Christmas is nearly upon us, and this time of year generally involves annual leave from work to spend with our nearest and dearest – making it, as they say, the most wonderful time of the year.

However, it is anything but for commercial and domestic property owners who return to find burst pipes.

Given soaring energy prices, owners could be tempted to turn the heating off in unoccupied buildings over the holiday period, but if there is another cold snap, this could cost far more in the long run.

For policies covering sprinklered properties, there is a general requirement for frost protection or the building to be kept above a certain temperature, so it’s even more important to keep these properties warm.

The UK has already experienced extremely cold weather conditions this December; if flats or offices are left unoccupied over the festive period, there is also the potential for water damage to go unnoticed.

Escape of water damage is one of the most common types of domestic property damage claims, with insurers paying out £1.8 million every day.1

A burst pipe claim often doesn’t only impact the property in question. In a recent burst pipe claim Gallagher received for an unoccupied building, there was damage to the flat and a neighbouring pub and hairdressers. Therefore, along with a property damage claim, there are also liability claims from the businesses.

While the property should dry out, hopefully limiting the material damage, the liability claims from two local businesses just before Christmas could be significant. To make matters worse in this incidence, the landlord hadn’t informed insurers the building was unoccupied, creating additional indemnity issues.

One recent potential escape of water claim that will take some topping is the giant aquarium which burst in the Berlin Radission Blu Hotel, spilling almost 265,000 gallons and 1500 fish into the lobby. Although the cause of the break has yet to be confirmed, there is speculation the freezing temperature, which dropped as low as -6°C, may have caused a crack in the tank.2

Top tips

Read our top tips to help protect your buildings and reduce the risks of burst pipes and water damage in the winter months.

To help prevent burst pipes:

  • Insulate the pipes in any unheated areas such as outbuildings, sheds etc.
  • Thermostatically-controlled heating systems should be left on permanently and set at a minimum temperature of four degrees centigrade.
  • In the event of the building not being used for an extended period over the holidays, water supplies should be turned off and pipes drained.
  • Repair any dripping taps — it is usually just a new washer that is needed.
  • If the heating system fails or makes a loud banging noise, this could indicate that a pipe is freezing. Turn off the system and call a plumber immediately.

If you experience a burst pipe:

  • Turn off the water supply at the main stop valve.
  • Contact an approved plumbing and heating engineer.
  • If your pipes freeze, never use a naked flame to thaw them out.

Speak to your Gallagher representative if you would like more information.


The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.