Protect property and pipes from water damage this winter

13 October 2023
image of a water pipe with insulation round it

Protect your pipes in winter

Heat, Insulate and Protect your home.

Householders and businesses across Scotland are being urged by Scottish Water to ensure their water pipes are protected from cold weather this winter and help minimise the risk of bursts and damage to property and reduce water losses.

The utility is advising property owners that preparing for sub-zero temperatures could prevent problems such as burst pipes and flooding – and all the inconvenience and expense they can cause - and help reduce the amount of water lost through leakage. 
When temperatures fall below zero, water in pipes can freeze and expand and then contract if the temperature rises which can cause them to crack or burst.

In December of 2022, there was a surge in burst pipes due to sub-zero temperatures and a rapid thaw, causing significant inconvenience and expense for householders and businesses throughout the country.

The bursts and leaks also meant huge amounts of the water Scottish Water produces was lost and led to demand on the network increasing by 250 million litres per day – the highest since the winter of 2010.

Annual leakage from Scottish Water’s system has fallen for the past 17 years by a total of 59% and is at an all-time low, and we continue to target further reduction, but last December’s surge was caused largely by a rapid freeze and thaw, causing pipes to burst.
Much of the increase in water demand came from bursts and continuous use on the customers’ side of the boundary between the public network and properties.

To help reduce the risk of a repeat this winter, the utility advises anyone with a home, holiday home or business premises to take action to protect their properties and pipes, whether the property is old or new.

The key advice about pipes is to heat, insulate and protect:

Heat: Most modern boilers have frost-protection built in, which will fire up the central heating system if needed, even when your heating is turned off. This applies if your boiler is inside or outside. Different manufacturers take different approaches, but a common method is that if the water in the heating circuit drops below a certain temperature, the boiler will temporarily turn on. Your boiler must be powered on for this feature to work. If you are not away on holiday in cold weather it’s unlikely the boiler would ever need to turn on for frost protection, as the temperatures at which it might be triggered (around 10 degrees) will typically be much lower than you would normally heat the house to (around 16-21 degrees). If you don’t have frost protection built-in to your boiler, or are unsure, you don’t need to be concerned unless you are going away in cold weather where you expect the outside temperatures to drop below 5 degrees in the period you are away.

Insulate: Pipes don’t like the cold – whether they are outdoor or indoor, metal or plastic, new or old. Making sure pipes and water tanks are properly insulated is one of the simplest, and cheapest, things which can be done to help protect properties from the cold. Make sure that there are no gaps at bends, valves or fitting, and that you use a suitable insulation material. If you have a condensing boiler, insulate the condensate pipe: efficient condensing boilers produce a small amount of condensate which drains away through a plastic pipe, usually outside. If that pipe gets blocked with a build-up of ice, the boiler will stop working. Insulate the plastic pipe with foam pipe insulation to keep it warmer and prevent the condensate water from freezing and blocking the pipe.

Protect: If you're going away then make sure you have someone who can regularly check for any problems. If your neighbours don’t have a key for your home make sure they have contact details for someone who does in case of an emergency. 

If your boiler does not have built in frost protection, then you can set your room thermostat to 10C and the programmer to 'On' or '24h' and it will fire up the boiler if needed.

If your property is going to be vacant over the winter months, turn off your house water supply and drain the water system – a  plumber should be able to give you advice about this. Dripping water and cold draughts both increase the risk of pipes freezing – so have any drips or leaks repaired as soon as you discover them, and reduce draughts by fitting draught excluders to doors and windows. It’s unusual to have a hot water cylinder in the loft – but if you do you should consider draining this too. Don’t forget to leave your boiler turned on for frost protection.
Even when your home is winter ready sometimes damage can happen, so make sure you have adequate building and contents insurance.

If your property is going to be vacant over the winter months, turn off your water supply and drain the system. A licensed plumber will be able to give advice about this.

Visit for further advice, information and films.

The advice is part of Scottish Water’s winter campaign, which includes tips on all things winter and water-related, including: keeping warm and reducing energy bills through water and energy efficiency; safety around reservoirs and other water bodies; and the proper disposal of wipes and fats oil and grease to help avoid blockages and pollution.

Peter Farrer, Scottish Water’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “It’s good to prepare for the possibility of severe weather and the potential impact that has on property and, by taking steps to insulate and protect properties and pipes, customers can avoid the considerable headache and heartache caused by frozen or burst pipes. 

“Taking early action to reduce the risk of such bursts can also help reduce the amount of water lost through leakage from our system, which affected us last December during the freeze and thaw. Water is always worth saving at any time of year.

“We want to work with our customers – whether they’re householders or businesses - to ensure we are all prepared for cold weather.”