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Avoiding the expense of burst water pipes

28 January 2019  |  Admin

Burst water pipes following a winter freeze are a major cause of home insurance claims. In the first quarter of 2018 as the Beast from the East struck the UK, a record £194 million was paid out in compensation for ‘escape of water’ claims.

On average, £15,000-worth of damage is done when pipes burst, including ruined flooring, ceilings, furniture and electrics.

There are a number of ways to minimise the risk of frozen pipes and also to reduce the amount of damage caused even if they rupture.


All pipes that are exposed to the cold should be insulated with foam lagging or UL-listed heat tape. This includes not only external pipes, but those in colder areas of the home such as the garage, basement, attic and in cold cupboards. This will improve the efficiency of the central heating system as well.

Water storage tanks should also be lagged.

Keep the heating on low

Leaving the thermostat at around 13°C overnight will help prevent temperatures dropping low enough to cause damage.

If you’re going away

The biggest claims are often made following water damage to empty properties which is not noticed immediately. A single pipe can leak 400 litres of water per hour, the equivalent of two full baths. Over a day or more devastation can occur, particularly if the leak is upstairs and ceilings collapse.

If the property is going to be empty over a cold spell, turn off the water at the mains, then open the cold taps to drain the pipes as much as possible. It has been estimated that this simple trick alone reduces the average burst pipe claim to £1,500.

Leave kitchen and bathroom cupboard doors open to allow warmer air to circulate inside them. If there is a water source in the loft, particularly a water tank, leave the hatch door open, again to increase the temperature.

If the property will be uninhabited for a while, ask a plumber to drain the system, or at least arrange for someone to visit the property regularly to check that all is well.

When your pipes have frozen

Pipes need to be thawed slowly, using warmth rather than a blast of heat. Soak towels in warm water and pack them round the pipes or use a gentle hairdryer or hot water bottle. Don’t try to speed the job along with a heat gun or blow torch.

Looking after your boiler

One of the most common causes of boiler failure in cold weather is a frozen condensate pipe. This is the pipe that takes condensation from the boiler to the outside and is often a white, plastic pipe, around 4cm across.

Once this freezes, ice will back up towards the boiler, which will stop working. Use a hot water bottle or pour warm water over it to keep it free of ice.

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