As autumn turns into winter, we don't think twice about opting for warmer clothing such as coats and scarves to protect ourselves from the cold winter weather. However, what you may not realise is that when the temperature drops, it also pays to consider how to guard your home's plumbing and pipework against the damaging effects of the cold. As well as the inconvenience that frozen pipes can cause to plumbing systems, some appliances can also be very badly damaged by cold weather and with forecasters predicting that the 2015/2016 winter will be one of the snowiest ever, there's really no better time to start protecting your pipework!
Whenever you have exposed or uninsulated water pipes running through an area of your home which is not insulated, there is the risk of the water inside freezing in cold weather. This can include pipework in your normal living areas when you switch off the central heating due to going away on holiday, however, pipes running through garages, lofts and roof spaces , under suspended wooden floors on the ground floor, cellars and outbuildings are at the greatest risk. The pipes may belong to your central heating system, hot and cold water pipework to taps on basins, baths, showers, WCs, sinks etc or boiler condensate pipes.
How to stop pipes from freezing
The best method is to try and make sure that pipes do not run through an unheated area first, although this will not always be possible. If you're going away for a short period of time, consider leaving your heating system on a timed function and set it to the lowest temperature on the thermostat. For longer periods, consider draining down the water from the various systems. An APHC member can do this and can meet you on your return to refill your systems. Pipe insulation will help to slow down freezing but won't prevent it alone. To prevent pipes freezing extra methods need to be used.
Similar to room thermostats, frost thermostats are another device that can be used to prevent the boiler and central heating pipes from freezing in cold weather. These work by measuring and sending the temperature of the air around the boiler back to a controller to turn on the boiler at low temperatures. However, bear in mind that this method offers no protection to the hot and cold water pipes.
This involves an electrical cable attached to a pipe which is then wired to a transformer and attached to the electricity supply. The pipe and cable are then covered in pipe insulation and the cable is turned on and off by an external frost thermostat, normally when the temperature falls below 2.5˚C - 3˚C. This is effectively placing the pipe in its own mini electric blanket so that it is warm enough not to freeze but not warm enough to heat water above 2.5˚C.
Condensing boilers can make about 1 litre of condensate water in an hour. Should these pipes freeze it can cause problems for the boiler and in some circumstances severely damage the appliance. There are several methods to prevent the condensate pipes from freezing;
•Increase the size of the pipe from 20mm to 32 or 40mm.
•Fit high grade pipe insulation to the pipes.
•As a last measure, fit trace heating to the pipes.
If the condensing boiler has stopped working and the outside temperature has dropped below 0˚C then there's a chance that the condensate pipe has frozen. If this has happened then phone a GasSafe Registered engineer to rectify it.
While protecting exposed water and central heating pipes from freezing will cause costs to be incurred initially, with frost thermostats and trace heating making systems more expensive to operate, it will certainly pay off in the long run to protect your pipes when it's feeling frosty outside
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