How to protect your home from burst pipes – and other domestic disasters

Chiara Cavaglieri offers a few simple tips, and looks at the best cover

The thaw is under way in many parts of Britain, although it may only be temporary, and insurers are urging homeowners to check their homes for damage as snow and ice gives way to wet weather.

Freezing conditions have led to a three-fold increase in the number of home-emergency claims, with a 200 per cent jump in calls for help relating to water damage, says Marks & Spencer Home Insurance.

"We're expecting the number of claims to increase throughout January and February as the severe weather puts a greater strain on central heating systems and household plumbing systems. The bad news is that the winter may have barely begun," says Simon Coughlin, a spokesman for M&S Home Insurance.

Some home-insurance policies provide cover as standard for emergency breakdowns, while others only provide basic cover, for burst-pipes, say, but not for a boiler breakdown. Cover is commonly available as an extra to home-insurance policies, and most price-comparison sites allow you to add it on and recalculate a quote. AIG, for instance, will charge an extra £23 a year to add this cover to a standard home policy. Other insurers, such as Aviva, Churchill, Insure.co.uk and Cover Direct, offer the option of adding emergency cover. But the standard home-insurance quotes from these firms may not be the best buy in the first place, so any extra you have to pay has to be factored into the real cost of cover.

Alternatively, you can take out a separate home-emergency policy. Aviva offers standalone cover for £7.95 per month, or as an optional extra to its home insurance for £4.95 per month. It covers up to £500 per incident for repairs and labour on broken-down boilers, blocked drains, burst pipes, loss or failure of heating or your gas or electricity source, and even lost house keys. Aviva also provides cover of up to £100 for temporary accommodation, with no excess.

"It's important to scour the small print," says Julie Owens, of Moneysupermarket.com, "as wording will vary between policies." Common policy exclusions include water leaks due to taps needing rewashering. Also, many older heating systems, over 10 or 15 years, may not be covered.

If you're looking for more protection, Homecallplus offers a Rainbow package with full cover for a whole range of potential disasters. You pay an annual £126 or a monthly direct debit of £11.47. As well as the usual protection for drains and sewers, wiring and heating, or hot water, it provides cover for invasion by vermin and wasps. Direct Line offers Home Response 24, which sends out an engineer or plumber should you have problems with your heating, drainage, locks, and, as an optional extra, electrics. Premiums depend on where you live and the age of your heating system, but someone living in West London, in a flat, can buy cover for £101 a year.

Watch out for policies with high excess levels and restrictions, such as a limit on the number of claims, or call-outs per year. Some may even refuse to replace a boiler if it breaks down beyond repair. Homecallplus may cost more than standard home emergency cover added on to a home insurance policy, but it does allow for an unlimited number of claims with no excess to pay and a no-claims bonus of up to 30 per cent. Some policies also provide a free annual gas-safety check.

Without proper cover, plumbing bills can soar. Certified plumbers on call-out to fix a leaking pipe can charge £65 to £85, and repair costs for boilers can run into hundreds of pounds. Replacing a fan could cost you from £203 to £630, while a new pump would set you back up to £389, according to consumer organisation Which?.

If you do find a burst pipe, first turn off the mains water supply, then drain the water system by running all the cold taps and then all the hot taps. "At this point, you should get a plumber out on an emergency call – or call your emergency home insurance helpline who should be able to help find you a local plumber. Then call your home insurer as soon as possible," says John O'Roarke, the head of Liverpool Victoria home insurance.

You can also take some simple steps to minimise the risk. Insulating lofts, water pipes and tanks will help avoid water freezing and expanding. If the temperature is forecast to drop and you're going away, you can leave the heating on at a low level. Many boilers also have a frost protection mechanism which turns on automatically when the temperature drops. Ensure that you know where the main stopcock is. It's also a good idea to clear guttering and drains from leaves which could lead to blockages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

    £45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us