Plumbing & Heating – Winter Tips

A Guide To Getting Ready For Winter

Winter time is the worst time of year to be unprepared.

The weather boffins are reporting that ‘the big freeze’ is just around the corner, with some sources even saying that the UK could be in for up to 19 long days of snow and strong winds.

With that in mind, the last thing you want to be worrying about at this time of year is whether it’s your turn to become the unfortunate victim of an unexpected plumbing problem, the kind that always seems to occur as a result of frozen pipework or clogged up drains.

To help you to steer clear of these unwelcome and annoying scenarios, I’ve put together a list of some top winter plumbing tips to help you avoid the stresses and strains they bring and to hopefully give you the goods to help your home function smoothly until springtime.

PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST FROZEN PIPEWORK

At the risk of stating the ‘radiator bleeding’ obvious, temperatures drop considerably in winter, and as the mercury struggles to rise, water inside your pipework can easily freeze causing burst pipes that can lead to massive home floods and untold amounts of damage to your furniture and the things you love the most.

To try and limit the possibility of this happening, it’s a good idea to get your pipes a jacket of foam insulation.

Pipe insulation

You can purchase foam tubes – the kind with a slit on the side – from most hardware stores. Cut the foam to the required length, pull it open and wrap it round your pipework.

Some brands have a self-adhesive edge, but don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on that kind; just use duct tape or gaffer tape to secure it in place.

This should help to insulate the pipes against any severe drop in temperature and prevent you coming home from work to a scene more akin to something from the Poseidon Adventure.

Sorted!

DON’T CLOG YOUR DRAINS AND GUTTERS

Clogged drains are a common feature of most family homes – I should know, I live with three women and there isn’t a week that goes by in which I am not pulling a soggy Chewbacca-like clump of hair from my bathroom waste.

Couple that with all of the leaves that congregate in my garden and I am in a constant battle – both inside and out – to keep my drains clean and clear pretty much all the time.

How have I survived this long?

Autumn leaves

If your gutters begin to collect too much debris when the temperature drops, ice can begin to form and this can lead to untold damage and even potential breaks to the guttering itself.

Leaves truly are the biggest pain of my life in winter, the sheer amount of them that I have falling into my garden makes it virtually impossible to keep my drains clear.

My advice to anyone that suffers with the build-up of leaves and plant debris is to make sure you clear out your guttering before the temperature drops below freezing and be sure to invest in some gutter guards to help prevent your drains from getting clogged.

DON’T NEGLECT OUTDOOR SPIGOTS AND HOSES

Make sure that garden hoses have been unattached before the cold weather sets in and close the shut off valve on all the pipes that lead to any outdoor spigots too.

bronze outdoor spigot

Though they are sure to thaw out when the weather begins to improve, it’s best to drain any residual water from hosepipes and spigots to protect them for when you’ll need them and don’t leave hosepipes attached to outdoor taps through winter – roll them up and stick them in the shed till springtime.

TAKE CARE WITH THAT CHRISTMAS COOKING

We’ve all done it, so don’t deny it, you know as well as I do that you are guilty of putting grease and oil and other stuff down the kitchen sink and through the disposal.

But, because of the cold, all of those things are much more likely to congregate and have a big greasy party in your plumbing during the winter months.

You should avoid pouring grease and oil down the drain when the temperature is lower as they are more likely to clog up the waste pipes and lead to nasty smells and backed up pipes.

Alongside avoiding oil and grease in your pipework, you should steer clear of putting hard to grind objects and stringy stuff down your waste disposal. Always run cold water through the system for a few seconds before and after each use, and make sure you turn the disposal on before you start filling it up with food debris.

ELIMINATE DRAFTS

Take the time to check around your home for areas where the water supply lines can be found in unheated places and take measures to prevent the flow of cold air into them.

A few examples of spaces like this are basements and cellars, crawl spaces, attics and garages and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

You should look to insulate both hot and cold pipes in these sorts of areas as the hot water supply line can freeze just as easily as the cold one if the water isn’t running through the pipe and the temperature drops suddenly.

IN A PLUMBING EMERGENCY

If your taps or faucets freeze –

  • Leave the doors of bathroom and kitchen cabinets open to allow more heat to get to your pipes.
  • If the temperature drops really low, run a little water from your taps every day – letting the water run into the sink slowly.
  • Be sure to heat every room of your home and don’t leave some rooms cold. Allowing heat to circulate freely throughout the house will minimise the risk of freezing pipework.

water being poured on a frozen pipe

If you get a cracked or burst pipe this winter –

  • First thing’s first, turn off the water at your main shut-off valve (stopcock), that way you won’t have problems when the ice melts.
  • Keep your taps and outlets open to help relieve pressure as the ice melts.
  • Use a hair dryer or a heat gun to thaw frozen pipework out.
  • DO NOT use blow torches or open flames to thaw pipes as this can lead to pipes cracking.

If your central heating is making noises that it doesn’t usually make, take a look at our blog on the main causes for central heating noise and you’ll soon get it back to normal.

Make sure you stay safe and sound this winter with your plumbing, cos let’s face it, this time of year is always a busy time for plumbers and the last thing you want is to have to call one out in the middle of the night.

It’s expensive and inconvenient, so the best thing for you, your family and everyone concerned, is to take the precautions now to protect yourself against most eventualities.

Just like that saying goes, if I remember rightly – “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” – never a truer word has been spoken.

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