Five + Five – 10 tips to keep your water systems safe this winter

Winter officially begins on December 21 and temperatures are already plummeting. So, if you have not prepared your pipes for the big freeze, now is the time to do it, says leading drainage specialist AQS Environmental Solutions.

There is growing awareness that clean water pipes can freeze and burst when temperatures fall below zero. AQS Environmental Solutions says it is less well known that drains and sewers can be affected by winter weather as well.

That is why the national company, based at Thurles, in Tipperary, Limerick and Cork, is urging businesses and householders to pay heed to its new Five + Five Winter Water Guide, which gives advice on both clean water and wastewater pipe protection.

Every year, tens of thousands of properties across Ireland are damaged by frozen and burst pipes causing floods of water, some of it of the most smelly and unpleasant kind.

AQS Environmental Solutions Commercial Director Stan O’Reilly said: “We have many calls for help from householders and commercial customers, who find winter weather has caused them drainage and sewer problems.

“Some of them can be severe, leading to catastrophic flooding of homes, or even businesses having to shut down. It’s devastating, but in many cases it can be avoided by taking simple measures to protect water systems against failure or damage.

“With that in mind, we have created our Five + Five Winter Water Guide. It has ten tips, five relating to the clean water supply system and five to the wastewater system, that will help householders and businesses prepare properly for winter.”

5 tips for protecting your drainage pipes

Poorly maintained drains can contribute greatly to the flooding of homes and business premises. During periods of heavy and sustained rainfall, surface water drainage systems and combined sewers can become full.

In both cases, water and sewerage backs up and can emerge on the surface, where it can then flow into nearby buildings. Or it can flood directly in to homes and other buildings. Therefore, protecting and maintaining the drainage pipes that serve your property is the first line of defence against the worst that winter weather can do.

  1. Be prepared

If your home is susceptible to flooding, make sure you have access to sandbags and waterproof sheeting to keep water out. Check that your home insurance fully covers your internal pipework, and flood damage.

  1. Keep drains clear

Autumn leaf fall can lead to blockages that cause problems during heavy rainfall in winter. So, keep drain covers and roof downpipes clear of leaves. If your drain gullies are not fitted with drain protection covers, go out and buy some, or get them fitted by a plumber or drainage specialist

  1. Preventative maintenance

For larger properties, or buildings with a drainage system that has experienced sewer flooding in the past, putting in place a programme of preventative maintenance can be essential. Pipes may have design floors which cause blockage pinch points. Regular cleaning of these pipes may make the difference between being flooded or not over the winter months.

  1. Don’t contribute to blocked drains

Fat and oil used in cooking can block your drains. It hardens in sewer pipes and mixes with other debris to cause blockages. So, don’t pour oil and fat down sinks and drain.

Sanitary products and wipes are also regularly wrongly disposed of by being flushed down toilets, leading to blockages, and mixing with fat to make blockages even worse. So, dispose of all sanitary products and wipes in bins.

  1. Review your drainage system

If you are concerned that your drainage system will not cope, maybe because of past problems, or recent development of your property, you may want to review its capacity and design. Drainage pipes need to have the correct fall to work properly. They also need to be in good repair. That means being free from blockages, cracks, root ingress and collapses, all of which can seriously reduce their ability to cope with winter weather.

5 tips for protecting clean water pipes

  1. Be prepared

Make sure you, and all other adults in your household, know where your stop cock is. Also, have the number of a trusted plumber handy in case the worst happens.

The stop cock might be under your kitchen sink, or under a stop cock cover in the garden or under the pavement outside your home. In an emergency, you might want to turn it off fast. Also, if you do experience an internal flood, you must to immediately turn off your electricity supply. So, it is important to know where the main electricity switch is as well.

  1. Insulate your pipes

Insulating water pipes is the best way to protect against frost damage and the risk of ice building up and bursting pipes. DIY stores now stock a range of insulation tapes and other materials.

Stop cock boxes should have a polystyrene plug in them to protect against frost. If yours does not, you should be able to get one from a plumbing supplier. Or, as a temporary measure, you can use any insulating material that does not hold water to protect it. But be sure that you do not put other people at risk by creating a trip hazard.

  1. Drain outdoor pipes

Outdoor pipes and hoses should be drained, along with cisterns, tanks, and other water containing structures, if they are not going to be used over winter. Outdoor pipes and water tanks that can’t be drained can be insulated. For example, they could be covered with strips of old carpet. No need to spend money at the DIY store then!

  1. Repair leaking pipes

Look around your property and make sure any leaking pipes are repaired. What is a drip-drip in summer, that you might have overlooked, can become a full-scale emergency if it is not fixed before winter arrives.

  1. Don’t let temperatures drop to freezing

Keep heating systems going, even if just on a very low temperature, over winter. Also, if you have pipes in the loft that are particularly at risk, open your loft hatch to let a bit of warmth from your home up into the space, if it is safe to do so.

Draughts can cause a chill in the home and increase heating bills. They can also allow freezing air get to internal pipes. So, plug gaps with insulation material to protect hidden pipes that might be hard to reach if they freeze.