Escape of Water: The most common household claim over winter

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escape of water tap in home

Winter: not only is it really cold and dark all the time, but it can seriously affect your property, too. The ‘Big Chill’ between October last year and February 2011, caused damage to as many as 3 million homes, according to figures from Churchill Home Insurance. And what was the most common claim over the winter months when it comes to home insurance?

The biggest claim over winter is ‘escape of water’, largely as a result of burst water pipes.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that the cost to the insurance industry from an escape of water was a colossal £730 million in 2010. Churchill figures show that for the period 2010/2011 there was an increase of 45 per cent in the number of claims for escape of water caused by issues such as burst and frozen pipes. Figures from the year before from M&S Insurance (which if you remember saw an even bigger cold snap in January 2010) report a 220 percent increase in the number of claims for burst pipes.

In the past there was less of a risk of water damage to our properties. Office of National Statistics data shows that in 1970 only 30% of UK homes were fitted with central heating; today this figure is closer to 95%. Similarly, just 65% of households had a washing machine in 1970; today 95% of all homes have one. Washing machines, like dishwashers and central heating, require plumbing and where there is plumbing, there are pipes – and water!

So the risk of a home being flooded by a burst water pipe has increased over the last few decades, but when you also take into account the value of what we have in our homes – flat screen TVs, designer kitchens, home offices, iPads – the damage a burst water pipe can cause can be extremely costly.

Why are there so many claims for burst water pipes in winter?

Essentially burst water pipes occur in winter when the water inside a pipe freezes. Ice expands putting pressure on the pipe, which eventually cracks, and when it bursts thawed water will come pouring from the break. Frozen pipes can be a real disaster for your property, as well as for any of your neighbours if they live below in a block of flats.

Issues typically arise when people leave the house for a few days – such as when visiting family and friends at Christmas – and turn the central heating off. If there is a real cold snap, the temperature in your empty home can drop significantly. So if you are away from your house for a few days or longer keeping the heating going on a low setting so the temperature inside the house does not fall below 12 degrees Celsius is a good tip if you want to avoid coming back to a flooded home.

Legal & General insurance figures suggest that the most common source of water damage in UK homes is as a result of a leak from plumbing in an upstairs bathroom. However, it is the kitchen that is most likely to be affected, as they are often positioned below a bathroom. Replacing and repairing kitchen units can cost as much as £10,000 or more.

Replacing carpets throughout an average sized four-bedroom semi-detached property can total £2,500.

If you also look at the costs of replacing damaged items and the possibility of needing to live somewhere else when work is being undertaken on your home: the cost of repair can soon add up significantly. So when it comes to finding the best coverage on your home insurance, it could be worthwhile thinking about all of these elements.

What should you do if you discover a burst water pipe?

The first thing you should do is find your main stopcock and make sure that you can turn it on and off.

This is often found under the kitchen sink or where the service pipe enters the property.

If it is on, turn off the central heating and immersion heater, and turn on the hot taps to help drain the water system.

Any dripping water can be caught in buckets. If the ceiling starts to bulge, drill a few small holes in it to let the water drain through. Please note though that if water has been leaking for some time and your ceiling is bulging significantly, it may not be safe to enter the room.

You should then look to contact your home insurance provider to make a claim. At this point it may be a good idea to take some photographs – the more evidence you have to back up your claim the better.

Policy Expert

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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.