Water Companies Have Coped 'Well'

27 January 2011, 00:00 | Updated: 10 February 2011, 14:07

Water firms in our region have met with the Consumer Council for Water to talk about how well they coped during the recent cold weather.

Representatives from Anglian Water, Cambridge Water, Essex & Suffolk Water, Severn Trent water, South Staffordshire Water and Veolia Water East answered questions on their performance, how well prepared they were and how well information was communicated with customers.

The water watchdog says all companies did ok and and lessons learned mean they should be even better prepared in future.

One issued raised focused on how aware customers are of who is responsible for what when the worst happens.

See below for tips on how to help prevent frozen pipes in your home

  • Make sure you know where your inside stop valve is and check that it is working. It is usually under the kitchen sink or just inside your garage (if you have one).You will need to get to it quickly if a pipe bursts.
  • Ensure pipes in cold draughty areas are insulated. Check that the insulation in your loft is thick enough, and that it covers over and around the water pipes where possible. Do not put insulation underneath the water tank. 
  • Try to use good quality waterproof foam lagging that meets the requirements of British Standard 6700 and Water Supply Regulations - you can usually get it at your local DIY store or plumbers merchant. 
  • Wrap bends or hard-to-get-at pipes with securely fixed strips of insulation. 
  • On very cold days, open the hatch to your loft to let warm air in from other parts of the house and prevent pipes from freezing. 
  • Insulate outside taps or turn them off at the stop tap, or drain them before the frosty weather. 
  • Fix any dripping taps or overflows. A build-up of ice can cause a blockage. 
  • If you leave your home for a few days, have your heating set so that it comes on at least once every day. Ensure that the storage system and exposed pipes are properly insulated, particularly in the roof space or attic. 
  • Even the best insulation won't stop pipes from freezing when frosty conditions won't let up. So during a really frosty period isolate and drain down external pipework, outside taps, and exposed plumbing.

What to do if the cold weather catches you out

  • If your have no water, check to see if your neighbours are having similar problems to work out if the problem is in your own home or more widespread. If your neighbours don’t have water either, contact your water company to report the problem.
  • Because water expands when it freezes, a frozen pipe could have enough pressure inside to crack it or pull it loose at the seams. You might not necessarily notice the problem until the system is thawed out again. To help minimise the potential for further problems, find your stop tap (it’s usually under the sink or in the garage) and turn it off. If you also have a stop  tap on your header tank, turn it off as well.
  • Reheating pipes too quickly to try and speed up the thawing process could potentially cause damage too. 
  • If you can’t work out which pipe is frozen, or suspect it is underground or otherwise too difficult to reach you may just have to wait for the weather to warm the system back up again.

How to thaw out a frozen pipe

  • Before you start to thaw any frozen pipes, make sure the stop tap where water enters your home is off, and any nearby cold taps are turned on. This will help relieve any pressure on the frozen pipe. Don't turn HOT taps on until the central heating or immersion heater is switched off.
  • Do what you can to protect or remove anything which might be damaged by the thawing water running from a potential burst. 
  • Check all visible pipes for damage or evidence of freezing. 
  • Apply a hot water bottle to affected pipes. If you choose to use a hairdryer be careful. Heating the pipe too quickly could damage it. Never use a blow torch or naked flame. Expect the process to take several hours. 
  • Be careful not to switch on water heating appliances including boilers and immersion heaters until you're sure the system has thawed out. Reheat the building using gas, solid fuel or electric heaters that are unconnected with the plumbing or central heating system. 
  • Once the plumbing has thawed double check to make sure there are no leaks before turning the stop tap back on. Allow the water to run until it seems as though normal flow is restored. 
  • If you notice a leak once pressure in the pipe has built up again, turn off the stop tap and call a plumber. 
  • Only turn on heating appliances if you’re sure the system is working normally and there are no leaks. 
  • Do your best to wrap any exposed pipes to prevent the same from happening again