Protecting your school water pipes from freezing

  • As temperatures begin to drop, the risk of damage from burst or fractured water pipes increases
  • Taking action ahead of winter is increasingly key, as are consistent onward checks
  • We offer some practical advice on protecting your school water pipes from damage and minimising disruption to your students and staff

As the days get shorter and the temperature starts to drop, schools are at risk of expensive escape of water damage following damage to and fracturing of cold water pipes. Yet, the effects of this often predictable problem can be mitigated, or even prevented, through some basic checks and steps.

The threat of burst pipes after a big freeze is a more common in buildings such as schools left unoccupied over the festive holiday period.

Claims triggered by escape of water can include damage to ceilings and flooring and for redecoration. Contents cover includes damage to fabrics and carpets and if electrical equipment or wiring is affected then this can significantly influence the claim value and the amount of disruption to students and staff caused. It is also worth regularly checking your contents insurance policy to ensure appropriate levels of cover for electronic equipment, particularly if you purchase a batch of new equipment together or upgrade.

Fitting frost stats (thermostats which are set to trigger the heating when the temperature falls to 5°C can help). However, the harsh temperatures we have previously experienced meant even this measure wasn’t always enough. This may have been due to the locations of the thermostats and that the temperature fell so quickly, allowing water in pipes to freeze before the thermostats kicked in.

Ensure frost stats are in the coldest part of the building and where standard thermostats are in use, consider setting these higher, to around 10°C.

New technology can also help detect water leaks and prevent damage.  There are a huge variety of water leak detection systems available that monitor water flow and create alerts if there are unexpected changes in pressure, and more complex systems that can automatically shut off the water supply if a problem is detected.

Another aspect often overlooked is that many school buildings have large roof spaces that are not heated. The loft space of a well-insulated property will be much colder, so pipes need to be well insulated, almost to the standard of pipes on outside walls.

Modern plumbing trends such as plastic pipes, whilst cheaper, can pose other risks. These feature push-fit joints over traditional copper and brazed joints which are less strong and, over time, plastic pipes may become less resilient.

Taking remedial action ahead of winter is increasingly key, as are consistent onward checks.

In addition to freezing temperatures, burst pipes can be caused by poor quality installation, inappropriate fittings and poor maintenance. Precautionary measures include:

Careful inspections

  • Check and maintain heating systems regularly
  • Check that pipes and water tanks are well lagged, especially in roof spaces
  • Check for leaks, drips and overflows as this could indicate problems
  • If buildings are left unoccupied for more than 30 days, drain all pipes, tanks and heating systems and disconnect water supplies

Regular maintenance

  • Ensure plans for buildings showing the location of stop cocks are available in an emergency
  • Maintenance regimes should include clearing gutters of debris to reduce blockages and water overflow
  • Protect and insulate external taps and pipes from frost
  • Fit water management devices that detect falls or increases in pressure that could be due to burst pipes and automatically turn off the water supply
  • Install a bund wall around water tanks to catch leaking water, preventing damage in the building.
  • Check your contents cover in respect of equipment and that you have the appropriate level of cover

Temperature control

  • Fit frost thermostats and check existing locations to ensure they work effectively
  • Set heating system thermostats to 10°C to maintain ambient temperature to prevent water pipes freezing