depth less likely to be affected by freezing conditions. They are affectively insulated by the ground.
- Exposed, uninsulated pipes are far more at risk of becoming frozen (more on this later)
- Naturally, these are then the areas to focus on, assuming you can access them.
- There isn’t a simple way to immediately locate a frozen pipe (unless you can actually see the damage) but hopefully the information above helps.
Do Frozen Pipes always Burst?
The simple answer is no, however, they are more at risk of a burst pipe. As you will likely know, when water freezes it expands. This puts pressure on the pipework surrounding it which, in some situations, will split (like the picture at the top of this page), crack, or sheer off sometimes.
If you believe that you have frozen pipes in your property, be alert and get help if needed. Clearly the longer the pipes are frozen, or the more of them that are affected, the higher the risk of a leak.
How to Defrost or Thaw a Frozen Pipe?
This is not necessarily as easy as you might think. Especially, as we said earlier, you might not be able to exactly locate where needs defrosting or thawing. Also, as we again said earlier, it is possible that it is not just one location that is affected it can be many. Plus, pipes may not always be accessible to do anything with them anyway. Generally pipes that are concealed (in walls and ceilings etc) are less likely to be frozen in a house, especially if it’s heated.
That said a few things to consider:
- Turning on taps (where possible) can sometimes help to reduce the pressure on pipes. That said, on the flip side…
- If you think you might have frozen pipe leak about to happen in your property, and are able to turn off your stop tap. Then in if you are correct, you are limiting the amount of water leaking.
- Do not try to thaw pipes too quickly with something dramatic like boiling hot water, a heat gun or even a blow torch. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the sudden temperature change / shock can actually cause damage itself.
- Related to that previous point, when frozen pipes thaw naturally or slowly (perhaps being aided by warming a property up or better weather). It is possible that you can check that things are back to normal more easily and gradually – including checking for the signs of a water leak.
- As we will discuss in the next section, having a warm, well insulated home and pipes can prevent frozen pipes. You may be able to warm your property (assuming it wasn’t already) to prevent pipes that are starting to freeze getting worse.
As we have said when talking about other things on this site, prevention is often better than cure. So lets look at…
Increased risks of Frozen Pipes?
We mentioned the Texas Winter Storms of 2021 earlier. One of the things that made that far worse from a frozen pipe perspective is that:
- It is very unusual to have those conditions in Texas
- Accordingly, properties in that area would likely be less well insulated
- This makes them more vulnerable to frozen pipes
- To make it even worse, there were power cuts, affecting heating etc.
- All these things combined made it very difficult for people in that area
- You can see below from google trends that it all happened together…
How do you Prevent Frozen Pipes?
Here are some tips to consider to potentially help reduce the risk:
- Try to keep your property warm during bad cold snaps
- Make sure your heating, like combi boilers is maintained for when needed!
- Have a back-up heater in case of emergency
- Consider having an electric heater ready if you normally use gas
- Think about having heating on longer or permanently
- This includes overnight (even if that is at a lower temperature than usual)
- Make sure that your pipework is insulated, especially in exposed areas
- The same goes for you home – to prevent cold and maintain heat
- This also includes unattended or empty houses wherever possible
- Consider turning off your water at the stop tap if you are away
- Empty houses that are unheated are far more at risk
- Sometimes people drain water from their system in empty houses
- On top of that, you are less likely to spot the leak early
- Make sure other areas holding water are insulated (e.g. water tank in loft)
- Try to run taps regularly to reduce the risk of freezing pipes
- Some people even keep their taps trickling (be aware of the cost of this)
- Try to keep warm air circulating around your property
- This includes areas such as garages, cupboards and lofts where pipes are
- Related to that, keeping internal doors open in your home could help
- Clearly, try to keep cold air from entering your home (doors & windows)
- Keep checking taps etc around your house regularly
One thing to remember about frozen pipes, linked to number 11 on the list above is that insurance policies may have a clause with exclusions for certain things when houses are unattended, because of the increased risks this can bring. Some insurance companies also have additional cover for this, that said, in some instances this will have requirements too. Check with your insurer.
On the topic of frozen pipes, we have a similar guide to condensation on pipes. And also, when detecting water leaks from frozen pipes water leak sensors can be useful, plus our thoughts on central heating leak sealers and a useful Boiler Pressure Lowers tool.
Are Frozen Pipes Covered by Insurance?
As we have said elsewhere, water leaks (often called ‘Escape of Water’ by insurance companies) are one of the most common claims people make on their insurance. We have a separate guide on how to claim for a water leak on home insurance which gives more information on this. As we say in that guide, exactly what you are covered for will depend on your individual policy so, if you want information on that, speak to your insurer. Also remember to check if you have trace and access cover (which can be an extra on your home insurance) too as that could cover the cost of finding and fixing your water leak as well as the damage that your regular policy covers you for.
Is a frozen pipe an emergency?
A frozen pipe can be an emergency as, quite often, frozen pipes can cause damage, breaks and cracks to pipes as the ice expands and the damage can be significant. This in turn means that, when the ice melts, that water can run freely and cause significant water damage to your property, depending on where it is located too. There may be more than one leak too so be extra vigilant during this time!