Post-Winter Home Plumbing Survival: What to Look Out For
Lee Devlin, a plumber in London and founder of Homecure Plumbing, offers his advice on
making sure your home plumbing has survived the winter months intact.
After one of the most gruelling and challenging winters in years, with much of the country
descending into snow and frost, the cold season is finally over. As everyone looks towards
summer, dreaming of sun, BBQs and sandy beaches, we recommend you pause for a moment
to think about something a little less glamorous: home plumbing.
Such a harsh winter will take its toll on many things and your plumbing systems may have been
one of them. While central heating, pipes and other plumbing elements in Britain are built to last,
they are not impervious to damage caused by mother nature.
As you start to wind down your central heating usage and lessen the pressure on your
plumbing, it’s important to make sure your systems have survived the winter unscathed. If they
haven’t, you may be in for a nasty surprise when the temperature starts to drop again.
So, how do you check your home plumbing for post-winter problems?
Damage to Pipes
This year, temperatures in the UK plummeted down to -10’C, well below freezing point. Even
large cascading rivers saw ice develop, which means that water sitting in your pipes didn’t stand
much of a chance.
Ice crystals can be damaging to pipes. They can creep into tiny weaknesses and cause
problems such as cracks and fissures. These cracks, once there, will only progress with use
over the coming months. This can lead to leaks, issues with water pressure and potentially even
After a winter like that of 2018, it’s important to check vulnerable pipes for potential ice damage.
This means taking a closer look at those elements exposed to freezing temperatures and
making sure they haven’t sustained any damage.
It’s essential you check any external pipework on your property, including pipes fixed to outside
walls and those that run through unheated areas, such as a garage or other outlying structures.
Unprotected areas of the home are also worth monitoring. Common places where you’ll find them
freezing temperatures creeping in are the attic and conservatory, where insulation is at its
Many homes these days are fitted with modern copper piping. Copper piping is a metal
designed with flexibility in mind. It is able to expand and contract as water running through it
heats and cools, which is why you sometimes hear your pipes groan.
However, winter brings with it some extreme examples of cooling freezing and subsequent
warming. This puts a great strain on copper piping, causing it to expand and contract more than
usual. The metal is built to withstand this. However, fixtures that attach pipes to walls, flooring or
each other are often not.
The result is that joists, brackets and joins can become loose as they become unsettled by the
movement of the copper piping. This, in turn, can lead to noisy pipes about the home, potential
leaks or even breakages if the piping loosens enough.
The solution is simple and can be conducted by anyone: you must tighten loose fixtures. When
checking for damage to pipes, assess the state of fixtures attaching them also. Look for loose
bolts and movement in pipes.
Winter is a time where this type of issue can rapidly worsen, causing persistent problems if you
aren’t aware they have occurred.
Boiler and Central Heating Wear
Winter puts an incredible strain on many aspects of home plumbing, but none more so than
your boiler. While it can be dormant for most of the year, through those cold months, it is
chugging out both heat and hot water nearly 24/7.
In the winter of 2018, that was especially true. With such a high volume of usage comes the potential for wear-and-tear. Following your marathon boiler use during the winter, it is definitely worth making sure your central heating did not suffer as a result.
If it did, you may not discover the extent of the problems until it switched back on for perpetual
use next winter, by which time the damage will likely have worsened and you’ll face repairs,
when what you really want is a toasty living room. But how do you check your home plumbing for signs of boiler problems?
- Inspect — Monitor visible components of your boiler, looking for signs of damage such
as a build-up of mildew or rust.
- Check — Look at the pressure gauge on your boiler. It should be between 1 to 1.5 bar.
If it isn’t, the winter may have resulted in pressurisation issues. If you can adjust the
pressure yourself, do so. If you can’t, call in a plumber to help.
- Listen — Boilers and central heating systems can become very vocal when there are
problems. Listen to your boiler and radiators in a variety of circumstances, such as when
turning off and on, while the hot water is running and when the heating is on. Unwanted
sounds include rattling, knocking, whistling and gurgling. Strange noises warrant further
investigation, likely caused by blockages or broken internal elements.
- Touch — Overuse can lead to sludge or excess air building up in your central heating
system, which is bad both for boilers and heating efficiency. You can usually test for this
by checking your radiators. If the heating is on, yet some areas of your radiator remain
cold, there are blockages or pockets of air inside. Bleeding radiators can get rid of
excess air, but blockages require professional assistance.
Checking over your home plumbing after the winter needn’t take long, but it can save you a lot
of hassle later down the line and open your eyes to potential issues you may have otherwise
missed. Take some time out of your day, follow the advice in this article and give yourself some
extra peace of mind before winter rolls around yet again.