Burst pipes and escape of water claims

Every home can fall victim to frozen or burst pipes and without insurance, even a small leak can be costly for homeowners to repair.

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Amanda Bathory-Griffiths
Updated 15 June 2023  | 5 min read

Does buildings or contents insurance cover water damage?

Yes, water damage is usually covered by your home insurance and so is repairing or replacing damaged pipes. Out of 303 buldings insurance policies listed on Defaqto, 91% cover damage to pipes as standard.[1]

It can either be called ‘water damage’ or ‘escape of water damage’, but both terms mean damage that’s caused by a water source in your home, like a burst pipe or leaking washing machine.

It’s one of the most common types of claims – according to our data, 25% of home insurance claims occurred as a result of water damage[2].

Key points

  • If a pipe bursts and you’re not insured you face paying to access the leak, repair it and fix the damage caused by the water
  • Cover and excess levels vary and may differ or be in addition to your standard home insurance excess
  • Your insurance might not pay out if your pipes aren’t properly insulated (lagged)

Is accidental damage included in water damage cover?

Accidental damage is a separate aspect of home insurance, but it’s not usually a standard feature.

On Defaqto, only 21% of 303 buildings insurance policies offer accidental damage as standard, while 76% offer it as an optional extra.

Be warned that claims relating to accidental damage from DIY projects can be a common area of insurance disputes – if you attempt a major DIY project and botch it because you’re out of your depth, you may find you have to foot the bill.

What are the common causes of burst pipes and water damage?

Clogged pipes can increase the water pressure, which in turn can cause them to burst.

Cold weather is also a common cause of water damage. Water expands when it freezes, which causes pipes to burst.

How to prevent escape of water and water damage in your home

Check your plumbing – pipes, boilers, washing machines, dishwashers, showers, baths, taps and toilets – to make sure it’s in good working order.

If you think there might be a blockage or you have a pipe at risk of freezing, get in touch with a qualified plumber to come and inspect it and work out what needs doing.

Find more tips on how to prevent plumbing leaks in the home.

How to detect a leak in your home

One of the first signs of a leak is a damp patch on the wall, ceiling or floor.

You might also notice that your water pressure is low and that your plumbing is making strange noises. Mould or mildew might bloom and there might be a damp, musty smell.

Check your water bill too – if it’s unreasonably high then it could be due to a water leak.

How can I claim on my home insurance for water damage?

As soon as you have a report from a plumber, get in touch with your home insurer to discuss your claim.

Your insurer will want to know what happened and what the damage is. This is where the plumber’s report, any photos you have and information you recorded at the time of the incident will be needed.

Your insurer might send a loss adjuster to visit your home to assess the damage – this is just to make sure that you and your insurer are not being overcharged for repairs.

Once a cost has been agreed, repair work can start. It’s a good idea to document this process too, just in case there’s an unexpected problem with the work.

Once the work is complete, you’ll probably need to sign a form to say you’re happy with it and then your case will be closed. Your insurer will arrange to pay either the repair company or you, depending on the process outlined in your policy.

What to do if you have an escape of water

1. Turn off your water via the stopcock

You’ll need to turn your stopcock to shut off your mains water supply. In most homes you’ll find it under the kitchen sink, in a downstairs bathroom, or in a utility room.

If you can’t find your stopcock try asking a neighbour where theirs is, it’s likely yours will be in the same place. If you’re a tenant, ask your landlord.

Stopcocks are usually turned off by being turned in a clockwise direction until tight. Then you should run your taps to get rid of any excess water in the system.

2. Turn off your electricity and move electricals away

If the water is near any electrical sockets or fittings, it’s best to turn off your electricity. You can do this by using the main on/off switch on your fuse box.

Don’t touch any wet electrical fittings, you’ll need an electrician to check they’re safe to use.

Once you’ve turned off your electricity, you should unplug electrical items, turn off appliances at the mains and move anything electrical well away from the area that’s been flooded.

3. Turn off your heating

If you think the leak might be coming from your heating system, it’s a good idea to turn off the water and power supply to it.

There will be a valve on your heating system that you can turn to stop the water. Then turn on a hot tap to drain the system.

If you have a combination boiler, the leak will cause the water pressure to drop and the flow of water to stop. Don’t try to re-pressurise the system until the leak has been fixed.

4. Take temporary measures to remove excess water

Put a bucket of water under the leak and wrap a cloth or towel around the pipe that’s leaking. Move any furniture away and get water off surfaces with towels and a mop.

You’ll need to dry the space out, so open doors and windows. You could also try using a dehumidifier to get rid of excess moisture, this will help reduce chances of damp and mould.

For major leaks you may need to hire a water pump or speak to a professional who can use specialist drying equipment.

5. Contact your insurers

As soon as possible, you should tell your insurer exactly what’s happened and where the leak, often referred to as ‘escape of water’, has come from.

Some insurers won’t cover the cost of finding and repairing the source of the leak and may only cover the cost of repairing the damage that’s been caused.

If your insurance policy doesn’t cover you for leak repairs, you’ll need to get a plumber.

6. Contact a plumber

Unless it’s an emergency, don’t arrange any work until you’ve spoken to your insurer.

If you have home emergency cover on your policy, you can call the 24-hour helpline to access a plumber who can come out to fix the problem.

If you don’t have this cover, you’ll need to find a plumber to get the leak under control. You can visit watersafe.org.uk to find approved and accredited plumbers in your area.

Once the damage has been assessed, you’ll need to call your insurer to discuss your claim - it’s likely they will want to use their own approved tradespeople to fix any damage.

7. Take photos of the damage and keep records

Take photos and video footage of the leak and any visible damage to your home before any repairs are made.

Save all letters and emails to and from your insurer about the leak. And note down the date and time of any calls, and the person you spoke to, in case this is needed in the future.

Keep all receipts from any emergency repairs and records of maintenance you’ve had done in the past, so you can show them to your insurer if you need to.

8. If the leak is outside your property boundary, report it to the local authorities

Your water supplier is responsible for the pipes that run up to your property boundary. So for any leaks near your property, let them know as soon as possible so they can arrange to fix it.

The pipe that runs between the street and your internal stopcock belongs to you as the homeowner, but sometimes water suppliers will offer free repair here too so it’s worth checking.

9. Protect against future leaks

Prevention is always better than cure, so try doing the following regularly to help avoid leaks appearing in your home:

  • Get your boiler serviced once or twice a year
  • Check your water pressure, if it’s too high it can cause pressure on your pipes
  • Insulate your pipes to help prevent them from freezing and cracking
  • Keep your gutters and downpipes clean and clear
  • Switch off your water before you go away for long periods of time
  • Regularly inspect pipes for loose fittings, leaks and drips
  • Keep seals around baths and showers well maintained and check taps and sinks
  • Know where your water pipes are before you do any DIY or drilling
  • Use your water meter to check for leaks by turning the water off and seeing if the reading changes over one to two hours

10. Consider trace and access cover and accidental damage insurance

Not all causes of leaks are covered by standard home insurance, so it’s worth looking at the exclusions on your policy.

Accidental damage insurance can be added as an optional extra and could prove very useful. For example, if a tap is accidentally left on or a hole is drilled into a pipe.

Trace and access cover helps to cover the cost of investigating and locating the source of the leak. But it’s not always included as standard, so it’s worth checking this when you’re comparing home insurance policies.

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[1]Last checked 24 May 2023

[2]We've looked at all of the areas of the UK where claims were made and what the claim was for. We've then pulled out the top 20 areas where those claims were most frequently made. Data is based on home quotes completed in 2022. Data relates to last quote per customer in year. % of Quote relates to the % of quotes (last per customer per year) in each area where the customer declared 1 or more claim of the specified type when completing their home quote. Where fewer than 5 claims of the specified type were declared for the area, the area has been excluded from the output.