Water ‘more dangerous than burglary’

Water caused £730 million worth of damage to British homes last year, but did this make it the biggest threat to your home and possessions?

It's a nightmare scenario for many homeowners. You arrive home expecting a relaxing night in front of the TV to find you've been burgled — your bedroom ransacked, your laptop gone and the bathroom window smashed.

But while a burglary can be devastating financially and psychologically, there's a far more costly threat to our homes — water.

According data from Legal & General, insurance companies paid out £730 million to cover the cost of water-related claims last year. This figure is more than double the £370 million of burglary claims.

And not only does water strike more homes, it causes more damage. The average home insurance claim for 'escape of water' was just under £2,000 compared with £1,400 for burglary claims.

Even if you don't make an escape of water claim yourself, the total cost of water damage adds £54 to every household insurance policy.

"Unfortunately, too many people are not aware of the distress and damage that an escape of water can cause. We are aware of other risks to our home, such as burglary, flood and fire, but a water leak is something homeowners don't think they need to worry about," said Malcolm Cooper, director for general insurance at Legal and General.

"However, statistically, it is likely that a homeowner will suffer an escape of water at least once in their life."

[Useful: Are you overpaying on home insurance?]

The six biggest risks

Analysis company Datamonitor took a look to see what the biggest threat to your home was overall. According to total claims, it found the six major risks to your home are:

1. Escape of water
2. Weather
3. Accidental damage
4. Theft
5. Fire
6. Subsidence

Again, escape of water is again the major cause of claims and Datamonitor puts the cost of an average claim a massive £2,122.

During 2009, these types of claims increased by 20.7%, while subsidence-related claims rose by 27.5% and those related to theft went up 5.5%.

Although less common than escape of water claims, fire damage tends to be the most expensive type of claim to settle at £7,815.

The worst affected properties

Although water damage can occur in all properties, detached, semi-detached and terraced homes account for 87% of Legal & General claims.

What's more, you could be at a greater risk if you've had extra plumbing fitted to your property after it was built.

Legal & General also states that under-floor heating can increase the risk of damage and living in an open-plan property means the flood can spread more easily.

The riskiest time of year

It's a pretty well-known fact the risk of burglary and vandalism skyrockets between Halloween and New Year, which means many of us will be more vigilant about home security this week.

In addition, wintery weather will also put you at an increased risk of water damage in your property. When temperatures drop, pipes are more likely to freeze, burst and flood your property.

Will my insurer pay out?

Most insurers should pay out for weather damage as part of a standard perils policy. One possible exception being if you live in an area with a high risk of flooding and your insurer specifically excludes flood-related damage in your policy.

Your insurance company will normally send a loss adjuster to visit the property who will subsequently appoint a contractor to oversee the repairs. A number of policies will also provide money for alternative accommodation should your home become uninhabitable.

If you are a victim of bad weather, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) advises you to call your insurance company as soon as possible. Most companies will have a 24-hour emergency helpline to provide advice and help arrange repairs.

Tips to avoid water damage

Find your stopcock: Should a pipe burst, it's essential you turn off the water supply as quickly as possible. Stopcocks are often located below the kitchen sink.

Keep the heating on: Although it's tempting to turn the heating off completely to lower energy bills when you're away, this could be a false economy. Allowing the temperature to plummet is one of the most common causes of burst pipes during winter. Instead set the heating to come on at a low temperature for a few hours each day during your absence.

Open cabinet doors: If pipes are buried behind kitchen and bathroom cabinets, keeping doors open could allow air to circulate and prevent pipes from freezing and then bursting.

Keep the roof in good repair: Perform regular checks to make sure there aren't any damaged tiles that could become dislodged during high winds. While you're up there, it could also be a good idea to check the condition of your gutters.

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