By Marcus Leach

As winter sets in and temperatures start to drop, experts are warning businesses of the cost of failing to spot frost-damaged water pipes.

Last winter’s plummeting temperatures saw numerous underground water pipes split, and many businesses have unknowingly been counting the cost ever since.

“Over the last few years we have seen temperatures dip much lower, and subsequently more frost damage to underground water pipes,“ Phil Wright, head of water cost reduction specialists, RM Water Services, said.

“If an underground leak occurs on your business’s pipework, it is unlikely you will be able to spot it above ground, as gravity encourages underground running water to permeate into the earth, leaving no obvious sign of a problem.

“Frost-damaged pipes can lead to businesses being overcharged thousands of pounds for the supply of drinking water which is leaking away for as long as the problem exists."

One of the businesses hit by the problem was a Yorkshire-based University whose undetected leaking underground pipes saw the university overcharged by £70,000 before the leak was eventually detected.

Experts from RM Water Services advise businesses to compare their water bills to those from previous periods to look for any inexplicable increases in water consumption.

“In most cases, the only sign of an underground water leak is a jump in your water charges. Remember you’re being charged not only for water you haven’t used, but to also carry that water away down the drains as sewerage charges when it is, in fact, simply leaking into the ground beneath your premises,” Phil Wright added.

Winter Water Checklist

1. Check your bills: Underground water leaks are almost impossible to spot. Check your bills against the previous year’s for any inexplicable increases in water consumption.

2. Insulate: any water tanks and pipes in unheated areas like lofts, roof spaces, garages, outbuildings. Properties left empty over the Christmas period could suffer significant damage from burst pipes when the freezing weather starts to thaw.

3. Look out for drips: A dripping tap can seem like a small issue, but if it’s not tackled a small trickle of water can freeze and completely block the pipe.

4. Be proactive: find and label all stop taps and valves. Time is of the essence when you need to turn off a burst pipe.

5. Regular checks: When temperatures finally do drop, set up a programme to make sure that pipework is regularly checked for freezing, so that any problems can be caught early.

6. Emergency procedure: Make sure that you and all your staff know the emergency procedure for frozen piping, as getting it wrong can exacerbate the problem.

7. Remember: If you are unlucky enough to have a burst pipe underground remember the following: turn off the stop tap/valve and call in a leakage detection expert.

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