Burst pipe claims cause considerable damage, with payouts often reaching several thousand pounds.

And it’s not just your pipe and systems that need fixing; a few hundred gallons of water is going to wreak havoc on your carpets, ceilings, walls and personal possessions.

The freezing cold temperatures and snowfall currently being experienced in parts of Britain can increase the chances of pipes bursting.

But with a few simple steps you can significantly reduce your risk of experiencing a burst pipe and having to cope with the downtime associated with getting everything back to normal.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Ensure your boiler has been serviced (if necessary) before the cold weather hits. A serviced boiler will reduce the chances of pipes freezing as gas and water is distributed more efficiently.
  • Ensure all external taps are turned off, disconnect hoses and cover taps with jackets until the temperature improves.
  • Examine your property for vents and gaps where cold air may be seeping in. Cover or plug to minimise heat loss.
  • Don’t separate rooms – keep doors between heated and unheated rooms open to allow hot air to circulate and heat the whole house.
  • Ensure galleys or holes in your roof are free of debris and insulated.
  • Insulation around your water pipes and cold water tank is vital – make sure there are no gaps and it is in good condition.
  • Keep cupboard doors below sinks open to allow warm air to circulate around your plumbing.
  • Pipes in your attic are at an increased risk of freezing if you live in a house with modern insulation. Keep your loft hatch open – warm air will rise and ensure your loft does not get too cold.

What to do if you discover a frozen pipe?

Firstly, dont panic; the pipe hasnt burst yet, but you should take immediate action. Locate the stopcock and turn off the water supply. Then very slowly reheat the pipe with a gentle heat source such as a hairdryer or hot water bottle. Rapid heating, as is with a blowtorch, will not work and will permanently damage your pipes.

My home will be empty for while. Are there any other steps I should take?

  • Leave the heating on to keep the temperature high enough.
  • Depending on how long you’re going away for, you may want to drain your water system and shut it off (important if you’re going away for extended periods).
  • Ask a friend or colleague to regularly check your property to ensure no pipes have burst and warm temperatures are being maintained.
  • Make sure you meet unoccupancy conditions on your property, essential if you are renting.

What do I do if I find a burst pipe?

  • Immediately turn off the water supply via the stopcock – this is normally found under the kitchen sink, or alternatively where the service pipe enters the home.
  • Drain your system – turn on the cold water tap in the kitchen, and run it until it stops.
  • Catch excess water in buckets and pans to limit damage.
  • BE CAREFUL. If water has been leaking for some time or if ceilings are bulging rooms may be very unsafe to enter. Do not take the risk.
  • Bulging ceilings that are not overly dangerous can be made safer: punch a hole through to let excess water out.
  • Switch off immersion heaters, central heating (whether solid fuel, gas or oil fired), and any other systems that heat water.
  • Once they are switched off, turn on the hot kitchen tap to further drain the system.
  • Turn off your electrical system and have it checked by a qualified electrician, even if you can’t see any visible danger.
  • Take photos from all angles and telephone your insurance company immediately.

Your insurance claim

  • Burst pipes are an emergency under most insurance policies, but many will have compliance regulations to ensure you don’t go away for extended periods without draining the system. Policyholders that have not met these regulations may find their claims are not accepted.
  • Your insurance company will probably request and require the use of a dehumidifier to speed up the drying process. Get your unit installed quickly; drying out a home is a lengthy process and since the weather conditions that cause burst pipes affect all homes you may find it difficult to find a suitable unit.
  • Arrange to stay with friends and family while the damage is surveyed. If your home is ‘uninhabitable’ (a technical word used to indicate a lack of basic utilities and structural integrity) your insurance company should give the go ahead for alternative accommodation to be rented for you until it becomes tenable to move back to your house. For companies, alternative trading premises will be needed.
  • All repairs should only be carried out once the property is completely dry. This may take several weeks, so the key is to be patient. Damage can only really be assessed once the water has evaporated. Don’t begin redecorating until you’re sure your house is dry, or it will get ruined, and insurers will only pay for repairs once.
  • Discuss all options with your insurance company, particularly if the damage is catastrophic. You may wish to seek legal advice.

This guide was written on behalf of JLT BIS, set up in Birmingham in 2001 to provide bespoke business insurance solutions to small firms, entrepreneurs, tradespeople and professionals. The company is part of the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Group, a global brand of insurance and reinsurance brokers, and risk management advisors.

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Whilst all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this publication no liability is accepted under any circumstances by Thistle Insurance Services Limited for any loss or damage occurring as a result of reliance on any statement, opinion, or any error or omission contained herein. Any statement or opinion reflects our understanding of current or proposed legislation and regulation that may change without notice. The content of this document should not be regarded as specific advice in relation to the matters addressed.

JLT Business Insurance Services is a division of Thistle Insurance Service Limited who are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority under No. 310419.

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