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Minimising the risk of water damage in high-value properties

Friday 28th October
Minimising the risk of water damage in high-value properties

Escape of water is not something that most homeowners think about until it happens to them. It is not reported in media in the same way as flooding, but the damage caused can be similar. The larger the property, the greater the danger of a problem going undetected. Even minor leaks can cause significant damage if they are not spotted early. Repairing water damage is time-consuming and expensive – from installing pumps and dehumidifiers to repairing and replacing flooring or furnishings. The larger the property, the greater the cost.

A small split in a pipe can release a large volume of water into the home, damaging plaster, carpets, household contents, and in the most severe cases, damage the property’s structure. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has calculated that, on average, a claim related to a burst pipe can cost nearly £9,000. The cost of water damage repairs extends far beyond the actual pipe; they cover the other damaged property too. Sometimes homeowners live in temporary alternative accommodation for 6 to 18 months during repairs. Homeowners may find that their entire home is damaged and that irreplaceable sentimental belongings are destroyed, which is incredibly upsetting. 

Winter-related leaks

As temperatures drop, the chance of water damage claims becomes even more significant due to the increased risk of pipework freezing and bursting. Older, larger properties have vast networks of pipes that can be difficult to access, and because the pipework is usually older, it’s at greater risk of corrosion damage. Therefore, when temperatures drop, pipes are much more likely to freeze and burst unless precautions are taken.

High-value homes are more likely to contain many expensive items that could be affected by water damage. Artwork is particularly vulnerable, but other things, such as antique furniture, expensive flooring, and furnishings, such as carpets, curtains, and cushions, could be costly to repair or replace if damaged. Homeowners are more likely to own multiple properties and split their time between them, increasing the likelihood of their homes being unoccupied.

Top tips to prevent an escape of water incident 

Leaving homes unoccupied during Winter

Taps should be turned off when travelling away overnight or for extended periods (even a tiny drip can loosen and cause a flood). Leaving the heating on low should prevent pipes from freezing; it will also ensure that water pressure does not suddenly dip and surge when the heating comes back on. Homeowners can arrange for a trusted friend to check their home while away. Leaving an emergency contact number and insurance details with that person will also enable them to arrange emergency repairs – this is vital to minimise water-related damage.

Preventing underinsurance

Arrange the correct level of home insurance. Arranging insurance for high-value homeowners can be more complex, but it’s vital to prevent underinsurance. The best way to ensure they have the right level of cover is to speak to an insurance broker.

Install water leak detectors

Protect against hidden water leaks by using a water leak detector. Many are easy to install and can monitor and send mobile updates regarding the water system 24/7. Some devices can even switch off the water supply while the owners are away from home, preventing flooding. Other smart home gadgets can be integrated with the water leak detector. Read this guide to water leak detectors. Homeowners can also arrange the installation of smart boilers or thermostats to manage the temperature of their property remotely. 

Protecting sentimental items

Any valuables or sentimental items that could get damaged by flooding, should be placed in waterproof containers or a waterproof safe and stored at height if possible. Irreplaceable items, such as important documents, film photographs, or faded letters, should also be stored in the same way to prevent them getting destroyed.

Understanding the location of water sources within the property

Knowing where leaks come from in older houses with large network pipes can be challenging. Knowing the location of access points, stopcocks, and the location of pipework (this information can be found on the original building plans) will enable homeowners to switch off the water supply quickly. Sharing this information with a trusted friend or neighbour will help protect the property in the absence of the owner.

Practical precautions

Checking pipes with a greater risk of freezing for insulation will help prevent frost damage in vulnerable areas such as lofts, basements, and external pipes. 

Regular maintenance checks

Homeowners should schedule regular maintenance checks, especially in larger houses where problems often go undetected. A professional surveyor can advise when pipework needs to be checked. For example, stopcocks must be regularly tested, as older fittings can rust and seize up if not used.

Helpful numbers

The Environment Agency flood telephone helpline should be the first port of call for the most up-to-date flood advice. Their number is 0345 988 1188.

Homeowners can also sign up for Floodline Warnings Direct by calling 0345 988 1188 for Typetalk, or register online.

Did you know?

A burst pipe can cause a lot of water to spill into a home or building. Here are the average water flow rates based on typical municipal water lines:

· ½-inch pipe: 50 gallons per minute
· ¾-inch pipe: 110 gallons per minute
· 1-inch pipe: 210 gallons per minute
· 2-inch pipe: 850 gallons per minute
· 3-inch pipe: 1,900 gallons per minute
· 4-inch pipe: 3,400 gallons per minute

Based on these average flows, here are some examples of how quickly water loss can occur:

· A 24-foot above-ground round pool, 5 foot deep, contains roughly 16,000 gallons of water. If the typical two-inch pipe for sprinklers breaks – that pool would fill in about 20 minutes.
· If a standard half-inch pipe breaks and no one is home, in just a few hours there can be up to 10,000 gallons of water spilled.
· A refrigerator water line typically flows at ½ to 1 gallon per minute (depending on water pressure). A leak can lose up to 700 – 1,400 gallons of water in 24 hours.
· A single leak in toilet supply line, which flows at 2-3 gallons per minute, can lose up to 3,000-4,000 gallons each day.
A washing machine hose can leak up to 10-12 gallons per minute, causing the loss of more than 12,000 gallons in 24 hours.


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Kerry London is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The company is a leading UK independent and Lloyd’s accredited broker, which means that we work with a wide range of niche and major insurers.

This note is not intended to give legal or financial advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon for such or regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. In preparing this note, we have relied on information sourced from third parties, and we make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein. You should not act upon information in this bulletin nor determine not to act without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. We and our officers, employees or agents shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever arising from the recipient’s reliance upon any information we provide herein and exclude liability for the content to the fullest extent permitted by law.

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