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Burst pipes: check the small print

Most insurers state you must turn the water off at the stop-cock if you are going away for a certain period

COLD weather runs the risk of frozen pipes and water damage, in particular for second home owners who should be aware of their resonsibilities to prevent it, or risk not being covered by insurance.

Burst pipes - tuyaux (or canalisations) éclatés - are a common cause of water damage to properties, which is usually covered under assurance multirisques habitation household insurance policies.

Insurance broker Nick Chubb of Asttral SA said that the key thing is to read the fine print about your obligations.

“The thing most people do wrong is they take out the policy and don’t read the booklet that comes with it which explains the conditions générales - they just put it in a drawer.

"Where customers do not speak much French they can phone us and we can go through it with them.”

He said in the case of burst pipes most policies state you must turn the water off at the stop-cock if you are going away for a certain period.

This can vary - it could be as little as a few days. For longer periods, and especially in winter, you may also have to drain the water off (vidange - ie. turning on the taps and letting the water drain out) and you might need to drain the central heating system and or use anti-freeze (antigel).

If you do not take the required precautions and there is an accident then cover could be reduced or annulled, depending on the company.

Mr Chubb said: “It’s commonsense really - if a pipe bursts and water floods out for three months while you are away from a holiday home the damage could be horrendous.”

Depending on the reason for the burst, and the insurance firm, there may be an excess - for example if the claim is for €1,000 the first €200 might not be payable by the insurance company.

To avoid damage from freezing it is advisable for pipes to be clad in insulation like fibreglass or polystyrene and it is also suggested you cover up the water metre if going away in the cold period, though stipulations like these are not usually insurance requirements.

Note however that, depending on the policy, repair of the pipes themselves may not be covered.

Where it is, however, it is more likely to be paid for if the bursting was due to freezing than if it was just attributable to wear and tear.

For example, where hard water deposits damage the pipe this is seen as wear and tear (you can avoid this, if appropriate, by having the system treated with special products).

Where damage occurs, you should contact your insurers quickly with details of what caused the flood and what the damage is - some firms require this to be by recorded delivery post (lettre recommandée avec avis de réception).

It is important not to have any repair work done until the insurer has agreed in writing that you can go ahead and that they will pay an agreed sum.

Where flooding has damaged another property you will have to fill out a constat aimable (agreed statement of water damage) form with them (your insurer can provide one).

In apartment buildings there is an agreement in place between insurance companies called Cidre that says for smaller claims the insurer of the damaged flat will pay up, regardless of which flat was responsible for the leak.

Resident or second-home owner in France?
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