Under ordinary circumstances where a home is designed and built well, steps are taken so water does not freeze in the pipes. Pipes that are close to external walls, or in sections of the house exposed to the outside weather, for example the loft or in a garage, are normally well insulated. This averts drastic temperate changes to the water in the pipes. In external spaces, it is a good idea to check if there is insulation and make sure it is in excellent condition; if this is not the case, the first step is to replace any worn insulation.
Depending on the design of a property and the appliances that are connected to the water pipes, there are various extra measures to help prevent your pipes from freezing. If you plan on leaving a home empty during the colder months, it is always advised to disconnect outdoor garden hoses. Make sure you empty any excess water from the hose and the pipes and close the water valve to stop any additional water from entering the pipes. To do this, shut off the water at the mains and let the taps run until no water comes out.
As well as insulating pipes, there are other actions you can take to reduce the chance of vulnerable pipes freezing. While most of the plumbing in a home can be protected or is located in spaces where warmer air flows, there are occasions where this is not the case. One solution, if you live in a cold area which often reaches freezing point, is to hire a plumber to redesign the layout of the pipework and move the problematic pipes to warmer parts of the house. However, this is likely to be expensive and is not very practical. An alternative possibility is to apply insulation not only to the piping, but also the area in general where cold air can enter with caulk or sealant. Even the smallest of cracks can lower the air temperature in a room quite significantly.
The last option is to leave a minimal quantity of water running through a tap. While this will not stop water from freezing, it can help relieve pressure build-up in the pipes if ice does begin to develop. With continuous water flow, even if it is just a tiny amount, the release of pressure can delay or perhaps prevent a burst pipe when ice makes it hard for the water to move. This should only be used as a last resort where pipes are exposed, as it is a waste of water and is not needed on insulated pipes or those that are in warmer sections of the property.
If water does freeze and ice builds up, the water flow in the pipes will back up to the point when the pressure of the water causes the weakest part of the piping to burst. When this occurs, time is critical. If you are at home and able to deal with the problem immediately, shut off the source of the water before anything else. In any burst pipe emergency, reducing the leaking will limit the water damage. After shutting off the water, leave the tap open, and contact an emergency plumber to evaluate the circumstances, as attempting to fix the leaking yourself could create more problems.
In the UK, even though freezing pipes may not be as much of an issue as in much colder countries further north than the UK, winter weather can cause problems in a home that is not well protected. Be sure to take the basic steps described here, and your home will be mainly protected from the elements. For more extensive measures, in the case that your home is in a much colder region of the UK, i.e., Scotland, it is recommended to speak with a plumber to find out what is needed to protect your pipes.