One of the most important areas of your unoccupied property insurance policy is the water and heating conditions, which are likely to apply in some cases over the winter months only, but in others they will apply 365 days a year.
At the peak of the harsh winter of 2011, insurers were receiving up to 3,500 claim per day for burst pipes and water damage. On owner occupied properties, these claims were perfectly valid, but on an unoccupied property, they would be declined unless the heating conditions of the policy had been met.
Here’s an example of part of a heating warranty wording from one insurer:
where the entire premises has the benefit of a gas or oil fired central heating system fitted with automatic controls and a separate thermostat, the system must be set to operate continuously (not timed) for 24 hours each day at not less than 12 degrees Celsius or 54 degrees Fahrenheit
or all water supplies to be turned off at the mains and the entire water system be drained of all the water.
You must also ensure that during the months of November, December and January each year the hatch to the loft area of the premises (where there is one installed) is propped open by at least twelve inches or thirty centimeters.
If you fail to comply with any part of this clause, claims relating to insured event 3 “Escape of water from any fixed appliance, pipe or tank” or the additional cover “Trace and access”, will be void and not paid.
If any claim is being made then we reserve the right to request from you any bills for any utilities being supplied to the premises for verification by us.
The insurer obviously means business, which is not surprising as burst pipes and tanks account for such huge losses every winter, and can be considered more destructive than fire in many cases, because of its ability to continue to do damage completely undetected for long periods before discovery.
Your first decision is whether to keep the water switched on at all. By far the most effective way of ensuring that you cannot get a burst pipe, is to drain the water from the pipes so there is nothing in the system to freeze, and switch the water off from the main stopcock.
However, this can be inconvenient, particularly if you are frequenting the property to carry out maintenance, cleaning etc, so for some, keeping the water turned on and available for use is essential.
Some policy wordings are slightly different, in that they require the property ‘to be maintained at a temperature of at least’… rather than for the ‘system to be set’
Because of this, it is important that not only do you set the thermostat to maintain the correct temperature, but you check to see if it is achieving this throughout the house.
There are policies which require further provisions to be carried out for the protection of the property:
You must also ensure that during the months of November, December and January each year the hatch to the loft area of the premises (where there is one installed) is propped open by at least twelve inches or thirty centimetres.
This will enable heat from the main house to rise up into the roof space for the protection of water tanks and any pipes in the roof area. This can turn out to be a little more expensive to heat, but it is far preferable to a burst at the top of the house.