At the height of the cold snap back in 2010, insurers are believed to have dealt with over 3,500 claims for burst pipe damage every day according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). The cost of this damage ranged between a couple and tens of thousands of pounds, with the typical cost of damage caused reaching around £7,000.
The right business insurance policy will pay out for any damage as a result of burst pipes, and therefore it is imperative that you have the required buildings and contents cover in place. However, this will do little for the inconvenience endured by both your clients and employees, and for that reason, it’s advisable to avoid the situation at all costs.
How to prevent burst pipes
The first thing to know is that it’s risky to wait until the freezing weather is already upon us to start thinking about how to prevent against burst pipes. As winter approaches and sub-zero temperatures loom, make sure that you:
- Find the main stopcock (the valve for turning the cold water system on and off, usually located below the sink unit) and test whether you are able to turn it on and off. This will be essential if you do find yourself with a blockage in the pipes due to frozen water.
- Check for leaky taps and get them fixed as soon as possible.
- Check your pipes are wrapped up. That is to say, check the lagging on pipes and tanks in any spaces where they might be susceptible to freezing.
- Set the heating to come on for at least an hour a day, even on the days when you’re not in work – and visit the premises as much as possible when there’s no one around. This will make sure that if there is a problem, you’ll catch it as soon as possible.
The pipes have frozen: what should I do?
If your pipes do freeze but there’s no visible damage as yet, then the situation might still be salvageable. You should immediately switch off the stop-cock and wait for the pipes to thaw naturally.
It’s not advisable to try to speed up the thawing process as this could result in more damage being caused. When the pipes thaw, the pressure is unblocked and if this happens too quickly, it could easily cause the pipe to burst - copper is particularly susceptible to this.
Burst Pipes – what to do
If a pipe does burst, the first thing you’ll need to think about is how to remove the water and limit damage to your building and contents. There are typically four steps to take:
- Contact your insurance company: as a matter of urgency, you need to check your insurance policy and ask your insurer whether you can make alternative arrangements for your business whilst the property is out of action. You’ll need to limit the inconvenience for your clients and employees as much as possible.
- Retrieve any damaged items: if possible, remove any damaged items from the property and store them somewhere else. It’s not advisable to throw these out as your insurer will need to see them in order to deal with your case as efficiently as possible.
- Dry out your rooms: open doors and windows and leave the heating on to help dry out the damp.
- Call in the professionals: you’ll need a plumber to come in and mend the pipes. However, before committing to anything, consider whether you really are in an emergency situation or not, as you will pay over the odds for an out of hours call-out. If it’s not an emergency, then your insurer may want to advise you who to use, and we will look at this in more detail later. If not, try to use a plumber that has been recommended by someone you trust and look for accreditation. The seal of approval from the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) is one to look out for ideally.
Making your employees aware of the dangers
If you sometimes spend time away from the office and leave employees to open or close up, it’s advisable to warn them of the risk of frozen pipes. As a rule, they should be as clued up as you about what to do should they encounter a frozen or burst pipes situation.
At the very least, make sure that your employees know how to locate the stopcock and who to call in case of emergency. That way, if there is a problem, they should be able to deal with it quickly and effectively.
Beware distraction burglars
‘Distraction burglars’ are essentially opportunists who attempt to cash-in on the freezing weather by pretending to be from water companies checking broken pipes. They do this to gain entry to your business and take valuables.
Its good practice to check the credentials of anybody trying to gain access to the business, but it may pay to stress the importance of this to your employees too. It could – and probably will - be completely innocent, but if so then there shouldn’t be a problem with providing proof.
It’s too late the pipes have burst; can I claim?
Your business buildings insurance should cover any flood damage to your property, whilst business contents insurance will cover your possessions.
If you find that your business has been flooded, contact your insurer as soon as possible; typically, helplines are open 24 hours a day. The likelihood is that your insurer will want to complete a ‘loss adjustment’ process, which involves sending a professional round to assess any damage in detail within 24-hours (ideally) of the incident being reported.
The loss adjuster will advise how to go about the restoration process, and where necessary, make arrangements for alternative premises. At the end of this process, you should be provided with a report that will tell you exactly what needs to be done to the property, who will undertake the work (often insurance companies have their own trusted plumbing suppliers) and how long it will take to complete.
Unfortunately burst pipes are a reality through the winter months, no matter where you are in the UK, and for that reason, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of insurance cover if disaster strikes. For more information about business insurance or to speak to an expert advisor about your policy, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
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