Escape Of Water And Burst Pipes, What You Need To Know This Winter
14 November 2017
By far, one of the biggest headaches for homeowners over the winter months is escape of water claims, which are often caused as a result of water pipes in your property freezing and then bursting.
According to data from the Association of British Insurers, damage to homes caused by leaky or burst pipes costs insurers an average of £2.5m every single day, with the number of claims sharply rising every time there’s a cold snap.
Now that the colder months are here, it’s important to know what escape of water is, what causes it and what to do if you discover a leaky pipe in your home.
Why Is Escape Of Water Such A Problem In Winter?
Escape of water can happen all year round as a result of aging, leaky or corroded pipes, but it’s most common in winter when the temperatures drop. When the water inside a pipe freezes, the ice expands and can cause the pipe to crack or burst.
Often, this can happen when people leave the house for a few days – such as going on holiday or visiting family over Christmas – and the central heating is left off. The temperature can plummet dramatically in that time, which can lead to big problems.
Data suggests that the most common source of water damage is from leaky plumbing in an upstairs bathroom, but that it’s the kitchen which is most likely to be affected given that they’re often located below bathrooms.
Damage to your kitchen can be extremely expensive to fix, while the fact that most houses nowadays have washing machines and dishwashers means that there’s more plumbing in modern houses and therefore more risk of a pipe bursting.
As well as that, the value of the items we have in our homes has crept up over the years, with many people now having things like flat-screen TVs, gadgets like laptops and iPads and designer furniture.
Between the cost of fixing your home, replacing damaged items and having to find somewhere else to live if your home becomes uninhabitable, the cost of escape of water claims can quickly add up.
Help! I’ve Got A Burst Pipe In My House, What Do I Do?
If you’re unfortunate enough to discover a burst pipe in your home, the first thing you need to do is turn off your water supply at the mains and switch off your boiler or central heating system, which will stop the flow of water through the pipes in your house.
Your water supply can be turned off via the main stopcock, which is commonly found under the kitchen sink. Be aware that this isn’t the same for everyone, so if you don’t know where yours is it’s worth finding out so you can get to it quickly in an emergency.
Once the water supply and central heating are off, you can turn on the hot taps in your house which will help to drain the water out of your pipes. Any dripping water can be collected in buckets.
NOTE: If water has been leaking for some time and your ceiling is bulging, it mightn’t be safe to enter the room. Regardless of the damage, you should stay out for the sake of your own safety.
You should then contact your home insurance provider to make a claim. Depending on your policy, your insurer may also be able to arrange for a plumber or heating engineer to come out and help – Autoline’s Home Emergency Cover offers round-the-clock access to these services.
If possible, it might be a good idea to take some photos or video clips on your phone to help with the claims process, but it’s likely your insurance provider will send out a professional to formally assess the damage and decide what repairs are necessary.
In the event that your home is left uninhabitable by damage, some insurance policies will reimburse the cost of staying in alternative accommodation like a hotel. It’s worth checking the details of your home insurance policy ahead of time to make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for, and what you’re not.
How to Prevent Frozen And Burst Pipes
Of course, prevention is always better than the cure and there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent burst pipes from wreaking havoc in your home this winter.
Pipes should be well insulated to prevent them from freezing. If you have access to your pipes you should check to make sure that they’re adequately insulated, and if they aren’t it’s advisable to get this sorted.
If you come home and discover a pipe that’s frozen over but hasn’t burst you can try to thaw it out with a hairdryer or by wrapping towels soaked in hot water around them. Don’t apply extreme heat with something like a naked flame, however, as this can cause even more damage.
In the event that you can’t get your pipes thawed out, you should call in a plumber to help before the pipe causes any damage.
I’m Going Away Over Winter, How Do I Protect My Home?
If you’re planning on going away from home over the winter, you should set your central heating to come on for a short while each day. Even an hour a day can prevent temperatures dropping to freezing point.
In houses that have attic or loft space, you can open your trapdoor to allow warm air to circulate and prevent pipework in the attic from freezing. You could also ask a friend or neighbour to check your home every couple of days to make sure everything’s okay – that way if anything does go wrong it can be spotted sooner, limiting the amount of damage.
NOTE: Many home insurance policies don’t provide protection if your house is unoccupied for more than 30 days in a year. If you’re going on a long holiday, or particularly if you’re a landlord with a vacant property, it’s worth looking into unoccupied property insurance.
Know The Difference Between Escape Of Water And Flooding
If you arrive home to find your floor underwater, it’s only natural to assume that your house is flooded. But when your insurance provider is looking at a claim involving water damage, there is a difference between ‘flooding’ and ‘escape of water’.
Flooding is most commonly defined as water which has come into your property from an external source. That could be as a result of torrential rain or a river bursting its banks, but it could also be as a result of a burst water main in the street.
Escape of water damage is defined as that from within the home, which includes burst pipes but also things like a bath overflowing. It also counts as escape of water if the source comes from a neighbouring property in a block of flats.
Most home insurance policies will cover you for damage caused as a result of both flooding and escape of water, but particularly as the winter rolls on it’s worth double-checking and knowing exactly what your policy covers you for.