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Why winter heightens escape of water risk for HNW clients

At a glance

  • Escape of water is one of the most significant property risks facing homeowners, particularly High Net Worth (HNW) clients
  • Properties owned by HNW clients are often more vulnerable in the winter, due to larger and older pipe networks, which can burst in freezing temperatures unless adequate precautions are taken
  • We discuss how brokers can help their clients to understand the risks and avoid costly damage to property and contents

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Escape of water is a significant risk for property owners all year round. But as temperatures start to plummet, HNW clients could be particularly vulnerable.

According to the Association of British Insurers’ State of the Market report, 30% of all domestic insurance claims in 2018 were due to escape of water and the insurance industry pays out approximately £1.8m every day for escape of water-related home insurance claims.

As temperatures drop, the likelihood of claims becomes even greater, largely due to the increased risk of pipework freezing and bursting. HNW clients’ properties could be particularly vulnerable during the winter months for a number of reasons:

  • Age of properties – HNW clients are more likely to live in older, larger properties. Not only does this mean vast networks of pipes that can be hard to access, it also means the pipework will usually be older and at greater risk of corrosion. Therefore, when temperatures drop, pipes are much more likely to freeze and burst unless precautions are taken.
  • Size of properties – The larger the property, the greater the danger of a problem going undetected. Even small leaks can cause significant damage if they are not spotted early, especially in winter. Repairing water damage is time-consuming and expensive – from installing pumps and dehumidifiers, to carrying out repairs and replacing flooring or furnishings. The larger the property, the greater the cost.
  • Value of contents – HNW clients are more likely to have high-value items that could be affected by water damage. Artwork is particularly vulnerable, but other items such as antique furniture, and furnishings such as carpets, curtains and cushions, could be extremely expensive to repair or replace if damaged.
  • Unoccupancy – The risk of escape of water increases if a property is regularly unoccupied, because problems may not be spotted until it is too late. HNW clients are more likely to own multiple properties and split their time between them, increasing the likelihood of unoccupancy.

How to avoid escape of water in winter

By taking some simple precautions, HNW clients can minimise escape of water risks throughout the winter months.

Understand the property layout

In older houses with large networks of cast iron pipes, it can be difficult to know exactly where leaks are coming from.

It is important clients understand where their access points are, where the stopcock is, and the location of pipework (this information can be found on the original building plans) and that this information is conveyed to neighbours or anybody else looking after their property in their absence.

Take practical precautions 

It is important to identify areas of the property where pipes could be at increased risk of freezing – e.g. lofts, basements and external pipes – and to provide appropriate insulation (lagging). High-value, vulnerable items should be moved away from directly underneath pipes wherever possible.

Properties should be kept at a temperature above 10°C if unoccupied over winter, and internal doorways and cupboards containing pipework should be left open to encourage circulation of warm air.

If a property is regularly unoccupied, having a trusted neighbour to regularly check in is also a good idea.

Carry out regular maintenance

Even when a house is occupied, homeowners should schedule regular and periodic maintenance checks, especially in larger houses where problems can often go undetected or unrecognised. A professional surveyor can help explain how and when pipework and other items should be checked. For example, stopcocks should be regularly tested, as older fittings can rust and seize up if they’re not used.

The value of smart home devices  

There are a variety of smart home devices that can help HNW clients protect their properties throughout the winter. For example, smart boilers or thermostats can help clients monitor and manage the temperature of their property remotely. There are also a growing number of water leak detectors that alert homeowners when water levels change – some even shut the water off automatically if they detect a leak.

For more information, please speak to your local Zurich contact.

How to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting in older houses

  • Keep the temperature above 10°C when the property is unoccupied in the winter
  • Insulate or lag pipes and water tanks, especially in areas such as lofts or basements
  • If the property will be unoccupied for a long period, consider draining the water system completely
  • Keep cabinet doors and interior doors open to encourage heat circulation
  • Seal any cracks or holes that may be letting cold air in
Image © Getty

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