A burst pipe is any homeowner’s worst nightmare. For most it will be something they never have to face, as it can be prevented with sensible precautions like leaving some heat on when the house is empty in winter. Even so, according to the Association of British Insurers, the industry pays out around £2.5 million a year in claims for water damage caused by burst pipes. So if you should be faced with a burst pipe, what do you need to know in order to minimize the damage and get things back on track?
Turn the Water Off
If you are unlucky enough to come home to a burst pipe, knowing what to do can help minimize the damage to your house and décor. The first thing to do is turn off the water supply. There will usually be a stop tap under the sink or wherever the mains supply pipe enters your home. If the leak is coming from a pipe fed via a cold water tank in the loft, this will usually have its own separate isolator valve. You should also turn off your heating boiler and/or immersion heater. If electrical sockets or appliances are wet, turn off the power at the mains. Make sure everyone in the house knows where the stop tap is located in case of an emergency.
Clear the Water
You need to get rid of any water that has leaked out as quickly as possible to avoid further damage. Place a bucket or bowl under anywhere that it’s still dripping. You can soak small amounts of water up with old towels. In the case of severe bursts, submersible pumps can be used to clear excess water from ground floors or cellars.
If you have a pipe that is still frozen you can do some things to minimize the damage when it thaws. Turn off the stop tap as above, and then open the tap that’s fed by the frozen pipe so the water drains away once it starts to thaw. Make sure you position a container directly under the damaged area, as there will be some leakage. You can then start to thaw the pipe gently using a hairdryer or a hot water bottle. Don’t be tempted to use an extreme heat source like a blowtorch: if you try this, you’ll end up doing more damage by thawing it too quickly.
If the burst isn’t severe, it may be possible to make a temporary repair by binding a pipe with tape or using a sealant, but this shouldn’t be seen as a permanent solution. Call a plumber as soon as possible in order to get a proper repair carried out and prevent problems in future.
Not having a burst pipe in the first place is, of course, the best solution, and there are some simple things you can do to prevent it from happening. Firstly, make sure that your loft and any water tanks and pipes in there are properly insulated. Don’t insulate under tanks – this ensures that they can benefit from heat rising from below. In very cold weather, you should leave the loft hatch ajar so that heat from the house can get into the loft and prevent freezing.
Attend to any dripping taps – they’ll block the pipe they’re attached to if they freeze. You’ll also save water by ensuring your taps don’t drip. Similarly, make sure that any overflows from header tanks and toilet systems aren’t running.
If you’re going away in winter, leave your heating on low in order to protect your property. Modern boilers usually come with a frost protection setting that will turn them on if the temperature drops to where freezing is a possibility. If you’re away for some time, it’s also a good idea to get a friend or neighbour to drop in occasionally and make sure that everything is all right.