Turning the tide:
how to protect your home from escape of water

From burst pipes to leaks, here’s what you need to know about escape of water

Home maintenance

19 January 2019

Water is one of the most common sources of property damage. Burst pipes, unchecked leaks and faulty parts can all have a big impact, from a steady drip to a destructive deluge.

There are many ways water can get into your home, but they all have one thing in common: they’re all often preventable.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide with tips to help you find flaws before a major escape, deal with the damage and stay safe and soak-free in your property.

What is escape of water?

When we refer to ‘escape of water’, we’re usually talking about plumbing-related problems, for example burst pipes, faulty boilers and malfunctioning washing machines would all be ‘escape of water’ issues.

And with more homes adding integrated appliances, hidden plumbing, en-suite bathrooms and other complex systems, the risk of water escaping is growing.

These more complicated water and drainage systems means that the cost of fixing the problem is growing too. The ABI (Association of British Insurers ) show that the cost of domestic escape of water claims rose to £483 million in the first nine months of 2017.

What are the common causes of escape of water?

Infographic of a house
1. Dodgy DIY
washing machine and sink
2. Cheap or Faulty Parts
water leaking pipe
3. Blocked Pipes

Cold weather: Escapes of water happen throughout the year and are not necessarily weather related, although of course we often see a significant increase in the incidence of burst pipes during freezing conditions. When water freezes, it expands. If this happens in your plumbing, the pipes can split or burst, causing leaks as soon as the ice thaws. During particularly cold spells, this can be a real problem which you need to monitor at home.

Dodgy DIY: With a shortage of plumbers leading to higher prices, many consumers tightening their belts, and with a rising trend of ‘how to’ videos on YouTube, property owners are increasingly taking on tasks themselves. This trend has led to more mistakes being made.

Cheap or faulty parts: One of the most common DIY mistakes is underestimating costs. This can tempt people to opt for cheap plastic parts, which might not be up to the job. This is a particular problem in higher pressure plumbing where temperature fluctuates, such as central heating systems.

Blocked pipes: If waste pipes are blocked, pressure builds up. Eventually this might damage a seal and allow water to escape.

Hidden pipes: The ABI is particularly concerned about hidden pipes because it’s harder to spot escaping water, and the damage can spread further before it’s too late.

Faulty appliances: With more dishwashers and washing machines than ever before, the likelihood of something going wrong is increasing.

Where should I check for escape of water?

Infographic of a house
tube in a bathroom
1. Bathroom
washing machine and sink
2. Kitchen
water leaking from ceiling
3. Ceiling

The ten most common problem areas in the home are:

Bathroom: It has lots of often hidden weak points where the toilet, sink and bath connect to your plumbing and where pipes supplying showers are embedded in walls.

Ceiling: Plasterboard ceilings are easily damaged, so keep an eye on areas where pipes run to and from your bathroom. Most DIY stores sell metal detectors to help you find any hidden pipes – a vital task if you’re planning DIY jobs where underlying pipes or cables might be damaged.

Kitchen: Water pipes often enter and exit properties via the kitchen, putting it at risk of frozen pipes in winter. The under sink cupboard is also a common location for leaks, due to lower temperatures (often where the water supply and stop cock are located) and also due to pipes and connections becoming loose.

Damp in internal walls: Find out where your risers are, so you can spot any damp patches early.

Under-floor pipes: Even with hardwood flooring, plumbing should accessible for inspection. Make sure there’s a hatch or ‘lifter’ floorboards that aren’t nailed down.

Boiler: Because the pressure changes as the water heats up and then cools down, washers and connectors can fail – causing drips and leaks.

Toilet: When you’re cleaning the toilet bowl, check around the back and at the cistern for any drips or condensation from ageing seals.

Radiator: Rust and corrosion can be early signs of escape of water from joints.

Washing machine: Look behind appliances like dishwashers and washing machines regularly to ensure all pipes are secure and dry.

Leaks from a neighbouring property: You can’t maintain your neighbour’s plumbing, but you should report to your neighbour if you suspect that water is leaking from their property into yours. You can also find out where the leak is and monitor the area for any other warning signs of damp.

What should I do if I find or suspect a leak?

It’s vital to know where your stopcock is so that you can immediately shut off the water supply. It’s usually found under the kitchen sink, but if you can’t locate it then contact a local plumber for advice.

Once the flow is stopped, it’s time to contact your home insurance provider. Your claims contact details should always be kept safe and handy so that you can seek help with confidence. Your AXA home insurance policy details can also provide further information on how to make a claim.

Your next steps will depend on what’s causing the escape of water

If your pipes are frozen, you can mitigate the worst of the damage by:

  • Attempting to thaw frozen pipes with a hot water bottle or hairdryer.
  • Switching off the central heating or any other water heating installations and opening all taps to drain the system.
  • Ensuring that professional repair has been carried out before switching back on.

If it’s a leak from a connector, or something simple like a dripping tap, you may be able to replace the parts yourself. Just make sure you use the right size connectors, as even the tiniest gap can cause a leak.

In the event of escape of water from the heating system, it’s always advisable to use a professional tradesman registered with an HSE-approved competent person scheme.

How can I prevent escape of water?

infographic of a house
temperature control unit
2. Control the Temperature
opened cabinet door
3. Encourage Air Circulation
insulated water pipe
1. Protect your pipes

Regular maintenance is vital for preventing escape of water. With this in mind, these are our top tips to stay dry.

Protect your pipes: Ensure water pipes and water tanks in the roof space are insulated correctly. These exposed pipes are more likely to freeze. Don’t insulate beneath your water tank though, as this will prevent your home’s heating from reaching and warming the tank. If you’re unsure of anything, visit your local DIY store for more advice.

Control the temperature: You should set your heating to between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius for a set interval each day, especially if the home is unoccupied.

Encourage air circulation: Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can keep warm air from reaching sinks and adjacent outside walls. Keep cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate. Also, consider opening your loft hatch to allow warm air to reach the water tank.

Upgrade old appliances: It’s not just boilers and washing machines that age, their plumbing connectors can too. Stopcocks are similarly prone to age-related issues. Consider an electronic stopcock replacement to reduce the chances of it sticking.

Keep an eye on problem areas: Temperamental heating, low water pressure, condensation and damp can all be warning signs of escape of water.

Consider leak protection systems: Leak protection systems like Leaksafe can help you monitor for problems. They’re designed to detect excessive flow of water or escaping moisture and, when they do, they can automatically shut down your water supply.

And while you’re protecting your home against escape of water, it’s also a good opportunity to consider other areas too.

Take a look at our tips on how to weatherproof for all seasons, paying particular attention to protecting against major disasters like storm damage and other extreme weather. And don’t neglect those outdoor areas either.

Assistance at home when you need it most

From burst pipes to broken boilers – when you have an emergency at home, you can't afford to waste any time getting it repaired. In addition to our domestic helpline, if you choose AXA Home Assistance at renewal, we'll arrange for an authorised contractor to sort out repairs up to £1000 in an emergency. Find out more about AXA Home Assistance below, or take a look at our Home Insurance options.