Nothing causes more damage to UK homes than water. Whether it is burst pipes, a leaking radiator or just the botched installation of shower enclosures, having water pouring through your ceiling is never a pleasant experience. Not all plumbing emergencies can be avoided, but knowing what to do should the worst happen will minimise the damage until you can get the plumber out to put things right.
In the harsh winter of 2009, British insurers paid out £900 million for water damage to properties, most of it due to pipes freezing and bursting. Burst pipes happen because water expands as it freezes, cracking and fracturing pipes. Once the temperature rises and the water defrosts, the cracks in the pipes allow the water to leak everywhere. There are many different ways to protect against burst pipes, and it is best to start these preventative measures in the warmer months so you are well prepared for the cold snap if it comes.
Pipes which are exposed and run on the outside of the house are of less concern as they are less likely to damage your home, but if you have pipes running under the house or behind kitchen cupboards it is a good idea to lag them. Special pipe lagging can be bought from DIY stores, but even rags and cloth wrapped around a pipe will be better than leaving them unprotected. If the temperature does drop very low, leave your heating on overnight to keep the temperature up in your home, and if the pipes run behind the cupboards, leave the doors open. If you are going away for an extended period over Christmas or during the cold weather, switching your water off at the mains may also help.
Do you know where the main stopcock to turn off the water in your home is? A huge percentage of British households just don’t have a clue. Knowing where the stopcock is and how to operate it doesn’t matter until you have a plumbing emergency and can’t work out how to stop the water flowing into your home. In many homes, the stopcock is located under the sink in the kitchen. It looks just like a very large tap. If it is not under the sink, the other places to check are near the boiler or in the bathroom. If you live in flats, there may be one stopcock in the corridor or entrance hall for several properties.
If the worst does happen and you have water leaking everywhere, the first step, even before calling your plumber, is to turn the water off to stop more damage. If you simply cannot locate the stopcock in the house there will be another one in the street to turn the water off at the mains but operating this requires special tools. If water is dripping or leaking anywhere near lights or electrics, it’s a good idea to turn your electricity off at the mains too.
Home Emergency Cover
Many buildings and contents insurance policies offer an emergency cover service, and this can be a good investment if you are not confident in dealing with problems on your own, or do not have locally trusted tradesmen to call on when needed. If pipes burst or a radiator springs a leak, you just call the number given by the insurance company and they send someone round to fix it. The disadvantage of these sorts of policies is that if there are thousands of households all over the UK with burst pipes at the same time, you can end up waiting hours or days for a plumber to attend.
Sinks and shower drains can become gradually blocked over time with hair and soap scum, and having a blocked sink, shower or toilet means it is out of action until you can remedy the problem. The easiest way of avoiding this is stopping it becoming blocked in the first place, and there are several chemical based products on the market to help with this. If your sink or toilet is blocked, first try to remove any obvious obstruction with your hands or by using a sink plunger. If there is no obvious cause for the blockage, then it is probably time to call in the experts.
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