Ensuring you have trace and access cover on your home insurance could be invaluable if you need to find and repair a leaking pipe.
When you smell gas, or water starts coming from parts of your house it shouldn’t, like ceilings or walls, it's likely something has gone wrong with pipework behind the scenes in your home.
Getting to the source of water or gas leaks is called trace and access.
It’s often an expensive, disruptive process, but it's something that can be covered by the right home insurance policy.
“Trace and access will cover the costs of finding the source of leaking pipes,” said Gocompare.com’s Ben Wilson.
“This is really useful cover if the leak is coming from a place you can’t get to, like under the floorboards."
Trace and access cover comes as standard on many home insurance policies, but it isn’t always included.
On 26 August, 2014, Gocompare.com reviewed 323 home insurance policies listed on the matrix of independant financial researcher Defaqto and found that 271 included some level of trace and access cover, while 52 policies offered no cover.
Although 84% of the policies examined included trace and access cover, it’s important to check your documents for this clause.
While most policies provide some trace and access cover, the amount insured varies from policy to policy.
In Gocompare.com’s study of 323 policies, 61% offered cover between £5,000 and just under £10,000, while 8% had a limit of £10,000 or greater.
Policies offering less than £5,000 of cover amounted to 6%, while 8% offered cover described as ‘unlimited’, ‘up to the buildings sum insured’ or a ‘reasonable cost’.
Two policies also provided cover limited to 10% of the buildings sum insured.
Sometimes leaks are obvious - for instance if you have water pouring from the ceiling - but underground water or gas leaks might be harder to notice and could go undetected for some time.
After discovering a burst pipe or leak, the first step is to ring an emergency plumber, heating engineer, or the utilities company to assess where the water is coming from and to stop or control the flow.
This process can be expensive and disruptive, which is where trace and access cover comes in.
If calling a plumber or engineer, your insurance policy may specify that you should call their emergency number so that an approved workman is sent out.
However, there is likely to be flexibility around this in an emergency situation and no reasonable insurer would want you to delay getting help if it causes danger or more damage to your property.
If there's an escape of water and a plumber has to remove part of your home to find the source, you should make sure that what they remove is necessary and not excessive.
For example, if there's a leak underneath your bathroom floor and the workman rips out the entire bathroom suite, it's possible that the insurer will judge that this was unneccessary and excessive and will refuse to reimburse you.
Also, if only one part of your suite, such as the sink, was removed and damaged in the search process, depending on your policy the insurer may not agree to also replace the toilet and bath as an entire matching set.
Underground services include water, gas, sewage and cable. You're responsible for the gas, water and sewage pipes that cross your private land.
If your home is served by pipes which also serve your neighbours then each property owner is jointly responsible for the pipe.
Although trace and access cover is important for locating and reaching a damaged service pipe, you should also check whether your insurance covers the cost of repairing the pipe, too.
This may be particularly important if damage was accidentally caused by you, for example by digging in the garden.
Of the 323 home insurance policies Gocompare.com examined on 26 August, 2014, 275 offered cover for accidental damage to underground services as standard, while 47 policies offered it as an added extra and just one didn’t offer cover at all.
When looking at sewage pipe blockage, 114 policies did offer cover as standard, while 174 policies didn’t. Thirty-five policies offered cover as an optional extra.
When it comes to water pipes, although you're officially responsible for their repair where they cross your property some water companies may offer a limited number of free repairs, to meet their leak-reduction targets.
Many will repair pipe leaks up to your home’s front wall, but not within the property itself.
Be aware, however, that your water company isn’t generally obliged to help fix any leaks on your property and each water company has different repair policies, so it’s worth checking with yours.
If you're on a water meter, a leaking pipe could seriously impact on your bill, while an excess of water in the ground around your property could potentially lead to other problems such as groundwater flooding and heaving (read more about heaving in our guide on subsidence).