How to protect your property from escape of water
Property expert Kate Faulkner shares her top tips for protecting your property from water damage.
'Escape of water' generally refers to plumbing issues, where pipes have either burst or failed in some other way, allowing water to come into the rooms of a property.
Common causes include:
With increasing numbers of integrated appliances and concealed pipework, particularly in bathrooms, water leaks are often not noticed until a fair amount of damage has already been caused.
According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), almost one in five claims made on buildings and contents insurance is for damage that's been caused by water leaks, with insurers paying out around £2.5m every day.
So what can you, as a landlord, do to minimise the risk of your buy to let being adversely affected by escape of water?
Avoiding burst pipes
If water pipes are not properly insulated, the winter months bring the risk of them freezing and bursting. That's because when water freezes, it expands, which can break seals and even crack the pipes themselves. Then, when the ice melts, the water escapes through the gaps and leaks into the property. So it's vital that wherever you have water pipes, you make sure there is adequate insulation around them and the water tank itself is insulated.
As well as bad insulation, the pipes serving the heating system can be vulnerable if the heating isn't being used during very cold weather. To help avoid any problems, the heating should be set to come on and keep the property at a low but suitable constant temperature to prevent pipes from freezing.
Steps to take if the pipes are frozen
Your tenants will realise there is a problem because the water will simply not flow, i.e. nothing will come out of the taps. They can help minimise the amount of damage by:
- Reporting the problem as soon as possible
- Trying to thaw the pipes (if it's clear where the problem is) by gently heating the affected area with a hairdryer
- Turning off the central heating and stop cock and opening all taps to drain the system
The plumbing system should then be checked over by a properly qualified professional and any necessary repairs made before the system is turned back on.
Ensuring waste pipes don't become blocked
If waste pipes get blocked, pressure builds up and that can force seals apart. That means your tenants need to be very careful about what they put down drains, sinks and toilets. So, as the landlord and property owner, it's a good idea to remind them of the following:
- Only put human waste and toilet paper down the toilet
- Use drain protectors (which you should supply) in the kitchen sink and over the bath/shower plughole to catch food waste and hair
- Only water should be poured down external drains
- Cooking oil should be disposed of via household waste, not poured down the sink or toilet
- The dishwasher waste pipe protector should be emptied regularly
- In areas where limescale is a problem, the shower head should be regularly de-scaled and preventative products should be used in washing machines and dishwashers
It might be worth supplying your tenants with some sink and drain unblocker products and asking them to use them every couple of months. If you have an HMO with a cleaner, ask them to do this periodically in the kitchen and bathroom.
Make sure the pipework and seals are good quality
When you're refurbishing or carrying out maintenance on your buy to let, cost is always an issue and the temptation might be to lean towards a cheaper solution or even carry out works yourself. But, given the amount of damage that can result from bad-quality work and inadequate materials, the plumbing system is certainly not an area where you should be cutting corners.
The quality of the seals is particularly important as these are the points where pipework is most vulnerable to the risk of leaks occurring. When installing and connecting appliances that use water, such as washing machines, dishwashers and showers, you should always have a professional plumber carry out the work. That's so you can be confident it has been done properly and will have some recourse if there are any problems.
Any contractor you use should be a member of a recognised industry body, such as:
And any plumber dealing with a gas central heating system should be on the Gas Safe Register.
Unidentified source of a leak?
If your boiler is losing pressure and the heating system isn't working properly, it may be the sign of a concealed leak, such as under the floor. But before you dig up tiles or concrete, or pull up carpets to look for the problem, there are various leak detection systems that can find the source through sensing sound or heat in concealed pipes. A professional plumber should be able to advise you of the best and most cost-effective solution.
Escape of water insurance
Given that tenants aren't always as careful as a homeowner might be about how they treat the plumbing system or use appliances, the risk of water escaping and causing damage is greater in a rented property. As such, it's important you have insurance that covers you adequately for escape of water.
The buildings insurance part of your landlord insurance policy should cover you for the resulting damage of burst pipes and leaking water tanks. You can also take out additional cover for contents and loss of rent. Assuming the damage from a flood is insured, you'll then be covered for the cost of rehousing tenants whilst the building is uninhabitable and remedial works are carried out.
Tips for making a water leak insurance claim:
- Ensure all required preventative steps outlined in your policy were taken
- Take action to minimise damage as soon as possible
- Take photographs of any damage
- Don't attempt to make any repairs until authorised by the insurer and/or the loss adjustor has visited the property
5 tips for protecting your property from escape of water
- Where pipework is concealed – such as behind tiles or built-in units – make sure there is easy access via some kind of panel, so you can get to problems quickly and easily.
- Show your tenants where the stop cock is, so they can turn off the mains water supply as soon as they realise there is a problem.
- Remind your tenants to inform you or your managing agent if they are going away during a cold spell.
- When periodical inspections are being carried out, it might be worth using sink and drain cleaner/unblocker products in the kitchen and bathrooms. Also, turn the stop cock to prevent it seizing up.
- Keep clear records of all work, guarantees/warranties and inspections relating to the plumbing system, to help make sure any issues and damage can be fixed – and you reimbursed - as quickly as possible.
Kate Faulkner is one of the UK's leading, independent property experts and regularly features in major newspapers, on the BBC and ITV, as well as regularly co-hosting the Property Show on LBC.