Suddenly discovering your pipes have burst and you've got a flood of water in your home can be a nightmare scenario.
Read on to find out what to do when your water pipes burst, and what steps you can take to help prepare your pipes for the winter.
What do I do when my pipes burst?
If your pipes burst, one of the most important steps to take is to ensure that the water supply into your home is turned off.
You'll need to find the stopcock – or stop tap, as it's sometimes called – inside your home and turn it off. This will stop any more water from entering the pipes.
Next up, turn off your central heating system and boiler, including the immersion heater if you have one.
If the burst pipe is located close to an electrical supply, such as switches, sockets or fuse boxes, it's advisable to turn off the power at the mains, too. Water and electrics are never a good combination.
Even though you'll have turned your water supply off, any water that was already in the pipes will remain there. This could cause further flooding, so you'll need to get as much of the water out of the system in a safe and controlled manner.
The best way to do this is to turn on the taps in your home and drain the water from your system. Flushing the toilets can help, too.
If you've got water dripping through a ceiling, put buckets underneath to catch it. Water from a burst pipe can quickly cause a lot of damage, so the more you can do to collect it, the better.
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Where can I find my stop tap?
If you've never had to use your stopcock before, you may have no idea where it is. As a general rule, most internal stop taps are located close to where your water supply pipe enters your home.
The exact location of your stopcock will inevitably vary. It depends in part on the type of property you have and when it was built. There are some obvious places to look though. These include:
In a downstairs cloakroom or WC
Under the kitchen sink
In a utility room or garage
In the bathroom
In a kitchen cupboard
Under the stairs
In a cellar
Near a meter, if you have one fitted inside
If you're still unsure where your yours is, ask a neighbour. The chances are that your neighbour’s will be located in a similar place.
Which way do you turn a stopcock off?
As stopcocks don't tend to be used very often, they can sometimes be hard or stiff to turn.
Try wrapping a cloth around the tap to make it easier. In order to ensure your water is turned off, you need to turn it in a clockwise direction.
To prepare for any potential water emergencies in the future, it's beneficial to check your stop tap once or twice a year.
This’ll ensure it's in tip-top condition and can be easily turned on and off.
Test the tap by turning it clockwise to turn the water off, then anti-clockwise to turn it back on.
Who should I contact if I have a burst pipe?
Once you've dealt with the initial emergency issues of turning off the water and collecting leaking water, contact your home insurance company, especially if your home has been damaged.
Your insurer will either arrange for a plumber to come and see the damage or suggest you contact one to fix the pipe. If the electrics are affected, you'll need to contact an electrician, too.
How to find a plumber
The WaterSafe scheme is a national database of accredited plumbers, backed by the water companies and various watchdogs. If you need to find your own plumber, it’s a good place to start.
You can visit WaterSafe's website or call 0333 207 9030.
How to prepare your pipes for cold weather
Burst pipes are a common reason for insurance claims in the winter months and can cause a lot of damage.
However, there are practical ways you can reduce the risk of burst pipes occurring and they should form part of the way you prepare your home for winter.
Pipes are prone to bursting when the weather is freezing, so before the winter sets in think about the methods you could adopt to help protect your pipes.
Some of the key things you can do include:
Make sure your heating system is regularly serviced.
Lag your pipes – wrap insulation, in the form of foam, around all exposed pipes. Aim for foam that's at least 50mm thick for maximum impact.
Lag outdoor taps – if you have an outdoor tap, put a protective covering around the taps and any exposed pipes. Make sure you don't have a garden hose attached to the tap.
Fix dripping taps – If you have taps that tend to drip, get these fixed before winter. The dripping might seem minor, but if the taps freeze it can lead to blocked and burst pipes.
If you're going to be away when the temperature is set to be very cold, keep a low level of heating on in your home as this can help reduce the risk of pipes freezing and bursting.
Ask a trusted neighbour to pop in every once in a while if you’re going to be away for a long period.