Renfrewshire Council

Frozen pipes

During cold weather, the pipes in your home may freeze for a number of reasons.

The most common causes are:

  • Poorly protected pipes that haven't been properly insulated.
  • Exposure to icy draughts, usually as a result of cracks or gaps at the point where the pipe enters your home.
  • Pipes inside cupboards: Warm air from inside your home may not reach these pipes if your cupboard doors are closed.

Pipes don't usually burst at the spot where an ice blockage occurs. Pipes usually burst:

  • When water freezes and expands inside your household pipes.
  • When freezing and expansion of water in the pipe causes pressure to build between the ice blockage and the closed faucet.
  • As a result of repeated pressure on this section of pipe, the pipe eventually bursts.

How to prevent frozen pipes

Get insulated
Insulate your loft and the sides of your water tanks. To prevent your pipes bursting, wrap them in lagging (a foam material that insulates and reinforces them).

Keep the cold out
Most modern boilers have a frost protection thermostat which turns on automatically if the temperature drops to a level that will cause your pipes to freeze. Check this is working properly.

In very cold weather, you'll need to leave your heating on a low setting (or set it to come on a couple of times a day), especially if you're going on holiday for longer than a day or two.

Find your stopcock
Make sure you know where your home's stopcock is. Check that you can turn it off easily in an emergency.

Check pipes regularly
If you're going away for a while, ask a friend or relative to check your home regularly to make sure that your pipes haven't burst or frozen.

Maintenance is key
Make sure to re-washer any dripping taps; if they freeze, they'll block your pipes.

Think you have a frozen pipe?

If you're without water check if your neighbours are also affected. If they are, the problem is probably the mains supply and you'll need to contact your water company.

If you're the only one without water, you probably have a frozen pipe. It's important to try and defrost this as quickly as possible as the expansion of the water could cause the pipe to burst, leading to thawed water leaking from the break.

Defrosting the pipe

Step 1: Identify the blockage
If one of your pipes is frozen, you'll need to find out where the blockage is before taking action.

Do this by:

  • Looking for evidence of freezing along the pipes.
  • Using your hands to feel along the pipe until you reach a section that feels colder than the rest.

Remember, during very cold weather, you may find multiple frozen areas within one pipe. This is especially common in exposed sections of pipe (such as pipes exposed to draughts or where a pipe enters your home).

Step 2: Protect your possessions
If a pipe is frozen, protect everything around it to avoid any damage if it bursts. Move smaller items out of the way and cover up larger items.

Step 3: Turn off the stop tap
Turn off the main stop tap. You should find this under the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters your home. If you have a cold water tank, turn off the stopcock (this is usually found in the attic or loft).

Step 4: Run the closest tap
Open the cold tap closest to the part of the pipe that's frozen. This will allow the water to flow away when it melts.

Step 5: Start defrosting
Using a hairdryer, carefully thaw the ice in the pipe (starting at the tap end and working backwards towards the cold water tank). Take care as the pipe could burst at any time and spray water as it starts to thaw.

If you don't own a hairdryer you can slowly thaw out the frozen section by covering it with hot water bottles or heat packs.

Never use a naked flame or a heat gun to thaw out ice as this could damage your pipes and creates a fire hazard.

Step 6: Check pipe for damage
Once you've thawed out your pipes, check them thoroughly for any signs of damage or leaking. If the pipes have been damaged, you will need to call out an emergency plumber.

Step 7: Turn on the taps
Once the blockage has thawed, turn your stop tap and stopcock back on and run water until normal flow is restored.

What if the pipe has burst?

If a frozen pipe does burst, it's important to know the best way to remove the water and sort out any damage to your home and possessions.

Check your insurance policy
Check your insurance policy as soon as possible, as this may cover the costs of alternative accommodation for you and your family (if necessary).

Drying out your home
Dry out any affected rooms by keeping doors and windows open (where possible) and leaving your heating on. Leave cupboard drawers and doors open to allow them to dry more quickly and consider hiring a de-humidifier, which will help to dry out the room further.

Keep any damaged items
Don't immediately throw away any water-damaged possessions, as your insurance company may need to take a look at them. Store everything together in a dry place.

Share this page: