Burst pipe misery is snow joke!

Updated: 
icicles on houseHomeowners are being urged to protect their properties during the current big chill, to prevent potentially expensive damage occurring.

Burst and frozen pipes cost insurer Lloyds TSB £39million in home insurance payouts last year, with around 26,000 claims registered.

And emergency callouts are already on the rise this week.

The AA says it has seen a 24% increase in callouts from homeowners compared to the previous two weeks, mainly due to boiler breakdowns and burst pipes in the cold weather. Plus the weather is set to get worse over the next few days.

Tom Stringer, head of the firm's Home Emergency Response Service, said: "Despite extremely cold winters for the last few years, many people are still unprepared for cold snaps. With more cold weather on its way, the risk of frozen pipes is elevated."

Engineers on standby
British Gas is also prepared for a massive spike in emergency callouts over the coming days, predicting 20,000 callouts to UK homes this weekend alone.

It has mobilised 10,000 engineers to meet the expected demand from homeowners with leaking pipes and faulty boilers.

Matthew Bateman, managing director of Home Services, said: "With the recent mild weather it's easy to understand why people may have thought winter was behind them, but we've had calls from a huge number of customers experiencing problems with their heating or hot water.

"We have our engineers working flat out to fix Britain's boilers, but there is also a lot people can do themselves to prepare their homes, heating, boilers, and drains and help them work well through freezing weather."

Top tips to protect your home
Of course, it makes sense to do all you can to your property to avoid a major home emergency during this cold snap. The experts have been busy this week, publishing a raft of tips to help homeowners protect their properties and stay warm.

However, some are not realistically achievable over the next 24 hours, such as having cavity wall insulation installed or fixing broken roof slates – though they might be useful for next year.

Instead we've rounded up some the most practical tips that are achievable, and those that help you deal with problems as they happen.

Read on – they could save you a lot of time, upset and money:

Things you can do today
  • Draught proof any gaps in windows or doors
  • Find your main stopcock and make sure that you can turn it on and off. According to Direct Line only 65% of women and 85% of men know where it is. It's not something you want to be looking for while water is gushing into your home
  • If you're away from home for the weekend, keep your heating on constant at a low level - about 15 degrees
  • Clear your gutters and drain pipes of leaves or debris to reduce the risk of blocks and overflows
  • Keep gates and outbuilding doors fastened securely
  • Keep a home emergency kit prepared, including torches, spare bulbs and batteries, home insurance documents, other emergency contact details, tinned food, warm clothing, blankets and a shovel.

What to do if a pipe bursts
  • Turn off the mains water supply
  • Turn the electricity off in areas affected by the leak via the fuse box. If substantial water damage has been sustained, the electrical supply should be turned off completely until a qualified electrician is able to inspect the electrical system
  • Turn off the central heating and immersion heater, and drain the water system down by running all the taps
  • Any dripping water can be caught in buckets. If the ceiling starts to bulge, pierce a few small holes in it to let the water drain through. If it's seriously bulging, stay out of the room
  • Contact your home insurer as soon as possible for further advice or to register a claim.

What if your central heating and hot water stop working?
  • Check to see that there are no other causes - are the other gas appliances and electric sockets working?
  • Check your isolation switches are on and that the trip switches in your fuse box are also on
  • Check your thermostat - it may simply be a case of turning it up
  • Check appliance controls on your boiler, is the temperature dial turned up?
  • Your boiler pressure should read between 1-2 bars - if the pressure is too low, carefully turn on the valves next to your boiler until you see your pressure gauge rise
  • Reset your boiler's timer
  • Check your boiler's pilot light - if it has gone out, check the manufacturer's instructions as to how to relight it.

Source: Tips from British Gas, Lloyds TSB, Direct Line and The AA

Check your insurance
Finally, one other thing you should do today is check your insurance. Most homeowners have buildings cover on their properties, and if you are renting your landlord will probably have it.

However, not all polices are equal and it's worth double checking that your home insurance covers emergencies, such as burst pipes or faulty boilers, because many don't.

If not, you might want to consider upgrading your policy, which should be easy to do by contacting your provider, or switching to a new deal. After all, boiler problems and burst pipes can be extremely expensive to fix, particularly if you need them repairing urgently.

Stringer said: "People often mistakenly think their standard home insurance covers them for emergencies or simply that they won't be unlucky. We suggest that people look carefully at their home insurance policy and if they find they are not covered, they should look at stand-alone home emergency policies to provide them with complete peace of mind."

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