Five tips for preventing escape of water disasters

Ensuring that pipes are properly lagged and setting the heating to come on when you are away may not sound like a priority, but at this time of year escaped water can be as much of a threat to your home as fire or theft

Photograph: Alamy

Picture the scene. You have just returned from the annual Christmas get together after a long week of wining, dining and socialising. You assume the house will be in the same pristine condition you left it in but as you push open the front door, you are greeted by chaos. The house is completely flooded: sodden carpets, water-stained wallpaper and prized possessions floating like debris in the murky water.

‘Escape of water claims account for around 15-20% of what we pay out each year to customers,’ says Gareth Gwyn-Jones, Hiscox Property Claims Manager. ‘Once the temperature drops in winter, water freezes in exposed pipes, causing them to expand and burst. As soon as the ice thaws, water will start pouring out of the system, causing untold damage if it’s not dealt with immediately.’

From small beginnings

The problem is compounded by the fact that most water pipes are located in the loft – a space that’s difficult to heat. A minor leak might mean the ceiling below needs re-painting. But if a header tank splits, gallons of water could be released into the home to cascade freely through the property.

‘We had a similar claim a few years ago,’ recalls Gareth. ‘The repercussions were huge. The customers had to have their kitchen and bathroom completely replaced. Carpets had to be stripped, and furniture had to be removed and dried.’

Within 24 hours, Hiscox organised emergency strip-out work and found temporary accommodation for the customers within the local area. ‘The key thing is to act quickly,’ says Gareth. ‘In this case, we arranged for builders to start re-instating the property within six weeks. Eventually the cost came to £200,000, so our support was essential to getting the family’s life back on track.’

Fixing pipes body

When it comes to fixing water pipes, trust the professionals. Photograph: Alamy

Waterproofing advice

While it’s heartening to know you are never on your own in these situations, Gareth has some simple steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t happen at all.

  1. Make sure your property’s water pipes are lagged. ‘When you’re going away in winter, set the heating to come on at intermittent periods throughout your absence to prevent the water pipes from freezing.’
  2. Leave the loft hatch open to let warm air circulate right to the top of the house. ‘It’s not fuel efficient, but during a particularly cold snap it’s a good idea just for a couple of hours to keep the pipes warm.’
  3. Hire a plumber to fix new water pipes. ‘We’ve seen a lot of claims from customers who’ve attempted to fix their own water pipes, and haven’t closed the joins properly. It’s a tempting option, particularly with the convenience of plastic, snap-shut water piping. But best to leave it to the experts.’
  4. Install leak detection equipment into your water system. ‘There are some fantastic products on the market that can detect a leak and automatically shut off your water system. Hiscox currently works with a company called LeakSafe, who offer a great range of solutions.’
  5. Reseal shower trays. ‘As minor escapes of water go, this is quite a common cause that can easily be rectified by removing the old caulk and replacing it with new.’

Find out how to protect your home from the elements in our guide to weather-proofing.

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