Winter freeze damaged 3 million homes

Churchill Home Insurance saw a 45% increase in the number of claims for escape of water caused by issues such as burst and frozen pipes during winter 2010/2011 compared with the previous winter.

As the country shivered in the grip of the coldest winter weather on record, with average temperatures of -1C, the snow and freezing temperatures took their toll on people’s properties. Nationwide, more than a third (35%) of householders who suffered damage to their property saw damage to their roof, while a third (33%) reported frozen or burst pipes.

Another 16% of affected Brits said their central heating failed and 15% said their boiler failed during the extreme winter weather. Nearly one in ten (8%) of affected householders even had to move out of their home as a result of weather-related damage.

Highest percentage of winter weather home damage cases:

Damaged roof    35%   
Frozen/ burst pipes     33%   
Damage to fencing/ garden wall  27%   
Central heating failed  16%   
Boiler failed   15%   
Interruption to power supply    14%   
Damage to external walls        12%   
Damage to external paving       12%   
Damage to external windows      9%    
Other   13%   

*Some homeowners experienced several types of damage

However, the research warns that not all householders have learned the lessons of the last two winters and many people could see more damage to their properties this year if extreme winter weather hits again.

Four in ten (40%) householders have not taken any action to prepare their home for the onset of freezing conditions this winter. Best practice is to have boilers serviced once a year but, despite the experiences of last year, two thirds (66%) have not had their boiler serviced in preparation for this winter.

While three-quarters (74%) of Britons have not cleared their gutters, less than one in four (22%) have checked that their loft insulation is thick enough and only 11% have lagged pipes.

However, one in five (19%) have stocked up on candles or torches in preparation for any power cuts, and one in ten have pruned back trees or branches that could cause any damage to their property.

Martin Scott, head of Churchill Home Insurance, said: "A huge number of people experienced damage to their homes last year, particularly as a result of escape of water caused by frozen and burst pipes. It’s essential to plan ahead to avoid potential problems.

"Having home insurance in place will ensure you’re covered for damage caused by escape of water, but also consider taking out Home Emergency insurance to cover the cost of emergencies such as boiler repairs."

Churchill Home Insurance has the following tips to help homeowners ensure their property is not vulnerable to the winter weather this year:

* Prepare pipes for icy weather by insulating them with lagging. Don’t forget the corners. You can do those bits by cutting a 45-degree angle in the lagging, and remember to cover all of the joints with duct tape. Make sure you’ve lagged any pipes you might have outside;
* Check to make sure your loft insulation is thick enough. It should be around 10 inches deep;
* Find your main stopcock and make sure that you can turn it on and off;
* If you have any taps that have a tendency to drip, now’s the time to fix them. Also check to make sure your boiler has been serviced by a Gas Safe professional;
* Try and insulate your home – fit draught proofing to any gaps in windows or doors and make sure wall cavities are well insulated;
* If you’re away from home for a few days during the cold weather, keep your heating on at a low level – at about 15 degrees – throughout. If you’re away for a longer period of time it might be wise and more cost-effective to shut down the system completely, turn off all the mains stopcocks and drain down pipes, toilets and radiators;
* If your pipes do freeze, turn the water off, drain the system and leave the taps open;
* A good way to thaw out frozen pipes is to carefully use a hairdryer (if safe to do so) or to use a hot water bottle tied to the pipes with a towel. If you’ve found a leak, put something underneath to collect water. Never use a naked flame, such as a blow torch, to thaw your pipes as this could cause some serious damage;
* If your pipes have burst and you need help, you can call our 24-hour Emergency helpline and our team will talk you through what to do.

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