Do You Know the Risks of Leaving Your Home Empty This Winter?

19 Jan

As temperatures fall, your water pipes could be at risk of freezing unless protected or suitably lagged. The effects of escape of water can be extremely problematic for homeowners and property owners. Not only could it damage your home, its contents, furnishings, and even your treasured possessions, it will require time and money to organise repairs.

If your property is unoccupied including your holiday home or even just going on an extended holiday, please check your policy conditions found either in your policy booklet or noted within your policy schedule, as sometimes failure to comply could result in claims not being met. If you are unsure of the policy conditions, please contact your policy executive.

Protect your pipes

In colder weather, water pipes and water tanks in the roof are more likely to freeze. Ensure they are lagged or insulated with foam to avoid burst pipes. In some circumstances where your property is unoccupied, insurers will require you to drain down and isolate your water supply.

Temperature control

Keep your central heating on continuously at around 15°c to prevent the pipes from freezing, or turn your water off at the stop cock if your property is empty.

Inspection of the property

This will vary between Insurers, so please check your policy conditions but properties unoccupied and/or holiday homes will require the policyholder or a representative of the policyholder to visit the property at least every 7 days to inspect inside the property. These visits also need to be recorded

Look for tell-tale signs

Some obvious signs will help you detect a leak, such as dampness, condensation, ice on outside taps, low water pressure on your boiler, temperamental heating, suspicious smells coming from your plumbing system, cracks or gaps on plastic plumbing joints, and green colouring on copper pipe joints. You should also check your water meter readings for variances in usage as a significantly higher reading could indicate a leak.

Check risky areas

Keep an eye on the most common problem areas in your home, which are the bathroom, toilet, kitchen, boiler, radiators, and washing machines, as well as ceilings, internal walls, under-floor pipes, and leaks from any neighbours’ homes. You should also check that your stopcock is in full working order as turning the water off is the first thing you will want to do if a leak is detected.

What to Do if You Find a Leak?

If you find or suspect a leak, immediately shut off the water supply. If the leak is a result of a burst pipe, there are steps you need to take to manage the damage. Contact a professional tradesman (registered HSE-approved competent person) if it’s a fault with your heating system. It’s important that you also notify your insurance provider as soon as possible.

1) Turn off the water supply

Turning it off is the first thing you need to do if you detect a frozen pipe as it will minimize any water damage if a pipe does burst. Contact a plumber for assistance.

2) Protect your possessions

Move any portable possessions away from the affected areas to prevent further damage and cover your electricity mains box if the pipe is close.

3) Find the frozen pipe

Check the flow of water in areas like the bathroom, kitchen, shower rooms, and downstairs toilets. Zero, or very little flow, indicates you’re near the frozen area of piping. A frozen pipe will often appear distorted.

4) Thaw out the pipe

Use a hairdryer or hot water bottle to help thaw out the pipe. Never use a blowtorch or anything similar. Open any taps nearest to the frozen pipe as this will let the water melt.

Dealing With Burst Pipes

1) Turn off the water supply as above.
2) Drain your system: You will need to get as much water out of the system as possible to prevent water from spilling through the house. Start by turning on all cold water taps and flushing toilets.
3) Turn off your heating system: You need to turn off the central heating and close down the boiler. Remember to turn off immersion heaters. Once you’ve done this, drain the system further by turning on all hot water taps. Liaise with your heating engineer as necessary.
4) Switch off the electrics if necessary: If a burst pipe is near any electrical switches or fuse boxes, turn the electrics off at the mains.
5) Collect the water: Use buckets, pans, and any large containers to collect the water. If ceilings start to bulge, stand well back and use a long-handled implement to release the water. Take photos throughout.
6) Keep a record of the damage: To pursue a claim against your policy, Insurers will require evidence of causation and damage. Take photographs of affected areas before removing or repairing the damage.
7) Get the leak fixed: Use a recommended plumber. Keep all receipts and details of work carried out as some aspects of the repairs may be covered by your Policy.