One of the main causes of serious damage and financial loss in respect of unoccupied properties over the past few years has been as a result of winter weather causing burst pipes in unattended homes.
The frightening facts:
In the cold winter of 2010 to 2011, there were on average, 3,500 insurance claims per day, leading to payments of up to £24,500.000.00 per day from UK insurers.
Since this time, insurers have cracked down on the management of empty properties to ensure that in the future, risks are controlled and reduced.
Failure to implement measures which are now included in the policy wordings of insurers will lead to claims being declined, leaving the owners to deal with the cost of repairs.
A burst pipe at average mains water pressure can lead to 400 litres of water per hour escaping into your property. That’s 9,600 litres a day – enough to fill 48 bathtubs.
How to reduce your risk
Drain the water and isolate the supply
The one sure solution to minimize your risk of damage by escape of water is to drain the water and heating systems, and switch off the water at the supply.
This way, there is no water in the system to freeze, and no supply of mains water to exacerbate any problem which does occur.
However, this measure does also have its disadvantages.
As a property is allowed to go cold, some materials in the property are at risk of deterioration due to cold and damp conditions.
Carpets, furniture and other contents can be prone to attack by mildew and damp if the conditions in the property are not controlled.
Also, potential tenants or purchasers of your property can be put off when they walk into a cold and uninviting building. Even when there are no damp problems, just the low temperature can set the alarm bells ringing for someone looking to turn your empty property into their home or investment.
Get the boiler serviced, and set heating to 24 hours
Most insurers will insist on keeping the heating switched on, 24 hours per day, at a temperature of at least 12, 13 or 15 degrees C depending on the insurer (as an alternative to draining down).
DO NOT think that boosting the heating for one or two hours per day will prevent a burst. This can potentially increase your risk of serious damage. In a sudden winter freeze, the temperature can drop very quickly, and freeze the water in your system between central heating burns causing multiple bursts. Then, when the boiler fires up and warms the building, the ice melts, and the unlimited supply of mains water turns your property into a fish tank.
Check external supply and waste pipes
It is often overlooked, but many winter disasters are caused by water freezing in waste pipes and overflows, as well as in the water system pipes themselves.
A slow drip from a header tank overflow might be a benign annoyance during warmer weather, but during freezing conditions this drip can freeze the pipe completely, leading to overflow and possible burst of your header tank at the top of the property, which is then fed fresh water at mains pressure, and can all but destroy a house within a matter of hours.
Ensure that any other external pipes, particularly feeding outside taps are lagged well. If possible, external taps should be isolated from the supply inside the house.
Check the external water outlet on your boiler.
Condensing boilers have an outlet for water which leads outside your property.
Check this regularly, as any blockage or freezing can cause the boiler to shut down.
Open the loft hatch during the coldest months and in severe winter conditions
If there are any water pipes in the roof space of your property, ensure the pipes are well lagged, and there is a gap in the loft insulation under the water tank and nearby pipes. By opening your loft hatch by 30cm during periods of extreme cold, you will increase the heating bill, but will reduce the risk of your pipes freezing.
Clear drains to ensure surface water can escape.
You don’t need a burst pipe to suffer water damage. Drains serving the exterior of your property should be kept clear of debris and plant growth to avoid problems from surface water.