Water management in unoccupied property

What to do with your water system in the home when your property is empty. Information about unoccupied property water and heating advice

Escape of water claims are one of the most likely causes of damage when a property is unoccupied, undergoing renovation, extension work or simply when the householders are on holiday. At the peak of the cold weather in 2011, insurers were receiving over 3500 claims PER DAY for burst pipes and water damage.

On a standard home insurance policy, unless you are away from home (usually for 30 days or more) there will unlikely be any requirements regarding water management but if you have an insurance policy for an empty property it is essential that you comply with the policy conditions as failure to do so will likely result in your claim being declined. Some insurers impose water and heating conditions on depending on the season, others apply them 365 days a year.

Here is a typical wording of an insurers unoccupied property wording for when the property is empty, from one insurer;-

Where the entire premises has the benefit of a gas or oil fired central heating system fitted with automatic controls and a separate thermostat, the system must be set to operate continuously (not timed) for 24 hours each day at not less than 12 degrees Celsius or 54 degrees Fahrenheit

or all water supplies to be turned off at the mains and the entire water system be drained of all the water.

You must also ensure that during the months of November, December and January each year the hatch to the loft area of the premises (where there is one installed) is propped open by at least twelve inches or thirty centimetres.

If you fail to comply with any part of this clause, claims relating to insured event 3 “Escape of water from any fixed appliance, pipe or tank” or the additional cover “Trace and access”, will be void and not paid.


If any claim is being made then we reserve the right to request from you any bills for any utilities being supplied to the premises for verification by us.

As we have said, this is a fairly typical wording which would apply to a policy covering an empty property. Losses to insurers from water damage can be huge, more so in fact that losses caused by fire. At least somebody would notice a fire in a building whereas if a there is a leak in the header tank in an empty house it could be saturating the fabric of the building for several weeks before somebody even notices it. Bearing in mind the potential losses, it isn’t surprising that the strict water management conditions are applied by insurers.

Should you just turn off the water at the mains and drain down the entire system in the house?

There is certainly merit in removing all water from the property so there isn’t any risk to the property and no onus on the policyholder to comply with water management / heating conditions laid down by insurers. The down side to this is during a damp, cold winter the property could really do with having the central heating on. This applies particularly if you are trying to sell the house, it is far more inviting to a potential purchaser if the heating is left on so the additional cost of heating can be offset against the possibility of selling your property quicker. If you are planning on having any work carried out, or even cleaning it is preferable to have water in the taps.

Some policies require the loft hatch to be left open at certain times of the year to prevent the water in the loft / header tank freezing. This is particularly important if the property has good insulation as it prevents the heat rising to the loft and therefore increases the risk of frozen pipes. Whilst this will cost more to heat the property, it will help prevent a freeze and a costly payment of your insurance excess. It is worth bearing this in mind of course because the amount of an excess of £250 for example would be only part of the cost of the claim to the policyholder. There is the time factor involved including seeing builders obtaining quotes for repairs, the potential lost sale of the property, remarketing costs etc.

Remember, the management of water is important in a property and whatever you decide as whether to turn off the water at the mains and drain the system, or comply with your insurers heating conditions, make sure you comply with every part of the conditions or you may face a huge bill for repairs and an insurer turning down a claim on the basis of non compliance of your policy conditions.

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