An escape of water is one of the most significant property risks facing homeowners, particularly those owning large and older properties – and can give rise to some of the biggest home insurance claims.
Whilst this is a risk all year round, as temperatures often plummet this time of year, your home could now become particularly vulnerable.
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.
According to the Association of British Insurers’ State of the Market report, 30% of all domestic insurance claims in 2018 were due to escape of water and the insurance industry pays out approximately £1.8m every day for escape of water-related home insurance claims.
As temperatures drop, the likelihood of claims becomes even greater, largely due to the increased risk of pipework freezing and bursting.
Your property could be particularly vulnerable during the winter months for a number of reasons:
- Age of the property – With older and larger properties, not only does this mean vast networks of pipes that can be hard to access, it also means the pipework will usually be older and at greater risk of corrosion. Therefore, when temperatures drop, pipes are much more likely to freeze and burst unless precautions are taken.
- Size of your home – The larger the property, the greater the danger of a problem going undetected. Even small leaks can cause significant damage if they are not spotted early, especially in winter. Repairing water damage is time-consuming and expensive – from installing pumps and dehumidifiers, to carrying out repairs and replacing flooring or furnishings. The larger the property, the greater the cost.
- Value of contents – Artwork is particularly vulnerable, but other items such as antique furniture, and furnishings such as carpets, curtains and cushions, could be extremely expensive to repair or replace if damaged.
- Unoccupancy – The risk of escape of water increases if a property is regularly unoccupied, because problems may not be spotted until it is too late.
How to avoid escape of water in winter
By taking some simple precautions, you can minimise escape of water risks throughout the winter months.
Understand the layout of your property – In older houses with large networks of cast iron pipes, it can be difficult to know exactly where leaks are coming from. It is important to understand where the access points are, where the stopcock is, and the location of pipework (this information can be found on the original building plans) and that this information is conveyed to neighbours or anybody else looking after their property in your absence.
Take practical precautions – It is important to identify areas of the property where pipes could be at increased risk of freezing – e.g. lofts, basements and external pipes – and to provide appropriate insulation (lagging). High value, vulnerable items should be moved away from directly underneath pipes wherever possible. Properties should be kept at a temperature above 10°C if unoccupied over winter, and internal doorways and cupboards containing pipework should be left open to encourage circulation of warm air. If a property is regularly unoccupied, having a trusted neighbour to regularly check in is also a good idea.
Carry out regular maintenance – Even when a house is occupied, you should carry out regular and periodic maintenance checks, especially in larger houses where problems can often go undetected or unrecognised. A professional surveyor can help explain how and when pipework and other items should be checked. For example, stopcocks should be regularly tested, as older fittings can rust and seize up if they’re not used.
The value of smart home devices There are a variety of smart home devices that can help you protect your property. For example, smart boilers or thermostats can help monitor and manage the temperature of your home remotely. There are also a growing number of water leak detectors – such as LeakBot and Sonic by HeroLabs – that send you an alert when water levels change – some even shut the water off automatically if they detect a leak.
How to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting in older houses
- Keep the temperature above 10°C when the property is unoccupied in the winter.
- Insulate or lag pipes and water tanks, especially in areas such as lofts or basements.
- If the property will be unoccupied for a long period, consider draining the water system completely.
- Keep cabinet doors and interior doors open to encourage heat circulation.
- Seal any cracks or holes that may be letting cold air in.