How to protect your pipes and water supply during cold weather


The National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) is advising everyone on how they can be extra vigilant in protecting themselves and those in the local community against the impact of cold weather on their water supply.

What is the issue?

Freezing water can cause huge problems on supply, whether it be in the home or out on the farm. Issues, such as burst pipes and broken taps, not only impact specific households but can also cause water shortages for others in the locality; especially when leaks go undetected.

During cold snaps, the NFGWS frequently gets reports of increased levels of water loss on group water schemes. Water loss has cost implications for farmers and other non-domestic consumers on schemes, while it reduces pressure and increases health risks for all consumers as microbiological contaminants may enter the water pipework.

How can we combat it?

While group water schemes are happy to provide advice where such problems occur, scheme members should realise that responsibility for all pipework and fittings from the boundary box at the water main to the point of use is solely their responsibility.

Amongst the measures that can be taken, the NFGWS strongly advises the following:

  • Ensure that your water connection stopcock/meter box is not left exposed to frost damage.
  • Connection pipes need to be buried deeply enough to avoid severe frost damage, especially where they run under concrete or tarmac.
  • Protect all exposed pipework, cisterns, tanks, taps and water meters in unheated areas with waterproof foam lagging or insulation.
  • Know where the stop-tap is located in case it needs to be turned off in an emergency.
  • The main stop-tap is usually found at the point where the pipe work enters a premises, while in smaller properties and homes it is often under the kitchen sink. If there is none, have your plumber install one.
  • Where possible, keep buildings warm – set central heating on a low heat or a 24-hour constant setting in freezing conditions.
  • If premises are going to be left unoccupied for a number of days with no heating, ensure that someone is tasked with checking the property for signs of a burst pipe in the event of freezing conditions. Where very cold weather is forecast, you might consider turning off your water at the stop-tap and draining down your attic tank before leaving.
  • In so far as possible, farmers and others relying on a continuous supply should have at least one day’s water storage at their premises.
  • Farmers should insulate pipes in cattle sheds and consider installing a single valve that will turn off field connections in the vicinity of the farmyard.
  • Water to out-farms should be turned off at the individual meter box as soon as cattle are housed for the winter.
  • Where you suspect a leak, call a plumber without delay and have it located and fixed.
  • Under no circumstances should blow lamps or scalding water be used to defrost meters. Such practice increases the risk of prolonged water loss to your neighbours as well as your own home.

GWS advice

  • GWS workers should slightly reduce pressure after a mains burst to prevent a build-up of pressure downstream, which could lead to further bursts.
  • A text alert system is invaluable for communicating effectively with members; both in terms of sharing advice and keeping members informed should any supply disruption occur.

More information on how group water schemes can be better prepared for extreme weather is available on the NFGWS website here.