Pipes burst by frozen water are one of the most common causes of domestic damage and home insurance claims.
But the good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help keep your plumbing in good working order.
Preventative measures: Reduce the risk of burst or frozen pipes
- Over the winter, ensure your central heating system remains at a constant temperature at a level above which freezing would not normally occur: don’t switch it off completely if you’re going away for a week or two.
- Know where your water shut-off valve (stopcock) is in case of emergency. Test the valve to make sure it can be turned off quickly and easily.
- Make sure your pipes are lagged and your tank is insulated.
- If you have any dripping taps, replace the washers. If dripping taps freeze they can block your pipe and cause damage.
- Check plumbing joints and pipes for any signs of freezing. If you spot any damage call a plumber.
- If you are going to be away for an extended period, consider draining down your plumbing and heating system, but do so with professional advice.
- Ask a friend, relative or neighbour to visit whilst you are away. If you do have a burst pipe, early warning can help to minimise the damage.
How to react if a pipe freezes
If you manage to identify a frozen pipe before it bursts, you need to act promptly: turn off the water supply and the stopcock in the cold-water tank. To avoid further damage, make sure that anything that has frozen around the pipe is protected in case it bursts.
Open the tap that is closest to the frozen part of the pipe and thaw it out using a gentle heat source, such as a hot water bottle or hair dryer, and work back to the hot water tank. Do not use an open flame or boiling water to thaw a pipe out.
What to do if you do have a burst pipe
Should the pipe burst, it can cause major damage to your home and contents. But there are also measures you can take to minimise the level of damage:
- Act immediately: the sooner you can stop the water escaping, the more you can reduce the risk of further damage.
- Turn off the water supply at the main stopcock.
- Turn off the stopcock in your cold-water tank (if you have one, it is usually found in the loft).
- Switch off the central heating system and any other water heating installations to avoid further damage.
- If the ceiling is bulging, create a hole and place a bucket underneath.
- If you can, find the source of the burst.
- If it is the cold-water tank, empty it by running all the cold taps and flushing all toilets a number of times after you have turned off your water supply.
- You should also drain the hot-water system. First turn off the boiler and immersion heater if you have one, then turn off the cold feed pipe to the cylinder and run all the hot water taps to empty the pipes of water.
- Call an emergency plumber and an electrician - do not touch anything electrical.
- Take a photograph of all damaged items and make a note of the damage.
What to expect when you make a claim
If you need to make a claim, contact your insurer as soon as practical and they will give you advice on how to proceed. If the damage is substantial, it’s likely a loss adjuster will manage your claim and advise you on the best course of action.
How will I know when my property is dry?
The loss adjuster will instruct a professional restoration company. Once your house is dry, a Certificate of Dryness is usually issued. Personal items may either be replaced or restored depending on the level of damage and subject to the terms and conditions of your home insurance policy.