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Escape of water and burst pipes, what you need to know this Winter

Water is one of the most common source of damage in the home and escape of water can be one of the biggest headaches for homeowners over the winter months. Now that the colder months are here, it’s important to know what escape of water is, what causes it and how it can be prevented. 

What is an “Escape of Water”?

When we refer to escape of water, we’re usually talking about plumbing-related problems like burst pipes, faulty boilers, damaged washing machines and dishwashers. These would all be considered as ‘escape of water’ issues.

Even though this can happen all year round, Winter is the most prevalent season as burst pipes are very common due to water inside a pipe freezing which then expands and causes the pipe to crack or burst.  This often happens when people leave the house for a few days – such as going on holiday or visiting family over Christmas – and turn the the central heating off. The temperature can plummet dramatically in that time, which can lead to big problems.

Escape of water Vs 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. Escape of water damage is defined as that from within the home, which includes burst pipes. 

Most home insurance policies will cover you for both but particularly as the winter rolls on it’s worth double-checking and knowing exactly what your policy covers you for.

Cost of damage

The ABI reported that the cost of domestic escape of water claims rose to £483 million in the first nine months of 2017. This is because it can be very costly to repair the initial damage, plus you also have to think about replacing damaged items that may have got caught up in the foray such as flat screen TVs, laptops, iPads and furniture. 

In addition, if your home is uninhabitable, you might have to find somewhere else to live which means the cost of escape of water claims can quickly add up. 

Prevention tips

Of course, prevention is always better than cure and there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent burst pipes from wreaking havoc in your home this Winter:

Pipe Protection: Pipes in the roof space are more likely to freeze as they are the most exposed. It is recommended to insulate vulnerable pipes with insulation sleeves or lagging to help prevent this. If you need advice regarding this, you can call a local plumber or DIY store.

Letting the water run: Running taps during extreme cold weather can prevent a pipe from bursting as it can provide pressure relief. Whilst running taps from now until the end of the cold snap is not recommended, it is advisable to make sure water flows through all taps regularly throughout the Winter period. 

Control the temperature: NIDirect advises to keep the house as warm as possible, even if you are out. They recommend to put your heating on for a set time period each day.

Maintain and update old appliances: It’s advised to always get your boiler checked before the winter months set in. Also check appliances such as washing machines, and stopcocks as these can wear from old-age. 

Become familiar with problem areas: NIDirect advises to become familiar with your water supply system now and find the main stopcock which turns off the water supply to your property. Heating problems, low water pressure and damp can all be warning signs of an escape of water so keep an eye out. 

Help, I’ve a burst pipe!

If you’re unfortunate enough to uncover a burst pipe in your home, NIDirect advise you to:

NOTE: If water has been leaking for some time and your ceiling is bulging, it might not be safe to enter the room. Regardless of the damage, you should stay out for 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 – AbbeyAutoline’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 assist you in the claims process. Depending on the extent of damage your insurance provider may 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 are (and are not) covered for. 

What if I’m going away over Christmas?

If you’re planning on going away, 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.

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