How to Stop Your Outside Tap Freezing

Keep the Water Flowing and Avoid Burst Pipes This Winter

Frozen taps are an inconvenience and can result in expensive damage. How can you keep yours ice-free during the harshest weather?

As homeowners, we face the same old challenges every winter, and often they are the ones we remember our parents facing while we were growing up. If the phrase “that tap always freezes in winter,” is familiar to you, then perhaps this is the year you will prevent history from repeating itself and do something about it.

When the temperature drops below zero, there is always the possibility of water in the pipes freezing, and plumbers in Edinburgh and throughout the UK will be expecting the usual flurry of activity as we reach the coldest months. You might think that a frozen outside tap is not a huge cause for concern, but it can cause serious, and potentially costly, damage.

Ice expands

When water freezes, the crystalline ice molecules are of lower density than those of liquid water. This means that when a given quantity of water freezes into ice, it needs more space – in other words, it expands, and if it is in a confined space, it will need to find a way out. This is one of the reasons it is so important to have antifreeze in your car – if you use neat water and it freezes, it will simply crack the engine open.

The same can happen in your pipes and tap if they are full of water, and the first you will know about it will be when the ice thaws and the water starts spraying out through the ruptured pipe.

What to do

You can reduce the risk by making sure all your pipes are adequately protected. Underground pipes or those inside the house should be reasonably safe, but any that are located outside are certain to freeze if you do not take action to insulate them.

Think which pipes are the most vulnerable – if you have lived in the home for a few winters, the chances are, you already know the weak spots. Don’t forget the pipes that are on an outside wall, or those that run through any unheated crawl spaces.

Switch off

The simplest solution is to simply shut off the supply lines to outside pipes and taps in advance of a cold snap. You will probably have a shut off valve in the supply line somewhere near where it passes through to the outside. Close it off, drain off any water in that section of pipe and there is nothing to freeze.

Of course, this is not a solution if you need to use the water supply, for example if you have livestock.

Insulating pipes

You can buy insulating sleeves that will do an effective job of preventing the water from freezing. These fit snugly around the pipe, and are then taped in place. Alternatively, you can use fibreglass or rockwool insulation.

Make sure you insulate every single spot, and be sure to go all the way around the pipe – this can be fiddly where it runs close to a wall.

Protecting taps

Finally, remember that the taps themselves contain water. You can but covers that fit tightly over them and will reduce the chances of them freezing. After a particularly cold night, check the taps by running off a little water whether you need to or not, as keeping it flowing will also help.