As extreme weather hits the UK, unoccupied buildings are more at risk of burst pipes and flooding.

By mid-November, the UK had already experienced its fourth storm – a first since the storm naming convention began. In September, Storm Agnes brought 70 mph winds and heavy rain, while in October, Storm Babet brought heavy, persistent and widespread rain and some powerful winds to much of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Over 1,000 homes in England were also affected by flooding across Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the Humber area1.

In early November, Storm Ciaran brought further flooding and damage to the UK. The Environment Agency issued 86 flood warnings and over 200 alerts for possible flooding2. Storm Debi followed close on Ciaran’s heels, ushering in further flooding and power cuts in the UK and Ireland.

With further cold snaps expected, the UK must brace itself for a winter of extreme and unpredictable weather.

Scientists have warned that storms are set to become more intense due to climate change. While the UK is no stranger to bad weather, climate change will likely bring more intense rainfall during storms as a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture3. Climate change is also making it harder to accurately predict the chance of a flood event, meaning that flood zones may also become outdated.

Protecting your property

If businesses are closing over Christmas, they should take some time to think about how bad weather could impact their premises. In offices left unoccupied over the festive period, there is an increased risk of water damage going 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 day4.

Given persistently high energy prices, business owners could be tempted to turn the heating off in unoccupied buildings over the holidays. However, in the event of a cold snap, this could cost far more in the long run if the heating pipes freeze and burst.

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

Top tips:

  • Ensure you have a detailed flood risk management plan in place
  • Before you close for Christmas, get the emergency team together to run through everyone’s responsibilities
  • Keep important records such as site maps, insurance policies, banking account records and computer backups in a waterproof, fireproof container, with a second set of records stored securely off-site.
  • Sign up for flood warnings via the government website to closely monitor the situation.
  • 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 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.


1 Storm Babet, 18 to 21 October 2023, Met Office, accessed 3 November 2023

2 Harrison Jones, Storm Ciaran: Flooding and damage hits homes across the UK, BBC, 2 November 2023

3 Lucie Heath, Why are UK storms getting worse. How climate change is creating extreme weather as Storm Ciaran hits, inews, 2 November 2023

4 Burst pipes and water leaks, ABI, accessed 3 November 2023



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.