My Winter - plumber Lee Ekins

My winter as a plumber

I think most plumbing and heating engineers would agree that winter can be a challenging time for us, and the amount of extra work can be hard to manage. The best advice I can give to anyone to prepare for winter is to try and think ahead about what needs doing before temperatures drop – such as getting your boiler serviced and insulating exposed pipes to help prevent them from freezing and bursting.

I always keep an eye on the weather forecast, as that can help indicate what sort of week I will have, particularly if temperatures drop below freezing.  Luckily it has been a few years since we have had an extended cold spell in Surrey, but the last one caused so many problems with boilers. 

New boilers have a condensate pipe that often runs externally, and when these freeze, as a safety precaution it will stop your boiler firing.  Obviously when things like this happen it is so important to get to the elderly, or vulnerable, first. There have been times when I have sent a YouTube video to younger people with instructions on how to defrost it themselves if I just can’t get there. 

Adjustments for winter weather

As much as anything, colder temperatures mean I have to allow more time to get to jobs.  Even defrosting the van in the morning takes time, and I’m very careful on our more rural roads, which can become really slippery.  A few years ago one of my vans hit black ice and ended up on the local common.  

In an ideal world we would avoid outside work in the really bad weather, although that isn’t always possible.  I have learned over the years to keep a very warm, waterproof coat in the van and a pair of wellies for the times when trying to get at pipes in thick mud is essential!  

My top tips for homeowners on preparing for cold weather

Check any exposed pipework in unheated areas such as lofts, roofs, garages and outbuildings. Adding a bit of insulating lagging can help minimise burst pipes and with DIY stores classed as ‘essential’ retailers it’s easy to get hold of insulation even during tighter Covid-19 restrictions.

We service a lot of local stables and each year frozen pipes to water troughs or burst pipes are a major issue.  Lagging (where is it is possible to do so) really helps.   

Don’t forget to check that outdoor taps and valves aren’t leaking, as these can also freeze and burst. And pop lagging or a tap cover on these too.

Make sure you know where your stop cock is (also known as a stop tap) – and check that it works. This is really important in case you need to turn off your water in an emergency such as if a pipe bursts. You’ll usually find your stop cock under your kitchen sink but it could also be in an airing cupboard or under the floorboards near the front door.

The really obvious one, but one for next year now, is please get your boiler serviced in the summer. A boiler that has been well maintained is likely to have fewer problems and as this time of year is so busy for plumbers, it’s hard for me and others to schedule in servicing when there are urgent works.

Finding a plumber

I’m a member of WaterSafe and listed on its UK register and I’d recommend WaterSafe as a good place to start to find a qualified, approved plumber near you. You’ll know they are trained in the water supply regulations which help keep water safe to drink, have public liability insurance and are promoted by your local water company.

Find out more about Lee Ekins.