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Burst pipes and water leaks

Water damage to your property is usually covered as a standard feature in your buildings insurance policy. 

Often referred to as ‘escape of water’ by insurers, it can be caused by several issues, from burst pipes due to freezing temperatures, to a leaking dishwasher or an overflowing blocked toilet.

Escape of water damage is one of the most common types of domestic property damage claims, with insurers paying out £1.8 million for it every day.

How can I prevent an ‘escape of water’ happening in my property?

Some steps you can take to minimise the chances of an incident happening this winter are outlined below:

The best ways to maintain your pipes all year round are:

1. Stopcocks – know where these are and make sure that you test them regularly as they often seize up. If there is an escape of water / water leak in your home, turning off the stop cock asap can help to limit the level of damage caused. Find out more about stopcocks here. 

2. Consider fitting a leak detection device which will monitor your usual water use and turn off the water if it suspects a leak. Use a plumber or a professional to install these types of devices. Some insurers may offer help with the installation of a leak detection device and may also take this into account when pricing your cover.

3. Get a professional to install any new appliances which require plumbing.

4. Where possible, regularly check the pipes where your appliances are plumbed in for any looseness, leaks or drips. In areas where pipes are covered but that you still have access to (e.g. behind removable bath panels, toilet cistern panels and underneath kitchen units, where accessible,) it’s a good idea to take a look every now to make sure there aren’t any small leaks which could become major. 

5. Consider what you are putting down your drain, and make sure that you clean drains regularly if you suspect a blockage. Substances such as fats and oils from cooking, produce stickers, baby wipes, sanitary products and even hair can all cause clogs in drains and toilets. You can see a comprehensive list of what not to put down the drain here.

6. Its best to use appliances when you are at home as opposed to setting them on a timer – that way if there is a major deluge of water or leak, you will spot it before it damages your home.

7. Check for leaks from taps, toilets, sinks, baths and showers and make sure you replace any damaged sealant, tiles or cracked shower trays as soon as you spot it.

8. If you are doing any drilling/DIY, make sure you know where any water pipes are before you put that drill into the wall (you can get a stud finder to help you locate them). 

9. You can use your water meter to check for any leaks – make sure nothing is using any water in the property, then turn your stopcock off and note the reading. Check again after 1-2 hours to see if the meter reading has changed. If so, it’s likely that there is a leak somewhere.

10. When leaving the property unoccupied for any length of time, it's best to shut down the water supply if you are able to and it is safe to do so. 

Frozen Pipes

Sometimes a burst pipe can be caused by cold weather, when water in the pipes freeze and expand, breaking the pipe. Some steps you can take to minimise the chances of an incident happening this winter are:

Preparing for winter

  • Find your main stopcock and make sure you can turn it on and off
  • Repair any dripping taps. This will help prevent water from freezing
  • Checking your lagging. All pipes and tanks in loft spaces, and anywhere else which could be liable to freezing, should be fully lagged
  • Keep contact details for your insurance company helpline near your phone

Leaving your property empty during winter

  • Leave your heating on for at least an hour a day while you are away from home. In severe weather, or if severe weather is forecast, you should always leave your heating on day and night at your usual temperature setting - whether you are at home or not
  • If it is very cold consider opening your loft trap door. This allows warm air from other parts of the house to circulate in the loft and will help prevent pipes freezing
  • Ask a friend or relative to visit your home every day while you are away. This will mean that, if you do suffer a burst pipe, it will be detected as soon as possible, and the damage caused will be minimised

Finding your pipes frozen

  • Turn off your water off at the stopcock and thaw the frozen pipes using a hairdryer or hot water bottle
  • If a pipe has burst, turn off the water at the main stopcock. Switch off your central heating and any other water heating installations. Open all the taps to drain the system. Make sure professional repairs are carried out before you turn anything back on
  • Contact your insurance company helpline

What is the insurance claims process if I discover a leak or burst pipe?

  • Should an incident happen that causes damage to your property or its contents, first turn off the stopcock as soon as is possible to limit the damage.  Then contact your insurer - most insurers' helplines are open 24 hours a day.  If you have purchased your insurance via a broker you may need to contact them first.
  • Your insurer may want to arrange for a loss adjuster to contact you to assess the damage in detail, and in extreme cases arrange alternative accommodation (buildings and contents policies provide for this) and plan the restoration process. In normal conditions, your loss adjuster will get in contact within 24 hours of you contacting your insurer. However, after a major drop in temperatures, this may take longer due to the volume of claims
  • Look through the initial assessment that the loss adjuster will give you. They should be able to provide you with an approximate timetable outlining what needs to be done to restore your home, who will do it and how long it will take. 

Our guide to stopcocks

More information on getting ready for winter can be found here: