Plumbing leaks and home insurance

Whether it’s a leaking bath, basin or boiler, plumbing problems can cause water damage that costs thousands of pounds to fix

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 5 January 2022  | 4 mins read

Does home insurance cover plumbing leaks?

Most standard building and contents home insurance policies cover water leaks - often referred to as ‘escape of water’ in policy booklets. However, there are exclusions, so you should check your policy carefully.

In some cases, you may need to make a claim under an add-on to your home insurance policy, such as accidental damage or home emergency cover.

It’s also important to be aware that, while your policy might cover you for the damage done to your home and its contents by the escape of water, it may not pay out for the cost of repairing the leaking pipe itself

Policies will probably not cover water damage that’s a result of gradual wear and tear or deterioration that’s occurred due to a lack of maintenance on your part. That’s because insurance is designed to protect you against sudden, unforeseen events, such as burst pipes.

In some cases insurers might impose an escape of water excess that’s higher than the normal excess on the policy.

Key points

  • Plumbing leaks are covered by home insurance under escape of water but there are exclusions
  • You’ll usually be covered for unexpected events such as burst pipes, or a leaking washing machine
  • Home insurance won’t generally pay out for plumbing leaks that are the result of general wear and tear or a lack of maintenance

What are the most common plumbing issues?

Our homes are filled with pipework and appliances that use water, so leaks aren’t unusual.

Blocked drains, sinks and overflowing toilets are the usual causes of escape of water, along with leaks from poorly-plumbed appliances like your dishwasher or washing machine. Faulty heating, burst pipes and leaks from showers or baths are also common.

Does home insurance cover these?

Home policies should cover you for damage caused by most types of leaks that are sudden and unforeseen.

What if pipes are frozen or damaged by frost?

Water damage caused by burst, frozen pipes is usually covered by home insurance, as long as you’ve taken reasonable steps to try and prevent it happening in the first place.

For example, you should lag exposed pipes in the loft or any pipes that are prone to freezing.

If you go away for a period of time during the winter months, it’s wise to keep your central heating on low to keep pipes warmed through.

But if you prefer to turn your heating off when you go away, then you could drain your central heating system and turn off the water at the mains.

You’ll also need to tell your insurer if you’re away for longer than the period stipulated in your policy or you risk invalidating your cover. This is usually between 30 and 60 days.

Can I include plumbing cover in my home insurance policy

Serious plumbing issues may be covered under a home emergency add-on to your policy.

This can pay for things like getting an emergency plumber out to stop an uncontrollable water leak.

Does accidental damage cover plumbing issues?

Depending on the policy terms, accidental damage cover could pay out if, for example, you accidentally drilled into a pipe during DIY work, or left a tap running causing your sink to overflow.

Types of cover to check for

Check in the terms and conditions of the policy to see if your home insurance includes:

Trace and access cover

If you spot damp patches on walls or ceilings, you may have a hidden leak. Trace and access cover is usually included in your buildings insurance policy and can pay for the cost of a plumber or builder to detect, locate and uncover leaking pipes.

While it won’t pay for the repair of damage caused by the leak (you’ll need to claim for this on your main home insurance policy), it'll pay for any damage caused to your home in the process of accessing the pipework. This could include expensive work, like digging up floors.

Alternative accommodation cover

If your home has become uninhabitable because of a leak, some insurance policies will provide alternative accommodation for a limited time while repairs are carried out.

Home emergency cover

Some comprehensive policies include home emergency cover, but in many cases, you’ll need to purchase this type of cover as an added extra. It can pay for the cost of call-out fees and the repair of burst pipes.

What do I do if I have a plumbing leak?

First, turn off the water at the mains to limit damage. You’ll usually find the stopcock under the kitchen or bathroom sink, but it may be in a downstairs loo or kitchen cupboard. Turn the tap clockwise to shut off the water supply.

It's useful to familiarise yourself with exactly where your home stopcock is before any emergencies occur.

If you have home emergency cover, contact your insurer on their 24-hour emergency line. They can arrange for an emergency plumber to come out to you.

You’ll need to let your insurer know the extent of the damage. They may want to send out a loss adjuster to your home to assess the situation.

They might also arrange for the installation of drying equipment at your home before repair works begin.

How to clear a blocked sink

If water is draining too slowly from your sink, you may have a clogged drain.

While it may not immediately cause a problem, a drain that’s left blocked for a long time can cause standing water to put pressure on piping. This may result in water escaping through the caulking and seals on pipe joints.

In many cases, a combination of soap scum and stray hairs can be the cause of a clogged sink drain in the bathroom. In the kitchen, trapped food waste and fat could be to blame.

To clear the blockage, first remove as much of the scum around the plughole area as you can. Then, try using a plunger to clear the blockage. If that doesn’t work, use a specialist sink unblocker product.

If the blockage persists, you’ll need to remove and clear out the u-bend - the first bend in the pipe under the plug hole. It’s a messy, smelly job, so make sure you have gloves and towels to hand.

First, place a bucket under the bend and start unscrewing the pipe. Let the water in the pipe drain into the bucket. When it stops dripping, finish unscrewing the pipe and remove it.

Clear out the bend, cleaning it with warm water and disinfectant before reconnecting it.

If that hasn’t solved the blockage, you’ll need to call out a plumber.

How can I protect my home against water damage?

  1. Check your stopcock

    Know where the stopcock is in your home, so you can access it quickly, should there be a leak. Test that you can easily turn it on and off as sometimes taps can seize up

  2. Home maintenance

    Regularly check all visible pipework for leaks or drips. Take time to periodically check hidden pipework, like pipes behind bath panels. Look for damaged or mouldy sealant around baths and showers

  3. Maintain appliances

    Have your boiler serviced regularly and check your washing machine hoses, as they can become brittle and corrode

  4. Avoid using appliances when you’re not at home

    There's a risk that a leak could occur when you're not at home and cause a lot of damage

  5. Know where pipes are before you do DIY

    Invest in a stud finder to locate pipes behind walls or under floorboards, so you can avoid drilling into them during DIY

  6. Turn off the water supply and drain the system

    This may be a condition of your insurance policy if you leave your home unoccupied for longer than the period stipulated in your terms and conditions. This is usually between 30 and 60 consecutive days

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