Home floods soar as big freeze takes £40m toll

AA Insurance urges action to protect household plumbing

5 February 2009

It's easy to forget the threat posed to your home by freezing pipes

AA Insurance is urging people to act now to protect household plumbing from the big freeze after seeing an extraordinary 450 per cent surge in home floods caused by frozen pipes this winter.

The insurer estimates that homeowners have lodged more than £40 million in claims nationwide after icy weather froze water in pipes and roof tanks, causing them to burst and flood their homes, bringing down ceilings and ruining carpets.

AA comment

"After a decade of mostly mild winters it's easy to forget the threat posed to your home by freezing pipes," says Simon Douglas, Director of AA Insurance. "This year's big freeze is a reminder that burst pipes can cause serious water damage to both buildings and contents such as carpets and furniture. As well as dealing with an insurance claim, you face the major hassle of drying out and repairing your home.

"The good news is that you can reduce the risk by taking some simple precautions to stop pipes from freezing – but the time to act is now."

'Escape of water' inside the home is the single biggest cause of home insurance claims, accounting for around one in five claims in a normal year.

Claims peak in winter due to freezing but the big freeze in January, which saw temperatures drop to minus 15 degrees or lower in many parts, as well as the current snowy spell, have seen claims soar. Pipes most exposed to the cold are a particular risk, including those supplying outdoor taps and plumbing in unheated basements, lofts and exterior walls.

Cost of claims

According to the Association of British Insurers, 'escape of water', which includes burst domestic pipes as well as broken joints and valves, blocked drains and taps left running resulted in £80 million in insurance claims during the whole of 2007.

The total for last winter was around £30 million but the first six weeks of 2009 alone have seen claims reaching an estimated £40m.

Tips to prevent frozen pipes

  • In cold weather, check all your taps from time to time. If little or no water flows there may be frozen water in the pipes
  • Know where to find your stopcock! Then you can cut off the flow of water if a pipe starts leaking. AA research has shown that one in three homeowners don't know where their stopcock is
  • Insulate pipes that are most exposed to freezing and don't forget corners and elbows of pipework – they tend to be the most exposed. You can find supplies at DIY stores
  • If you go away, leave central heating on 'tickover' (by setting the thermostat low) to prevent freezing – don't turn it off
  • Ask a neighbour, friend or relative to check your home while you are away – this will ensure burst pipes are spotted early and any damage is minimised
  • Turn off any indoor valves on pipes that lead to taps outside your home. Then open the outside tap and leave it open to let any water drain. This ensures there is no water in the pipes to freeze
  • Have your central heating system checked and serviced regularly – a leaking radiator valve can also cause water damage

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9 February 2009