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Householders and businesses across the Hebrides and throughout 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 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 a huge amount of the water Scottish Water supplies 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 overall, but last December’s surge was caused largely by a rapid freeze and thaw, causing pipes to burst.

To help reduce the risk of a repeat this winter, Scottish Water 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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 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 nowadays 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.

Visit www.scottishwater.co.uk/winter for further advice, information and films.