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WRAS busts Winter plumbing myths

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With the winter weather firmly upon us, homeowners are advised to prepare their home’s plumbing in order to prevent potential damage to their house.

Frozen and burst water pipes can cause flooding, thousands of pounds worth of damage and leave homes without water for drinking, cooking and washing.

Many plumbing myths frequently circulate in the winter months, however, following these misconceptions could cause serious damage or prolong repairs.

The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) has busted these common myths and shared straightforward advice to ensure homes are winter-ready:

Myth #1: Turn your heating off if you go away

Many of us will be away visiting family over the Christmas period. It might be tempting to turn off the heating in your home to save money whilst you’re not there, but if your house will be empty it’s best to leave your heating on low – about 14 degrees centigrade. Without your heating warming up the pipes, the cold weather could cause them to freeze and burst If you’re going to be away for a longer period, turn off your water supply and drain the system.

If you have a newer high efficiency or combi-boiler don’t forget the condensate pipes as well; if these freeze, the boiler will stop working. If the condensate pipes empty outside, make sure they are protected too. The boiler industry recommends 19mm of class ‘O’ grade waterproof insulation. Details can be found on the HHIC website – installation https://www.hhic.org.uk/resources/2 and how to thaw https://www.hhic.org.uk/resources/5.

Myth #2: Copper pipes are more likely to freeze than plastic ones

When it comes to the materials of your pipes, many will tell you that one material is better than others, for example, copper versus plastic. However, the type of material doesn’t have a significant impact on whether something will freeze. The volume of water within the pipe and temperature is more significant. Insulating all pipework is important, particularly outside taps and pipes in unheated areas like attics, garages and outbuildings, as this can help prevent them from freezing and bursting.

WRAS has a handy app, to help calculate water insulation you should use: https://www.wras.co.uk/consumers/resources/tools/pipe_insulation_tool/

Myth #3: Dripping taps don’t matter

It’s important to repair leaky taps as soon as you discover them; just by fixing a dripping tap you could save 5,500 litres of water a year and around £18 a year if you are on a meter. Dripping taps can also lead to frozen drains or pipes, as the slow trickling of water means it’s far more likely to freeze.

Myth #4: You can thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame

If the weather is freezing and there’s no water coming out of your tap, this indicates frozen pipes and means you should call a plumber straight away. Attempting to thaw frozen pipes with a flame is very dangerous and can damage the pipe. They also won’t necessarily thaw with a rise in temperature; frozen water will expand, so leaving the situation unfixed could cause flooding. If a water pipe bursts, turn off the water at the stopcock and leave taps open until it is thawed, or repairs are completed by an Approved Plumber.

Slowly thaw the pipe with hot water bottles or a hairdryer on a warm setting. Never use a naked flame or blowtorch to thaw the pipe.

Myth #4: Most plumbing work can be DIY’ed

During the run-up to Christmas, many people may find their wallets a bit stretched, leaving little left over for paying contractors to fix a plumbing issue. Whilst completing a DIY job might be tempting in this situation, it is quite common for these attempts to cause even bigger problems for a plumber to fix, costing you more time and money in the long run. To make sure the job is done right the first time, it is easier to simply call an approved plumber to avoid any mishaps. You can find a directory of fully qualified plumbers near you at www.watersafe.org.uk.

Julie Spinks, managing director of WRAS, said: “With winter upon us, many theories will be flying around about how to prevent or fix frozen pipes and ways to save money during the long winter months.

“However, following some straightforward tips and being prepared for the colder weather is the best way to prevent these issues. If you need help insulating pipes or fixing leaks, always use an approved, qualified plumber to ensure the job is done safely and in line with UK water regulations.”

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