When you think about it, we’re not that different to dormice. Not really.
The way we retreat indoors or abroad to get warm and dry in winter has a lot in common with hibernation. And pretty much sums up how we spend our winters in the UK.
Maybe you’re locking up an overseas home so you can cosy down for Christmas. Or perhaps you’re planning some winter sun to escape the Christmas craziness.
At this time of year more than any other, we all want our homes to be warm, safe and dry (and a little more sleep wouldn’t go amiss either!) So here are our tops tips to avoid ‘escape of water’ and protect empty properties home, or abroad.
1. Keeping dry (and avoiding escape of water)
Water. Our homes can’t run without it. But it can run away from us at any moment.
So what is ‘escape of water’? It’s the slightly jargonised word that insurance companies use for damage that happens when water, well, escapes. In other words, it’s water damage as a result of pipes bursting, baths or sinks overflowing, and appliances leaking.
It’s one of the most common causes of property damage and one of the most expensive to repair. In fact, water damage claims account for around 45% of all property damage claims. That’s more than burglary claims.
The problem is, water damage doesn’t discriminate. And its casualties are often items that aren’t quick or easy to replace:
- Fitted kitchens
- Wooden floors and carpets
- Bespoke or antique furniture
- High value audio-visual equipment
Common insurance misconceptions:
- Escape of water insurance cover will protect you against all water damage in your home = Not necessarily! If your house is damaged by leaking water or baths and sinks overflowing, you might have to pay a higher excess. And some insurers won’t cover water damage caused by badly sealed baths, sinks or showers since some insurers consider this to be a maintenance issue.
- Damage is limited to the property where the water leak took place = Not necessarily! In blocks of flats, leaks on upper floors can damage the properties below and their contents, leading to much larger claims.
- Tracing leaks is covered as standard = Not necessarily! Finding a leak can be lengthy and expensive and isn’t always covered. Check the Trace and Access section of your policy.
A chilling example:
Meet the proud owners of a beautiful Grade II listed home in Sussex. During an extreme spell of cold weather, the shower pump in their loft froze. Water ran through two floors of the house causing devastating damage. Fortunately, we’d advised our clients about the risks of water and they were sufficiently insured for Escape of Water. The claim lasted a year and we helped them secure a damage claim in excess of £393k. Without Escape of Water insurance, our clients might have been forced to give up their dream home.
Our bucket list of tips to avoid ‘escape of water’:
- Have a nose at your hose | Check your washing machine hose every 6 months. Look for brittle rubber that could split and leak.
- Pipe dreams | Insulate exposed pipes. Check for pipes fixed to the inside of external walls or in unheated areas such as lofts. Cover with simple foam sleeving to stop them freezing.
- Turn it off | Switch water off if you go away. It’s the most obvious but also the most forgotten. If it’s not running, it can’t leak.
- Keep it constant | In freezing temperatures, leave central heating running at a constant temperature.
- Become a water detective | Invest in a water detection system. Choose a simple device that attaches to the mains pipe and sends a signal to your mobile phone. Or, go all out on a sophisticated system that monitors average water usage and switches off water if an increase in flow is detected.
2. Protecting empty properties home or abroad
If you’ve got property abroad but you’re staying put this winter because of crazy flight prices or family commitments, you might be getting ready to clear out and close the shutters for a few months. Or, if you’re escaping the cold (or the Christmas craziness) and going away this winter you might be leaving your property unattended for a while.
Here are the 3 most important things you can do to protect an empty property:
- Make sure your insurance covers you for escape of water and consider implementing a water leak detection system (most high net worth insurers offer a free device as standard to help avoid extensive water damage).
- If you’re going away and the temperature is likely to drop below freezing, set your central heating to a minimum of 10°C (50°F) for a few hours each day. Another good tip is to leave your loft hatch open so that warm air can circulate and prevent pipes from freezing.
- Make sure any contents are insured to the correct value. Imagine your house is a handbag; if you turned it upside down, anything that falls out should be included in the value of your contents:
- Keep an inventory for each room
- Take photos of valuable items
- Keep hold of invoices and receipts and send a copy of everything to your insurer
- Don’t forget to value things like wine collections and new jewellery
And if the recent mortgage mayhem is prompting you to sell a property and you’re doing video tours for prospective buyers, think carefully about what’s on show in your videos. You might want to consider hiding high value art, tech or antiques. Especially if the property is going to be uninhabited for a period of time.
Overall, take the best precautions you can to reduce your risk, but cover yourself for the worst.
And don’t forget, all these preventative tips apply to your commercial properties too. Now is the time to check your policies so you have one less thing to worry about over Christmas. If you’re concerned about underinsurance, we’re here to ask you the questions you may not have thought about.