The end of the infamous ‘Beast from the East’ brought a temporary spurt of warmer weather that we all enjoyed, even if it only lasted a few days! But it’s still spring and we all know that cold, wet and turbulent weather is always on the cards on these shores.
The huge amount of rain and snow we have had already this year has made the risk of experiencing water damage to our homes seemingly greater than ever.
When you live in a block of flats or apartments, you may not think that the risk is as great say, as if you lived in a detached house. But it’s absolutely vital to ensure that your block’s building insurance is as comprehensive as possible. Unbeknownst to many – when it comes to flats – whether we are talking about a house converted into two flats or 200 flats in a purpose built block – making claims for the escape of water is very expensive.
James Collins, Managing Director at Deacon Insurance, says: “In 2017 claims for water escape are consistently the most expensive claim for the domestic property insurance market.” And he supports the call from the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy, that reducing such claims “should be a top priority for the sector in 2018.”
Last November, the ABI released figures that showed no change in what has been consistently the most expensive claim for domestic property insurers:
- In the first nine months of 2017, domestic escape of water claims cost £483 million, rising 1% on the same period in 2016 and up 24% on the first nine months of 2014.
- Between 2014 and 2016 the total cost of domestic escape of water claims jumped by 24% from £529 million to £654 million.
- In the three years since 2014, the average cost of these claims has risen by 31% to £2,638.
The trickle effect
Repeated claims for damage caused by overflows, leaking appliances and damaged pipes result in higher premiums or excesses and even make it difficult to get water escape included in your cover at all.
James Collins of Deacon Insurance also says “We work with a panel of well-known insurers to get competitive renewal terms for our clients, but if they have a poor claims record you can be almost certain it will be reflected in the premium.”
What’s the fuss?
Year in and year out, escape of water is the most common cause of insurance claims manage by Deacon’s in-house claims team**. The number of claims is of some concern, not least as if there are repeated claims for a building, sooner or later, insurers may apply conditions to that building’s cover. For example, the insurer could request that the insured party take steps to mitigate damage, such as automatic stopcocks that turn off the water if a flat is empty for an extended period of time.
The reality is that even a tiny escape of water can lead to a big claim if it causes damage to multiple flats. Finding the cause of the leak can prove to be a real headache.
And if you have a leak the last thing you need is to find out that your policy doesn’t cover you for trace and access – a standard feature of the cover available through Deacon.
If it’s not included in your policy then your insurer might not even pay for the costs of opening up your floorboards or walls to find the source of the leak. Nor will they cover making good any damage caused during the search for the leak – they might only cover the actual damage caused by the water. It’s not rare for trace and access to cost much much more than redecorating water-stained ceilings and walls.
How to avoid water escape
Deacon’s claims experience shows that a block of flats built after 1990 is almost twice as likely to report escape of water damage than one built between 1850-1990.
“There are many factors contributing to the rising rate in claims,” says James. “More plumbed-in domestic appliances, central heating, homes having more bathrooms and toilets, more complex and hidden plumbing in the structure of the building, and the use of less damage-resilient materials such as chipboard, as well as modern push-fit plumbing fittings are just some of the reasons.”
He adds: “Some people don’t think twice about annual boiler inspections – perhaps they should be encouraged to have annual plumbing checks? At the very least, you might want to check that everyone knows where their stopcock is and ideally have isolation valves fitted to inlets for appliances and cisterns.”
Deacon’s top tips to help prevent water leaks include:
Bathrooms and toilets
Always check the mastic beads around your bath and shower as these allow water to run from your tiles and back into the bath or shower tray. If the mastic seal has imperfections or is damaged, water will always find a way to run down the back of your bath or shower and it will inevitably eventually make its way through the ceiling below.
It’s also always important to check the grout on tiled surfaces, particularly around wet areas. Gaps in grout can really increase the risk of water leaking into the property and the room below the bathroom.
Another excellent idea is to have your toilet looked at. Listen for irregular sounds during the flush cycle and if the tank takes longer than usual to refill or you notice a humming sound; the valve may need to be replaced or adjusted via the inlet washer. Dripping taps are often caused by faulty valves.
Remember that it’s important to always instruct a professional tradesman when carrying out works.
Check the mastic beads around your kitchen worktop and around the sink. Water can penetrate through eroded or damaged points in the mastic, with the potential to damage cupboards and flooring. Damage is more likely to occur in areas where water is used frequently, such as taps, draining boards, and kettles.
The central plumbing hub, where your dishwasher and washing machine, isolation valves, and the waste from your sink is usually located, is mostly found under the kitchen sink. Have a good look to ensure that there are no visible leaks. Frequent vibration from a washing machine can cause plumbing to become loose, so it’s a good idea to carry out frequent checks on the hose, which is a major cause of leaks.
Check your radiators, valves and exposed pipework for leaks and any indication of corrosion and rust. Leaking radiators must always be fixed and not left to worsen. If not fixed, damage to flooring, carpets and floorboards could be a lot more serious and expensive than you’d imagine.
Your stop tap
Be absolutely sure you know where to find the stopcock valve for your property. This is essential in order to reduce water damage.
Is it easy to turn or is it rusted? Being able to turn off the water supply easily if water is leaking could save you thousands of pounds of damage and insurance premiums. An annual test of the stopcock valve is a very good idea indeed.
Spraying WD40 or something similar around the stopcock valve can really help too. And make sure family members also know where it is located.
Taking heed of all of these factors is essential if you want to avoid not just considerable inconvenience, but potential increases in insurance premiums.