“The first sign that something was wrong was when water stopped coming out of the taps. Bemused, I walked into one of my bedrooms and I couldn’t believe my eyes, water was running down the walls, through the false ceiling and the ceiling light.”

Having lived in her home for over 35 years, Andrea[i] had experienced cold weather before without incident. However, last December the dramatic drop in temperature caused the water pipe in her loft to freeze. As water changes to solid ice it expands, sometimes with enough force to rupture the actual pipe wall. Unfortunately, this happened in Andrea’s loft during the cold weather in December, the damage only becoming apparent once the ice in the pipe thawed in the rapidly rising temperatures.

Water leak through Andrea's ceiling light in bedroom

Luckily Andrea knew exactly where her stopcock was and was able to turn off the water to minimise the amount of water that escaped into her home.

After calling both a plumber to trace and fix the leak, and an electrician to fix the water-soaked junction box in the loft and the soaked light fitting and switch in the bedroom, Andrea spoke to us, her buildings insurer, to report the damage.

Although still in a state of shock when she called, Andrea was soon reassured by, Matt our Claims Consultant.

“Right from the start, he was brilliant. His calm controlled and very professional manner was very reassuring. He took charge of the conversation, patiently listening to my frantic ramblings, but skilfully bringing the conversation back on track each time.

“He made it clear from the outset that he was there to help me get this sorted, and that the conversation would not end until I was satisfied that he had all the details that I wanted him to have, that I knew exactly what was going to happen next, that I knew who would be contacting me, that I had their contact details, and that a diary date would be put in place to check progress.

“He patiently guided me through the whole process, until, at the end of a lengthy conversation, I felt relieved that I knew what to do, and was confident that I was in safe hands. He kept things moving forward all the time, but at a pace I was comfortable with. “

Reflecting on his conversation with Andrea, Ageas Claims Consultant Matt Hill said;

“No two claims for burst pipes are the same. It affects homes in very different ways and so it’s important that we spend time going through everything with customers who call us with this type of claim. This obviously can take some time, but for those customers it’s important that we listen carefully and completely understand the situation they are facing.

“When I first spoke to Andrea, she was obviously distressed by the damage caused to her home. The water had spread across the ceiling, down the walls into her carpets and through the electric light fittings. Although the leak had now been fixed, her much-loved home had suffered significant damage.

“I always try and put myself in the customer’s shoes and work out what they need us to do for them. I get a real sense of satisfaction from knowing that at the end of the call a customer will have offloaded their worries on to us, knowing that the wheels are now in motion to get their home repaired.”

Unfortunately, the water that escaped from the pipe soaked the insulation in Andrea’s false ceiling above one of her bedrooms. This room needs to be dried by a professional drying company before repairs can begin. This can be a lengthy process as the drying time will be dictated by the amount of water that has escaped and the number of rooms affected.

“It’s been a difficult time, but I was lucky because the water didn’t affect every room, so I’ve been able to carry on living in my home, with my pets. I’m so glad that I knew where my water stopcocks are so I could react quickly and turn the water off, turning all the taps fully on to drain water out of the system. I’ve also now become an expert in loft insulation and frost protection cables that kick in during cold weather to stop pipes freezing – this isn’t something I ever want to go through again.

“I’m also grateful that Matt answered my call. His kind, reassuring words and the brilliant service I’ve received so far from the experts who have both appraised the damage to my home and who are working hard to put everything back in the way it was before has really helped me deal with the horror that greeted me that Friday morning when I opened the bedroom door.”

How to spot that your pipes have frozen:

  •  Little or no water coming from your taps or shower
  • Exposed pipes that appear frosty or wet
  • Unusual noises coming from your system when you flush the toilet or use your sink. Bubbling or whistling sounds could be a sign of air trying to escape your pipes through a blockage
  • Damp patches or rings on walls or ceilings.

If you do have a frozen pipe you can try to defrost it by:

  • Firstly, turn off the stopcock to stop the water flow, only turn back on if you know the pipe isn’t damaged
  • Wrap a hot damp cloth around the pipe until water starts to flow again
  • If you have an old hot water bottle you can also use this to heat the pipe
  • Use an electric hair dryer on low setting to gently heat the pipe but please don’t not leave it unattended
  • Place a portable heater near the pipe but also don’t leave unattended
  • Never use a naked flame e.g a blowtorch or boiling water as this could not only cause permanent damage to the pipe but may also start a fire

Prevention is better than a burst pipe:

  • Don’t forget about hidden pipes. Pipes that are outside your home or in the loft need to be insulated as they are likely to be more affected by the cold than pipes inside your heated home
  • Wrap exposed pipes in soft foam to protect them from cold draughts. An insulation jacket for any water tanks you have might be a good idea
  • If you can afford it keep your heating at a constant low setting (7°C) as this will prevent your pipes from becoming frozen
  • Allow warm air from your home to circulate into colder areas like loft spaces by opening your loft hatch and kitchen / bathroom cupboards
  • Consider fitting a smart thermostat so that when the water drops below a certain temperature the system kicks in to heat it up
  • If cold weather is forecast and you are going away for a few days think about draining all the water out of the pipes before you go away. You can do this by turning off the stop cock and running the taps until they run dry

Browse more tips on How to protect your home

[1] Not our customer’s real name. Personal details have been changed at the request of the customer

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