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Burst pipes within your home - a costly, devastating home emergency

Water Damage claims are on the increase, and it is a good idea for home owners and Landlords to review their homes in terms of incidents involving water. An incident due to burst pipes is probably the most common cause of water-related issues within the home. There are many reasons for burst pipes, but the main cause of damage is from freezing conditions. Failure of pipes can be due to age or misuse. Minor flaws within the piping will gradually deteriorate over the months and years, and eventually the system will break down. The pipe can be put under great pressure via the systemWhen pipes burst, the impact on a household can be totally devastating. Ultimately, a burst pipe on the main system can cause vast damage to a property. Families may need to vacate their homes for many days, or even weeks, whilst repairs are carried out.


Our modern society relies on complex plumbing systems in our homes. e.g. boilers and waste disposals, and unfortunately this increases the chances of costly plumbing incidents. Burst pipes within the home is one of the worst emergencies which can happen to your plumbing system. It is not simply the cost of the repair of the pipe, or even the loss of the water whilst it is fixed, but the sheer financial cost of the damage to the home which can be wreaked by escape of water. But perhaps the worst cost of all is the upset and disruption to your household. 

If a pipe bursts in the ceiling or floor, it may be a while before you notice, as the event may happen gradually. Often, the first sign of any problem is when the problem is quite far advanced, for example, when a bulge appears in the ceiling or, more seriously, when the water gushes out in a torrent.

The potential water loss from burst pipes in your house can equate to 400 litres (two baths of water). If you are away from your home for a full day, and water escapes from a burst pipe, as much as 9,600 litres of water (48 full baths of water) will flow into your house, causing havoc. If you are away from home for a week, and a pipe bursts, you could lose 47,200 litres of water in that week (equivalent to 336 full baths of water, flowing through your home).


Freezing temperatures, combined with unprotected piping are the main cause of a burst pipe. This normally occurs when you have insufficient heat in your home - the pipe bursts when frozen due to the expansion of the water, as it becomes ice. In turn, this puts pressure on the pipe from the inside which causes the pipe to burst (usually, the soft copper or plastic of the pipe). Breaks can also be at the weaker joints or in the middle of the pipe. Significant piping in your home is hidden in flooring, roof spaces or walls, and so any damage caused can be devastating. The average insurance claim for a burst pipe is in the region of £14,000, a huge sum of money, not to mention the upset to your household.

It is vital to get to your stopcock quickly, as soon as you suspect a leak or burst. In claims where the stopcock is used and the water has been shut off, the average claim cost reduces from £14,000 to £1,500 per claim. Clearly, the knowledge of the location of your stopcock is critical to keeping water damage (and costs) to the minimum.


Prevention of Burst Pipes

Burst pipes can have a really devastating impact on your household, so it is prudent to take steps to minimise the risk of a Burst Pipe incident. In the case of possible water loss events, prevention really is better than cure. We list below a few vital preventative steps which you can take:

1.     Ensure that you know the location of your stop cock (water damage can be minimised in this way, reducing a £15k claim to a tenth of this sum)

2.     Insulate outside taps and piping (including drain pipes for heating or overflow pipes). This can be done with insulating lagging or foam, but make sure that no joints, bends or taps are exposed (external taps can also be fitted with covers)

3.     Any piping that is in unheated areas such as lofts, basements and garages should be lagged with good quality pipe lagging

4.     Any pipes buried in the ground outside, such as pipes to garages or sheds, should be buried deep enough and/or lagged.

5.     Insulate your cold water tank, as a lack of insulation can be the major cause of burst pipes

6.     Leave your heating on at least 12 degrees centigrade, at all times, throughout cold spells. This will help to keep the system warm enough to prevent burst pipes

7.     Fix any dripping taps or existing leaks before the cold spell, as these may cause serious leaks

leaking tap

8.     Arrange for your Central Heating System to be serviced regularly.

9.     In cold spells, leave the loft hatch open as this permits the warm air to circulate around the loft space and warms any pipes in that space, reducing the risk of a burst pipe

10.   If your home will be unoccupied for any length of time, turn off the stopcock, drain any water from the system and close the taps again. Do leave your heating on, as most heating systems will continue to work without the mains water on for a period of time

11.   Make sure that a friend visits regularly to check on the house during your absence. 

12.   A noticeable increase in your water bill can indicate escape of water within your home; check your bill carefully

The cost of a burst pipe can be huge. By taking careful measures, you can save yourself a small fortune, whilst saving your family from distress and disruption.


What Action to take if you have a Burst Pipe?

Despite carrying out careful measures, sometimes burst pipes still happen. The action you take when you discover a burst pipe will determine whether you are dealing with an inconvenience or a total disaster.  We have highlighted below some important measures that a homeowner can take.

1.     Look out for signs of burst pipes. Not every burst pipe means a torrent of water from the ceiling. Look for damp patches on walls, ceilings and floors.

2.     Loss of water pressure, unusual noises in the system and even electrical faults can all point to the possibility of burst pipes.

3.     If you suspect a burst pipe, then isolate the water from the stopcock. Close the stopcock fully and open the taps in the home to remove the water from the system.

4.     Do not use electrical devices; keep away from light switches and sockets, as if water is leaking, it easily can be contained within the electrical circuit.

5.     Clean the excess water away straight away (the quicker the water is removed the less damage can be caused)

6.     Move any furniture and items from the water-logged area; insurance does not always cover item, and some items are sentimental and irreplaceable

7.     If the burst pipes are in the street, keep your distance. The water pressure in the street may be dangerous. Call the local water authority.