The Public Liability Insurance Blog

Winter is coming: Frozen pipes

Some might argue that actually, 2012 decided to skip Autumn completely and dive straight into the thick of winter, but regardless, there is no doubt that it is indeed getting colder. With dropping temperature comes the looming threat that your water pipes will freeze up, split and cause damage and general frustration.

Frozen Wherever you work, you may need to take special attention of your water pipes. If you’re a landlord, you might want to review your property portfolio and if you run an office, a shop or a pub, it can be worth double checking your pipes too as they won’t always be installed with the same care and attention as they are in residential properties.


Pipes burst due to freezing in two main ways.

  • Direct

When water freezes, it expands. If water expands in a pipe, it can force that pipe open which then understandably becomes a major issue when it thaws out and allows water to run freely from the split.

This reason for pipes splitting is actually the least common, but it is the one that everyone assumes is the main issue.

  • Indirect

Most of the time, pipes do not burst where the freezing occurs. Instead, it is more common for the frozen water to cause a blockage and slowly increase the pressure between the blockage and the tap on the other end. This increase in pressure may not seem like much, but it is enough to split the pipe where it is weakest and this often happens where little or no ice has actually formed.

What to watch out for

Any pipe that is exposed to cold air will be vulnerable to freezing as the weather draws in. Watch for pipes that go outside of the building’s insulation, pipes that go through attics, or pipes that go outside of the building completely.

How to deal with it

Radiator with a scarfPrevention: Stopping the pipes from freezing in the first place should be your first priority. If you are at the stage of deciding where to put water pipes and have some choices in front of you, try to keep them going through heated spaces wherever possible.

It’s more likely that the pipes are already in place and in this case, plumbers might be able to redirect them through heated spaces or at the very least coat them with insulated cladding of some description.

Making sure you’re covered from burst pipes as part of your business insurance is a good step to take as well. This could save you some significant financial hardship further down the line and is easy to check.

If you are going away for a long period of time, it’s frustrating to do, but you could drain your water system. This will prevent any nasty surprises waiting for you when you get home. Leaving the heating on a low heat is also sometimes a good idea.

The simplest thing you can do to try and prevent the damage is actually to leave a tap dripping slightly. Although it won’t prevent the pipe from freezing, if the tap is at least a little bit opened, there will be somewhere for the water to go if a blockage forms further up the pipe. This will just take the stress off the system making it less likely to split.

Damage control: If it’s too late to take preventative measures, there are a few things that you can do to fix the problem.

It is obviously important to turn the water off before you do anything else and in all circumstances, unless you are a trained plumber yourself (in which case shame on you for your pipes freezing in the first place!) it’s best to call out a professional as soon as possible.

Some people recommend that you can thaw any blockages that form with a hairdryer, but extra care should be taken, as water and electricity do not play well together. It also should go without saying that you should never try and thaw your pipes with an open flame as this can be a rather significant fire risk.

YOUR Insurance specialises in public liability insurance for small and medium sized businesses involved in several trades and professions. You can compare quotes for your business online, or call one of our advisors on 0800 107 8949.