Why water pipes burst in winter and what you can do about it

01 July 2024 Marius Steyn, Personal Lines Underwriting Manager at Santam

Having to deal with a burst water pipe is something all of us would like to avoid – especially in the colder winter months. Yet cases of frozen or burst water pipes are extremely common - even more so during winter – and they tend to cause significant damage to property, buildings, and contents.

"The cold weather has nearly everything to do with a burst pipe," explains Marius Steyn, Personal Lines Underwriting Manager at Santam, South Africa’s largest insurer. "The increased risk of freezing weather conditions can cause exposed pipes to burst or leak and most pipes cannot withstand the increased pressure of the water within them, which expands when frozen."

While geyser claims are usually the most frequent types of claims Santam receives during the winter months, burst water pipes are often among the most common homeowner claims to occur. These incidents highlight the importance of taking proactive measures to protect your home.

Steyn shares a few recommendations on how to prevent burst water pipes this winter:

1. Letting water slowly drip from each tap stops freezing. This prevents the build-up of ice which creates pressure and damages the pipes.
2. Conduct regular maintenance and improvements to ensure that the plumbing and insulation are in order.
3. Thermal insulation of pipes will significantly reduce the risk. However consider this would only be effective for exposed pipes.
4. If you are away from home, drain all the water from the pipes by closing the main water valve and opening each tap to drain all the water. This prevents any unwanted water or electricity wasted.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when experiencing water damages in your property. The best response is to stay calm and assess the situation. Steyn shares two simple steps to follow for homeowners responding to water damages:

• Turn off your water at the main switch by shutting off the main stopcock. This will stop the flow of water into the house and prevent any more water from coming into the pipes that would lead to further damage.
• Switch off the main electrical supply, especially if any electrical sockets could be exposed to water.

While the increased risk of freezing weather conditions is largely to blame for burst pipes, Steyn concludes that homeowners can take proactive steps to mitigate the risks to ensure the safety of their property and contents. “By staying informed and prepared, homeowners can protect their properties and enjoy a safer, more comfortable winter season.”

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