Water can do serious damage to your home, so you need to act quickly if there's a problem with your plumbing system. Keeping a few basic repair materials in your tool kit and knowing what to do in an emergency will prevent most situations from getting out of hand.
If you do suffer a burst pipe, leaking cistern or flooding of any kind, the first thing to do is turn off the electricity supply at the consumer unit (fuse box) straight away. When the leak has been repaired and the water mopped up, examine all your sockets, switches, ceiling roses and electrical equipment in the area to make sure they're still dry. If water has got into them, don't turn the power back on again until they've dried out.
These situations are precisely when knowledge of your plumbing system is vital. So make sure you know where all your valves are - particularly the main stop valve, which lets you turn off the supply in an emergency or for essential work. It's also worth checking your valves every few months to make sure you can open and close them easily. Applying a few drops of penetrating oil to a valve shaft will help you free it. But never leave a valve completely open, as this makes it more likely to seize up - which will stop you from closing it when you really need to. Better to close it by a quarter- to a half-turn.
A pipe repair clamp is the quickest way to stop water leaking from a burst pipe - although you should only use it as a temporary repair. You won't need to drain the pipe beforehand.
Put together the two halves of the clamp over the damaged part of your pipe, double-checking that the rubber sealing gasket is in the right place.
Fit the securing screws and tighten them all the way. This will clamp the device down over the damaged section of pipe.
You can repair a burst pipe with a coupling, as long as the damaged section is no more than 40-50mm long (always check the manufacturer's guidelines). If the damaged part is longer than this, you'll need to put in a new section of pipe or use a flexible hose connector. A mini pipe cutter will give you a much cleaner cut than a hacksaw, but you might not have the space to use it.
You can buy a repair kit that includes everything you need to fix a burst pipe - such as a hacksaw, burst pipe coupling, PTFE tape, wire wool and spanner. If a pipe suddenly springs a leak, you'll be glad you're prepared.
Turn your water supply off and drain the pipe. If you can, use a mini pipe cutter to cut each side of the damaged area and remove that section of pipe. You may find you have to free the pipe from any nearby clips so you can rotate the cutter around it. If that's not possible, use a hacksaw instead.
Remove the burrs from inside the cut ends using a narrow file, and burnish the outside of the cut ends with wire wool or a deburring brush. Slip the cap nuts and olives (metal rings) of the pipe coupling onto each cut pipe end. Then wrap PTFE tape about five times clockwise around the threads of each compression joint.
Put the cut pipe ends into the burst pipe coupling. Then hold the coupling with a pipe wrench or water pump pliers, and tighten the nuts with an adjustable spanner.
It can be tricky to cut and repair a pipe that's running through noggings and can't be released from nearby clips. A flexible hose with push-fit joints on either end may be a much quicker and easier fix than fitting a new section of pipe.
Use a mini pipe cutter to take out a section of damaged pipe the length of the hose (excluding the joints). File any burrs from inside the cut pipe ends and burnish the outsides with wire wool or a deburring brush.
Put each pipe end into the push-fit joint, checking it's pushed in all the way. Make sure you don't stretch or rotate the hose when you're doing this.
Fixing a leaking soldered pipe joint takes some skill. It's much easier to use repair putty, which stops the leak permanently. Then, when the putty's hard, you can sand it smooth and paint it.
First, you'll need to shut the water supply off to the affected section of pipe, and drain it down. Dry the pipe, then go over the area you're repairing with a wire brush.
Press the repair putty around the joint, making sure you force it into the gap between the pipe and the fitting. Try to work quickly, though, as the putty dries fast.
If you've drained and refilled your plumbing system for any reason, air might have become trapped in the pipes. This will make your taps splutter, or possibly cut off the flow completely.
To cure the airlock, connect a garden hose to the kitchen cold tap, which is on mains pressure (or any cold tap if you have a direct system) and the other end to the affected tap. Open both taps and leave for a few minutes. The mains pressure should force the air out of the system, but you may have to repeat the process for a complete cure.
All the pipes in your loft, under your ground floor, in your garage or any other areas where they're exposed to very low temperatures should be lagged to protect them against freezing. However, lagging will only delay the onset of freezing. If the temperature is low enough for long enough, ice may still develop and stop the flow of water to your taps and other outlets. At worst, the ice may actually split your pipe or force apart a joint.
For this reason, it's wise to take some precautions if you go away for a substantial amount of time in winter. Set your heating thermostat at the lowest setting, or use the 'frost setting' if you have one - this makes your heating come on automatically if temperatures drop near to freezing point. Alternatively, you can turn off the main stop valve and drain your system completely.
To thaw a frozen pipe, warm it with a hair dryer - gradually working along its length from the tap or valve until the water starts to flow again. Another solution is to drape a hot water bottle over the pipe, or you could soak hand towels in hot water, wring them out and wrap them around it. But whatever you do, don't use a blowtorch as an open flame in a home can present a serious fire hazard. Also, excessive heat from a blowtorch applied to a frozen pipe can cause the water inside the pipe to boil and possibly explode.
You'll usually find your water storage cistern and tank in your loft or the upper floor of your house. But this means that if there's a leak, the first you'll know about it when water starts pouring through your ceiling. You need to act quickly or your ceiling could collapse.
First, turn off your electricity at the main power switch, and your water supply at the main stop valve. Put some containers in place to catch the leaking water, then turn on all your taps and flush your toilets. This will empty your pipes and cold water storage cistern, and they won't refill while the main stop valve is off.
Investigate the cause of the leak - which could be a burst pipe, a loose joint or the cistern itself leaking or overflowing due to problems with the ball valve and overflow. If the leak is coming from a hot water cylinder, turn off your boiler and empty the cylinder by running a hose from the drain cock near its base to an outside gully. Then make repairs or replace items as necessary.
It's very frustrating if you turn on a tap and nothing happens. Here's what you can do to get your water running again.
Turn on the cold tap in your kitchen - or any other cold tap on a direct system. If there's no flow, make sure your main stop valve is open. If the problem continues, call your water supplier.
If your mains cold tap is working, inspect the cold water storage cistern in the loft. If it's empty, make sure the ball valve isn't jammed. Dismantle and clean the valve, or replace it. If there's no flow when the valve is held open, your rising main is blocked - this can be caused by ice in winter.
If your cold water storage cistern is full but there's no flow from your bathroom taps, there must be an air lock or blockage in the supply pipe from the cold cistern or hot water cylinder.
Watch the video below for help on fixing a dripping tap.