Stopwhat? How to find your stopcock

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Don't let burst pipes, blocked drains or flash floods cost you a fortune. Check your home insurance covers you for water damage…

  • Worried you’ve got a leak or burst pipe? Here’s how to spot the signs
  • What’s a stopcock and how do you use it?
  • How to prepare for flooding and bad weather

Insurers pay out £1.8 million for leaking and burst pipes every day, but there are precautions we can take at home to limit any damage caused by faulty pipes or even flood damage.

The rising tide of water damage claims

With the rising cost of bills, many households are paying closer attention to what’s going in and out of their accounts and how they can reduce utilities. Meanwhile, many homeowners and renters are living unaware of leaks lurking in their pipes, costing them precious pennies in unused water, and not only this, these unnoticed leaks could be causing costly damage whilst sat undiscovered.

Although flooding grabs the headlines, it's actually burst and leaking pipes that cause the biggest headaches. It goes without saying that if left untreated, leaky pipes can do a lot of harm - causing structural damage and potentially wider health problems from mould that can occur due to the dampness. 

The cost and inconvenience caused by a burst pipe can be considerable. Just a small rupture can release gallons of water, damaging plaster, carpets and other contents.  And if that isn’t bad enough, data from British Gas shows that during a spell of freezing weather, a claim to repair a burst pipe can rise to around £7,500.

Whilst a good home insurance policy will likely cover burst pipes and water leaks, it is in fact one of the most common reasons for home insurance pay-outs in the UK, with insurers paying out £1.8 million for it every day, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Types of water damage

For insurance purposes there are two general types of water damage.

  • Flooding. This covers flooding from rivers and sea, a rising water table and flash floods from storms.
  • Escape of water. This usually refers to flooding that happens when a pipe or drain is blocked, a pipe has burst or an appliance has leaked.

Insurance companies will cover you against both types of water damage, but not if the cause of the damage is due to poor maintenance or lack of precautions.

Insuring your home against water damage

Whether your home is damaged as a result of coastal flooding or a frozen water pipe, you can take out home insurance to cover you against most problems. You should check your insurance covers both the damage to the building and the contents of your home. You can also take out home emergency cover in case your plumbing springs a leak.

Buildings insurance will cover you for any water damage to the structure of your property, the walls and permanent fixtures such as kitchen cabinets.

Contents insurance covers you for any soft furnishings that get ruined, for replacing your water damaged living room, your television, computer and any valuables lost in the flood. It also pays to replace carpets.

If there's a leak, most insurers pay for the cost of removing and replacing the structure of your home to find the source of the leak. This is called trace and access cover. 

And if you have additional home emergency cover, you can call someone out to fix the problem any time of the day or night.

How to spot a leak…

Have you ever settled down to sleep and suddenly noticed a dripping sound? Well, it could just be that dodgy tap, or the first sign of a leaky pipe - or maybe you’ve gone to have a shower to find a giant puddle of water left on the bathroom floor. Before you complain to whoever used the bathroom last and left the mess, this could be another sign of a burst pipe or leak. 

These scenarios are common occurrences, so it's quite easy for leaks to be mistaken for something less sinister. The Association of British Insurers claim that at least one in four building and contents insurance claims are down to “an escape of water”. To limit the damage, detecting a drip early on, before it becomes a flood is key.
Don’t know what to look for? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Check your water usage and bills 
If you are on a water meter you should regularly check your usage for any sudden increases that could be caused by water escaping. If you aren't on a meter then you only get an annual bill, so it wouldn't be relevant and your usage wouldn't matter or affect the cost you pay per month. 

Keep an eye on your water pressure
Whilst no one enjoys a low-pressure shower or spending an hour running a bath after a long day, this could be a sign of a leak in your pipes. 

So, if we’re describing an evening that feels all too familiar, it’s worth giving your taps and shower heads a clean to remove any limescale first to eliminate that as the cause. And if that’s not successful, it could be time to get your pipes checked.

Finally, look out for mould and damp smells, as well as puddles on the floor which can all indicate an underground water leak. Read our tips for staying on top of your home maintenance.

How to stop water damage

There are some precautions you can take to protect your pipes! No one wants to be faced with cleaning up after water damage, so the best thing to do is prevent it from happening in the first place. 

And if a cold snap is coming, it’s even more important to take a few simple precautions to keep your pipes safe as the number of claims for burst pipes skyrockets after a cold spell. That's because the water in the pipe freezes and splits the pipe causing a leak. 

Here’s how you can help prevent this happening: 

  • Lag pipes and insulate water tanks.
  • Keep the heating on low if you're away from home during the winter.
  • Make sure you know where your stopcock is and you can turn it off if you need to.
  • Eliminate draughts from doors and windows that could reduce the temperature in the house.
  • If your water tank is in the loft, open your loft hatch to circulate warm air up there. Remember – if you have a leak because your water pipes were not maintained properly, your insurer may not.

You’ve spotted a leak or a pipe in your home has burst - what next?

So, you’ve spotted a leak - what next? The first thing is to locate the stopcock to turn off your water supply… but what on earth is a stopcock and where does it live? Ideally, we would suggest that you ask this question before moving into a new home, but if it’s too late for that, read on.

What is a stopcock? 

A stopcock is a control tap that can turn your home water supply on and off – this is the only way to quickly stop a leak from causing more havoc. However, most of us don’t know where to find it! If that’s you, don’t worry, we’re here to help.

Where is your stopcock? 

What you’re looking for is a tap situated between two lengths of pipe. The first place to look is under the kitchen sink as this is where stopcocks are located in most homes. However, if you live in an older house you may need to keep hunting, try looking:

  • In the back of a bathroom cupboard
  • Under the stairs
  • In the Hallway
  • Near the garage
  • In the airing cupboard
  • Around the boiler
  • Around the front door, behind a panel (not the most obvious of hiding places)

How do you use a stopcock? 

The internal stopcock is what controls the water for your home,  so it should be the first port of call when you spot a leak. Once you’ve found it, turn the stopcock in a clockwise direction to stop the supply to your home.Don’t be surprised if it takes the water a few turns of the stopcock and a few minutes for the water to completely stop, this is normal.

If you need to get your water supply running again, simply turn the stopcock anticlockwise and wait a few minutes for the water to return. 

You may even be able to find two stopcocks - one external and one internal. The main thing to remember is that these control different water supplies and external stopcocks are almost exclusively operated by plumbers. External stopcocks belong to the local water supplier and so even if it’s an emergency, you’ll need to seek their permission to operate it. 

In most cases the external stopcock is located under a cover on the road or pavement outside your house, or at the end of your road if you live in an older house. So, thankfully, it’s not that easy to accidentally turn the wrong stopcock off.

Top Tip: It’s worth turning your internal stopcock off when you go on holiday to prevent disasters happening whilst you're away.

What is turning off the stopcock didn’t work?

You’ve turned the Stopcock off but water is still running... don’t panic, it may just be because the stopcock isn’t fully switched off. As we said above, it may take a few turns of the handle, so make sure a) it’s definitely the stopcock you’re turning and b) you’ve turned until you can’t turn it anymore. 

Still not working? Try loosening the stopcock and then apply extra force when turning it off.

If water is still running, it could mean that your house's stopcock is faulty. It’s not uncommon for a stopcock to become worn out and stop working completely but if this is the case, make sure to call a plumber so they can replace your old stopcock with a brand new shiny one!

Top Tip: Over time, stopcocks can break, making it hard to turn off your water supply if you spot a leak or burst pipe. Worryingly, few people regularly test their stopcocks to check they are working. To check your stopcocks, run water through a tap then turn the stopcock off to see if the water stops.

It’s worth checking every six months to give you peace of mind that it can be turned off in an emergency and potentially make the difference between ruined wallpaper and major structural damage. If you’re forgetful, why not set a calendar reminder on your phone to make sure that you’re checking regularly.

What to do if your home is at risk of flooding?

If you know your home is at risk of flooding, many insurers will expect you to take some precautions when there are flood warnings. 

These can include:

  • Signing up for flood warnings. You'll be contacted by text or email if you need to take precautions.
  • Investing in flood guards. You can buy water barriers, airbrick covers and sandbags that reduce the amount of water that gets into your property.
  • Keeping your drains clear so that the water can run away.
  • Moving your possessions upstairs. This stops your household goods from getting ruined by rising water levels.
  • Switch off gas, electric and water supplies.
  • Keeping important and costly documents like your passport or house deeds in waterproof bags. 

If you’re in a flood risk area, it's very important that you tell your insurer. If you don't tell them and you make a claim for water damage, they may reject your claim. Remember, insurers won't automatically choose not to insure you if you live in a flood risk area. They'll assess the risk of flooding and adjust your premiums accordingly.

Making a claim

If you’ve been affected by water damage - be it leaky pipes or flooding - it may be time to get in touch with the insurers. Almost every water leak claim is different, and the time it takes to get sorted can vary.
You should call your insurance company to report your claim immediately. For straightforward claims, a quick cash settlement may be possible for you to arrange your own repairs.
Alternatively, insurance companies will arrange a contractor to visit your home and assess the water damage. The contractor will establish what work is needed and if any specialist work is required (like asbestos removal or drying), they’ll explain what this means and who will do the work. If a claim isn’t covered, they’ll let you know as soon as possible.
Water damage claims can sometimes involve lots of different people, therefore it’s important you know who’s doing what and who to contact about your claim. If the insurance company has appointed a contractor to complete the repair, they’ll be your main point of contact for everything related to your claim. If a drying company or asbestos specialist are appointed, these companies will be coordinated through your insurance provider's contractor.

Repairing your home

Your insurance companies’ suppliers will explain what work is to be done and will coordinate with you to make sure you’re happy with the planned repairs.  Where required, you may need to choose decorations or replacement fixtures and fittings so these can be available in time.
Your home will need to be dry before repairs can go ahead. This either happens naturally, or by arranging for drying equipment to be installed. It might be necessary to remove some fixtures and fittings to help dry out the property, Your insurer should arrange this for you as part of the drying programme.
The contractors working at your house will work with you to minimise any disturbance to your family life, however at times disturbance is unavoidable, so your insurer should chat to you about alternative accommodation. When all work is finished, you’ll be asked if you’re happy with the repairs that have been completed before closing the claim.
If you’re looking for more information on insuring your home against water damage, read our guide on what to do if there's a leak in your home. 

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