A burst pipe can cause a lot of damage so knowing where the water stopcock is to turn the water off in an emergency could save you money and a lot of mopping up time.
When you find it, test it by turning it off and check to see if it works by turning on the cold tap in the house; if the water stops flowing from the tap then it’s working fine but if water is still coming out then it needs to be replaced.
Often, there will be a valve or stopcock in the kitchen but the main water shut-off point is usually found just outside the boundary at the front and will be inside a small square or round cover. Lift the cover and clean out any sand or dirt so that the tap can be turned. Replacing a faulty stopcock is the job of the water authority.
If you do get a burst pipe and the water can’t be turned off, then try turning off all the cold taps in the kitchen and bathroom to relieve the water pressure and then, if the pressure is low enough, wrap a towel around the leaking pipe and place a bowl under it and call a plumber.
Some old houses still have lead pipes and if a lead pipe bursts it can be squashed flat by putting a hard object under it near to where it is burst, such as a brick or lump hammer and then banging it flat with a hammer; this usually stops the flow of water through the pipe and then it can be fixed.
Copper pipes also can be banged flat, cut off with a hacksaw or pipe cutter and folded over onto itself to stop most of the water coming out; this is an emergency procedure when the water can’t be stopped any other way.
If you have to fix a burst pipe yourself and can get to a plumbing store then the pipe can be frozen using a pipe freezing kit that will freeze the pipe long enough for it to be repaired.
When a copper pipe freezes it expands slightly and you will usually find that the olive for the compression joint won’t fit over the pipe; if this happens and a solder joint won’t fit either, then you are going to have to travel back along the pipe until you find a part of the pipe that has not been frozen bigger than the olive and join it up from there.
In the UK most copper pipe is metric but sometimes the pipe will be an old imperial size which takes a slightly bigger olive.
Plastic pipe doesn’t burst as easily as metal pipes do but if it does then it is quick and easy to fix by hack-sawing the pipe through and using push-fit joints which can be used even if there’s a small amount of water still coming through the pipe.
If you leave a house empty during the winter then it’s best to shut the water off and drain the water system.
Some modern homes have a stop valve on each pipe below the sink, basin and bath that can be turned using a flat screwdriver to stop the water for the work to be done; otherwise the water has to be shut off at the main stopcock.
Old leaking or broken taps that need to be changed are usually hard to get at from underneath and most often will need specialised tools to release the locking nuts, but once removed, a new one can be fitted easily, just make sure the plastic seal is between the enamel and the tap, and then tighten up and test. If water dribbles through the joint then tighten it until it stops but don’t over tighten.
If water pours out then you’ve forgotten the new inner seal, or it has dropped out onto the floor.
If the tap is different from the old one and won’t fit to the old pipe work then add or subtract pipe to make it fit, and use either a compression joint or solder a joining piece and then test and re-do if there are any leaks.
Sometimes PTFE tape or jointing compound is used to help seal the joint but in most cases it is not needed as the olive will tighten up enough to stop any water.
Leaks behind washing machines and dishwashers can usually be fixed by tightening up the plastic nuts, but not too tight or the threads might strip. Sometimes just a new washer is needed.
Never mess around with gas or gas boilers, call in an expert. If you do smell gas then shut off the gas supply which can usually be found in a box near where it comes in at the front of the property or at the entrance.
Most small plumbing jobs around the house can be done by anyone with some competency and the right tools and equipment. Most leaking taps can be fixed by replacing the seal.
Although compression joints are a lot more expensive than solder joints they only need two spanners to tighten them up whereas solder joints need emery cloth to clean the areas to be soldered; flux spread over the surface where the solder will be and a gas gun to heat the solder to fix the joint.
This can only be done if the area is dry, any water at all will stop the solder from working; but a compression joint will work even if it is not completely dry.
If plumbing-in a whole house then use solder joints, you’ll save a fortune. If you plumb in a shower then leave all the electrical work to a qualified electrician; this is important because water and electric mixed can kill you.
When replacing old metal pipes make sure you re-fix any earth-cable to make them safe.
If you’re not sure you can do the job yourself then call in a reputable plumber.