Ever lost your tank water? 45% of people have!

Forget the flash floods - what's that damp patch?

Warnings of catastrophic flooding in eastern England earlier this month thankfully proved largely unfounded, but one of the biggest risks to all household property comes not from the elements, but from water leaks in our homes.

Britons pay out over £1.8bn every year to repair the damage caused by leaking water inside properties, according to research by Halifax Home Insurance. During the past five years alone, water leaks from washing machines, dishwashers, burst water tanks, pipes, showers and baths have left the homes of nearly 17 million Britons in disarray - equivalent to about 3.3 million households per year.

David Rochester, head of pricing at Halifax Home Insurance, says: 'Changing fashions in the housing market have increased the likelihood of homes being damaged by leaking water. The trend for homes with multiple bathrooms and the current vogue for wetrooms have significantly increased the risk of water leaks and damage in the home.

'Older properties are vulnerable as a result of corroding pipes, which face strain under more extreme temperature fluctuations because of global warming. Long working hours also account for many leaks going undetected.'
Halifax says that the average claim for escape of water in the home is about £560, but around 60,000 Britons every year will face bills in excess of £10,000.

According to Norwich Union, one of the main problem areas is failed plumbing joints, which may be down to the number of people tackling plumbing jobs themselves.Arthur Philp, a household risks underwriter at Norwich Union, says: 'As we approach the Christmas holiday season, think about some simple home maintenance jobs which could help prevent a future household crisis.

'If you are going away in the winter it is doubly important to make sure any suspicious leaks or drips are sorted out; you don't want to return to a drenched house. That leaky pipe or mysterious wet patch in the bathroom might not seem a huge problem, but if it goes unfixed it could bring your ceiling down.

'And if you're considering doing a bit of home renovation yourself in the bathroom or kitchen, make sure you do a professional job, or ideally get a qualified plumber to do it for you.'

Damage caused by escape of water in the home is generally covered as standard in both building and contents insurance, but the cost of repairing the faulty pipe or water tank that leaked in the first place will not usually be included. You should also bear in mind that some policies won't cover you for escape of water if you leave your home unoccupied for more than 30 or 60 consecutive days.

If you are going to be away for longer than this, contact your insurer to arrange for increased cover. Provided you take reasonable precautions - such as a getting a neighbour to check the property regularly - and you have made sure your pipes and tanks are in a good state of repair, this will normally be available for an additional premium.

You may also want to consider adding 'home emergency' cover to your policy. This usually adds about £4 or £5 a month on to the cost of premiums. Adding home emergency cover to an Esure policy, for example, costs £3.33 a month, and the cover will pay up to £500 for emergency call-out charges and up to two hours of labour costs. Included within this £500 is the cost of any parts and materials up to a maximum of £100.

Asia Manzoor, a spokeswoman for Esure, says that 'getting someone out quickly will help minimise damage' and avoid the possible inconvenience of having to find alternative accommodation. 'This will also reduce the risk of getting a "cowboy" doing the repairs and you get fairer prices and better workmanship.'

Halifax Home Insurance also provides home emergency cover, which - for about £4 extra a month - guarantees the provision of an approved tradesperson to make your property safe within hours. The cover has a limit of £500 per insured incident and claims do not affect the household no-claims discount.

Cornhill Direct's similar home emergency cover costs £30 a year and pays out up to pounds 250 toward labour and parts for each call-out.
Norwich Union's home emergency cover costs £7.95 a month and includes up to £500 per incident for repairs and labour, and up to £100 for temporary accommodation.

As well as making sure you are covered for water emergencies, there are a few other measures homeowners can take to prevent damage.
Frances Browning, spokesman for Churchill Insurance, says: 'Remember that loft insulation should be laid on top of pipes, not underneath them. If you have a water tank in the loft, check there isn't any loft insulation underneath it, which might prevent rising heat reaching it.'

Simon Coughlin, a spokesman for insurer Cornhill Direct, advises: 'Know where the main stopcock is and make sure it can be turned on and off. Fully lag all pipes and tanks in the loft and anywhere else liable to freezing.
'If you leave your home empty overnight during winter, leave the heating on low and open the loft door to allow warm air from other parts of the house to circulate and help prevent pipes freezing. If a pipe does burst, turn off the water at the main stop valve and switch off the central heating and any other water heating installations. If wiring or electrical appliances have been affected, do not touch them - get a professional electrician to check them out.'

Long-distance crisis

Peter Flack, 60, and his partner Trisha Sandell, 47, from Haverhill in Suffolk, received a call while on holiday in Australia to tell them that water was cascading into their sitting room.

Mr Flack says: 'My stepson rang us to say that water was pouring into the lounge. We have emergency cover, so I told him to contact the helpline, and someone came to isolate the problem, which was the power shower pump.

'I then rang my insurance broker, who had arranged my cover with Norwich Union, and the damage was fixed when we got back. It was a big job, as the lounge ceiling had to be replaced, and the carpet steam-cleaned.'

Mr Flack and Ms Sandell pay £324 a year for £55,000 contents cover and £105,334 buildings cover with Norwich Union. The policy has an excess of £60, and their total claim £2,793.

Mr Flack said: 'The only thing that wasn't covered was a new shower pump, which set us back £600.'