House survey after burst pipe leaks

One of the most common insurance claims made by homeowners is for burst water pipes. In Ireland in 2010 there where thousands of burst pipe and water leak claims resulting in tens of millions in settlement claims.

If water pipes are not insulated adequately the water inside the pipe will freeze during very cold weather. As the water expands enormous pressure is exerted inside the pipe and eventually, it will split. The resultant leak normally does not happen straight away as the frozen water (ice) prevents running water from leaking through the split pipe.  As the sun rises and the temperature increases the frozen water in the pipe begins to melt, allowing water to flow through the split. It is not unusual for an unsuspecting homeowner to leave home not knowing anything is amiss, only to return later and find substantial flooding in their house.

The most devastating and expensive water leaks in a home are normally those that originate from the water storage tank or from its associated plumbing within the attic space. The water supply to a storage tank is supplied by the rising mains, which are pressurised. A water tank is not usually susceptible to leaks as there is room for freezing water to expand without exerting any damaging force, consequently, most leaks occur in the water pipes that are connected to the tank as there is no allowance for expansion in this area of the plumbing.

In more modern homes the attic floor is often well insulated. The insulation to a water storage tank and plumbing usually prevents pipes from freezing during our typical winters, however, if we get extremely cold freezing weather, then even insulated pipes can freeze and burst.

The resulting water leak spreads out over the attic floor effectively destroying the dry-lined ceilings below, the dry-lined walls it runs down, timber floors, timber/chipboard wardrobe and kitchen units, doors, architraves, skirtings, personal belongings, furniture, carpets, electronics, electrical switches, sockets, and connections. Insulation in the attic floor will also need to be replaced.

If the water leak is caught very early and just runs over the dry-lined walls, ceilings, timber floors, and kitchen units and is mopped up and dried out immediately then the damage can be very minor; however, if the water is allowed to soak into these materials irreparable damage can be caused, and the cost of repairs can become very expensive.

In 2011 several insurance companies in Ireland wrote and advised homeowners of the terms and conditions in their insurance policies and pointed out that if their house was to be vacant for longer than an advised period of time that they should turn off the water at the rising mains and drain the water system. This is very important in relation to holiday houses which are likely to be empty for extended periods of time. It is always advisable to take your time reading and understanding your insurance policy and complying with the conditions stated, otherwise a future claim may be rejected. If you are unsure about any terms in your policy seek written clarification from your insurance company.

Small water leaks can cause substantial damage before the house owner becomes aware of them, and can result in settlement amounts in the region of €10,000. Larger water leaks which usually occur when they are not noticed for several days can result in significant damage and cost over €100,000 to repair.

If you are unfortunate enough to experience a water leak, then it advisable to obtain an independent quotation for repair works from a builder and / or advice from a building surveyor, before accepting an assessment for repairs from your insurance company or from their nominated builder. Insurance companies obviously want to maximise their profits and will pay out the minimum claim that a client is prepared to accept. To continue being recommended by an Insurance Company nominated builders are expected to supply very competitive quotations for the minimum amount of work. Independent quotations and advice should include all of the structural and cosmetic works implicated and required to restore your home to its previous condition and will help you to be confident when accepting a claim that all of the necessary works have been included.