Damage from escaping water is one of the leading reasons for home insurance claims, so we must be aware of the signs to catch leaks before the trickle turns into a torrent.

Modern lifestyles have resulted in greater use of water throughout the house. En suite facilities, wet rooms, Jacuzzis, whirlpool baths, water-jet massage showers, underfloor heating and a myriad of other appliances means more pipework in more rooms. These all increase the risk of problems from leaking joins, bursting pipes and overflowing tanks or baths.

A fault on an upper floor or in the loft can cause extensive damage as the water seeps, drips or pours downwards.

Unfortunately, you can’t usually see or hear escaping water until it’s too late. Often the first sign of a problem will be water pouring through a light fitting, or a big bow in the ceiling.

A problem with the pipework in underfloor heating more often than not means replacing the entire floor, with substantial disruption. Kitchen units, although undamaged, have to be lifted to repair beneath them.

An NFU Mutual policyholder experienced first hand how a small leak can cause such large-scale disturbance to their property and personal inconvenience. The cause of the problem was established as water escaping from the underfloor heating pipework; however it had already affected fittings and furnishings throughout the house, which were subsequently removed. The policyholder had to move to temporary accommodation for nine months while the property was dried and reinstated.

More often than not you’re dealing with large areas and high quality fixtures and fittings. Damage from escape of water is inherently very expensive, but it doesn’t usually result in the total loss of the building.

What it does leave is ruined furnishings, fittings and flooring – your Regency furniture, oak parquet floors, William Morris wallpaper – and massive inconvenience and disruption while the damage is made good.

Insurance will normally cover alternative accommodation for people and pets but nothing can compensate for not being able to use your own house for weeks or months.

Best practice for dealing with leaks

You can check your own property for leaks and signs of corrosion before and again after winter. Check your external pipework for distortion and splits, especially if there has been a hard frost.

When your heating comes on in the autumn, bleed air from the radiators and check the pressure in your boilers. A rapid drop in pressure can mean a leak – or lots of people using hot water at the same time.

The difference between fresh water leaks and heating leaks should be easy to detect. Heating is a closed system, with automatic feed-in pipes to regulate it. The water can be corrosive and smells – that may be a cue for checking.

Proper operation of your appliances and regular scheduled maintenance, especially for older properties, will help keep the water in your home contained where it belongs.

What you should do if you have escaping water

  • Turn off the water supply, then open your cold taps to drain your system
  • Assess whether you need to turn off the electricity. If water could have leaked onto any electrics, immediately turn off the supply at the fusebox. Wet wiring, switches and sockets can be dangerous
  • Turn off immersion heaters and the heating system, then open your hot water taps to drain your system
  • Check for water damage. Damp patches and stains on walls and ceilings, and bulging of ceilings, point to water escaping above. Stay clear of dangerous ceilings. If you can do so safely, you should poke a small hole in a bulging ceiling so the water can escape to a container
  • Consult a plumber and electrician before turning your water and electricity back on.