Homeowners urged to protect against devastation during freezing weather

As snow and freezing weather hits Britain, homeowners are being urged to protect against damage worth tens of thousands of pounds caused by frozen pipes.

Water gushing out of heating or pipe ruptures can cause destruction equal to that of a house fire or flood, especially if it is not discovered for a couple of days.

More than nine in ten devastating incidents of burst pipes occur when no one is at home, according to claims analysis by home insurer Direct Line.

Yet in many cases burst pipes could be avoided with a little preparation.

Protect against home devastation

Simply insulating your pipes can significantly reduce the risk. If you’re going away for the weekend it’s worth timing your heating to periodically come on at a low heat and turning off outside taps.

Looking at claims data, Direct Line found water leaking are from pipes or water mains in the loft was responsible for damage in nearly every instance. Therefore, it’s crucial that homeowners open the hatch to the loft to allow warmer air to reach the area when they are not there – or even when they are.

Households with condensing boiler heating systems especially need to watch out for breakdowns, as drain away pipes are outside of the home.

Crucially, make sure you know where your stopcock is. Martin Egan, national claims manager for Direct Line home insurance, said: “Find out now where your stopcock is and how to turn off the water supply. You really don’t want to be looking for it when water is coming through the ceiling.”

Those who come home to find a frozen pipe that hasn’t yet burst should try to thaw the pipe with a hairdryer on a low heat or towels soaked in hot water, says home insurer Esure. Turn on your tap to check for free-flowing water.

If you don’t have water running but can’t find the frozen pipe, you should immediately call a plumber for assistance.  In the mean time, check it is safe to turn off the stopcock. Then leave all working taps open, as the running water can help melt ice.

No maintenance: No claim

Remember that insurers can also turn down a claim for damage if it finds that a homeowner has failed to carry basic property maintenance.

Checking for loose tiles, clearing gutters and sweeping chimneys are a few simple ways to prepare your home for an onslaught of winter storms and should satisfy your insurer that you’ve done your part. 

Would home emergency cover help?

Many home emergency providers use scare tactics, such as impending cold weather, to sell their policies. The products cover the cost of a plumber or tradesperson if a case of burst pipes or another disaster strikes at home.

To many people it seems sensible to buy such a policy. However, you should check whether your existing policy has home emergency cover before buying it as a separate policy – even though more insurers are taking the cover out of policies as standard and selling it instead as an add-on.

You should carefully check what is covered and what is excluded in these policies to decide if it provides good value for money, as there is a wide disparity between the levels of cover on offer.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) receives many complaints about home emergency policies not matching expectations, often after a provider has refused to pay out. And more often than not, the ombudsman sides with the consumer.

Many of the complaints related to a disagreement about what constitutes an emergency. Policy wording usually says it will only pay if the event leaves your home unsafe or uninhabitable, so if you catch a frozen pipe before it’s made considerable damage, you could find that your policy won’t cover the cost of a plumber.

You usually have to use a repair company that is approved by the insurer, so it’s important to ring your home emergency provider before calling a plumber, which might not feel like the natural order of importance to many homeowners.

The FOS also says a number of people have complained after signing up for a free period of cover and then been charged when the policy has automatically renewed, so read the small print of any introductory offer.

If you find that your home emergency cover hasn’t lived up to your expectations, remember you can complain to the ombudsman if your provider refuses to change its mind when you raise concerns.