The bitter cold has led to a four-fold rise in the number of households reporting burst pipes.

While the nationwide bill for such damage could top 650 million this winter, most home insurance policies will cover the costs (see the Home Insurance guide).

Insurance experts say the average claim for a burst pipe is 15,000, which highlights the importance of good cover.

Yet you can take simple steps to prevent damage which is a particularly pertinent message ahead of the Christmas get-away when millions will leave their homes unattended and may be tempted to cut costs by turning the heating off completely.

Pipes are most likely to burst during cold spells when water freezes inside which causes the pipe to expand and crack. As the ice thaws, water will pour out of the holes.

Thames Water says the Big Freeze has led to a quadrupling of the number of burst pipes it usually deals with at this time of year.

Get insured

If you take out home insurance now, you should be covered for burst pipes immediately, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), even though the cold snap is already in full force.

That said, don't be surprised if you get a visit from an assessor from an insurance company if you claim for a burst pipe in the first few weeks after taking out a policy as they will check the incident happened after the cover began.

Buildings insurance will cover repairs to the pipe itself while contents insurance will cover any damaged items in your home.

Cover for burst pipes is a standard feature of even the most basic home insurance policies, according to the ABI.

But it is still a good idea to double-check, especially if your policy is cheap or you are considering buying a cheap policy.

If your property is listed or has a flat roof, there may be exclusions, according to the AA.

The ABI says insurers paid out 644 million to homeowners and firms following damage caused by burst pipes last winter but it expects a higher figure this time.

Escape of water, which includes burst pipes and leaving the tap running, is the most common reason for people to claim on their home insurance.

Protect your home

If you're going away, the ABI has the following tips to protect your pipes:

  • Ensure loft water pipes and water tanks are insulated.
  • Know where your stopcock that turns off the incoming water supply is, and make sure it works.
  • Ensure your home is still warm. If you are away for a long time it may be worth draining your cold water system.

If a pipe freezes:

  • Thaw it out using gentle heat such as towels soaked in warm water or a hairdryer.
  • Remove furniture and carpet (where practical) near to the frozen pipe.

If a pipe bursts:

  • Turn off the water at the stopcock.
  • Switch off the central heating to avoid further damage.
  • Open all taps to drain the system.
  • Contact your home insurer for advice.

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