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Coal Back Burner - Frozen Pipe Risk?


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The house that we are hoping to complete on shortly currently has a coal back boiler, which we will rip out and replace with gas as soon as we can get a trade in to do the work - likely to be at least Jan/Feb next year. We are unlikely to move in much before January as there's quite a bit of work that needs doing before it's really habitable. As a result the boiler is not going to be working for a few days during the week, and I'm wondering what is the risk of the pipes freezing and what I can do to prevent it. Defrosting the pipes is not too much of a worry because lighting the boiler without the central heating activated should just gently thaw them out, but I'm more concerned about pipes actually rupturing when we're not there.

Anybody got any genius ideas?

 

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Chances of bursting pipes is actually pretty low. I've seen a big burst once in an aircon/service channel with a louvre direct to the outside and other smaller leaks involving compression fittings in places like lofts. So, inside the house, as long as doors and windows shut realistically the whole place will settle probably in the low single digits at a minimum even on the coldest of Uk temps as long as that does not continue to months.

So. If you were looking to shut down for say a week so:

1) turn off water main, then at worst any leaks would drain CH system or Water tanks and not start off a permanent leak for the duration.

2) Check loft, if any exposed pipes / tanks throw anything insulating over them, paper / cardboard / loose insulation / anything really.

3) Any water pipes coming into or out of the house or have any chance to be exposed to outside elements, make sure they are lagged temporarily - again just wrap them in something or enclosure the box they are in with something insulating.

 

Less than week - pretty unlikely for anything to get to low enough temperature, just lag/insulate anything that looks really exposed in loft or exposed to outside in any way.

Also, just make sure you have insurance up to date and tell company that works are in progress and likely occupancy, if anything and you get a leak it will be in your favour, the claim covering the work and a lot more if you play it right.

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35 minutes ago, onlyme said:

Chances of bursting pipes is actually pretty low. I've seen a big burst once in an aircon/service channel with a louvre direct to the outside and other smaller leaks involving compression fittings in places like lofts. So, inside the house, as long as doors and windows shut realistically the whole place will settle probably in the low single digits at a minimum even on the coldest of Uk temps as long as that does not continue to months.

So. If you were looking to shut down for say a week so:

1) turn off water main, then at worst any leaks would drain CH system or Water tanks and not start off a permanent leak for the duration.

2) Check loft, if any exposed pipes / tanks throw anything insulating over them, paper / cardboard / loose insulation / anything really.

3) Any water pipes coming into or out of the house or have any chance to be exposed to outside elements, make sure they are lagged temporarily - again just wrap them in something or enclosure the box they are in with something insulating.

 

Less than week - pretty unlikely for anything to get to low enough temperature, just lag/insulate anything that looks really exposed in loft or exposed to outside in any way.

Also, just make sure you have insurance up to date and tell company that works are in progress and likely occupancy, if anything and you get a leak it will be in your favour, the claim covering the work and a lot more if you play it right.

Ah fantastic, thanks! Great point about the insurance company, I'd already told them it will be vacant while work goes on and they're happy with that for 60 days - I hadn't thought of it potentially working out in my favour.

That's great - first weekend is planned to do all the basic jobs so I'll add your list of tasks to that and hopefully we'll be fine. Because of our working arrangements it's quite likely to be only 3-4 days at a time max that the house is empty.

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21 minutes ago, Fully Detached said:

Ah fantastic, thanks! Great point about the insurance company, I'd already told them it will be vacant while work goes on and they're happy with that for 60 days - I hadn't thought of it potentially working out in my favour.

That's great - first weekend is planned to do all the basic jobs so I'll add your list of tasks to that and hopefully we'll be fine. Because of our working arrangements it's quite likely to be only 3-4 days at a time max that the house is empty.

My insurer wanted guidance on work that was being carried out at various stages, make sure to ask the question and provide the info if requested, it is a particularly vulnerable period for claims, hence their wanting to know (generally). 

You deffo want a working stop cock before anybody can get going on site properly so first thing in once inside the door and phone up plumber if seized and you cannot budge -  always best to leave fully open minus quarter turn when open (as means you can budge both ways and less likely to seize and first time you need to shut off it won't turn). Check upstairs ceilings and loft for any leaks, anything roof wise you want to patch as well if required.

3-4 days max I cannot see freezing problems in main house, just as before anything exposed.

 

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4 hours ago, onlyme said:

Chances of bursting pipes is actually pretty low.

I must be very unlucky then. Coal fired glass fronted back boiler, away a week over Christmas, -5C outside for 2 nights then thaw, pipes burst in two places about 30k worth of damage (neighbours only noticed when the paper in their kitchen started peeling off).

The pipes that burst were the feed through the loft to the back boiler. Check these pipes and check the lagging on them (was pretty poor 1980s hessian wrap type stuff).

Can you get to the house every day? If so leave the pump on so the water is constantly circulating. If its a glass fronted fire you can get firelogs which burn for 2-3 hours and light usually with just one match. Might be enough to keep the water from freezing.

If it does drop to around -5C then Id go and light the fire, restrict the air and use something like phurnacite which can burn low over a long period.

If its gravity fed then why not light and check?

Last thing you want to do is put in the new gas and then a week later find out one of the pipes in the walls burst a while ago.

As above shut off the mains regardless.

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9 minutes ago, belfastchild said:

I must be very unlucky then. Coal fired glass fronted back boiler, away a week over Christmas, -5C outside for 2 nights then thaw, pipes burst in two places about 30k worth of damage (neighbours only noticed when the paper in their kitchen started peeling off).

The pipes that burst were the feed through the loft to the back boiler. Check these pipes and check the lagging on them (was pretty poor 1980s hessian wrap type stuff).

 

Crikey, I'd say you were particularly unlucky, especially if still lagged (even hessian), a large percentage of the country spend at least a couple of days away at Christmas and a good number of those would just switch the boiler off and not much else.  Suppose always best to err on the side of caution and yes certainly make sure all vulnerable pipes are up to  scratch insulation wise.

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1 hour ago, belfastchild said:

I must be very unlucky then. Coal fired glass fronted back boiler, away a week over Christmas, -5C outside for 2 nights then thaw, pipes burst in two places about 30k worth of damage (neighbours only noticed when the paper in their kitchen started peeling off).

The pipes that burst were the feed through the loft to the back boiler. Check these pipes and check the lagging on them (was pretty poor 1980s hessian wrap type stuff).

Can you get to the house every day? If so leave the pump on so the water is constantly circulating. If its a glass fronted fire you can get firelogs which burn for 2-3 hours and light usually with just one match. Might be enough to keep the water from freezing.

If it does drop to around -5C then Id go and light the fire, restrict the air and use something like phurnacite which can burn low over a long period.

If its gravity fed then why not light and check?

Last thing you want to do is put in the new gas and then a week later find out one of the pipes in the walls burst a while ago.

As above shut off the mains regardless.

We're about 2 hours away so no chance of going daily. Luckily I can work from home so might be a case of watching the weather forecast, buying a 4g dongle and being there with the fire on on the colder days.

We should at least get the plumber in for a quote in the couple of weeks after completion, so I can get him to check the pipes and insulate if need be.

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reformed nice guy

You can get trace heating, which is a plastic wrapped element you can run along pipes to keep the chill off.

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