It is one of the luxuries of modern life that we are able to flush a toilet, turn on a tap, or have a shower without having to think about both where the running water is coming from or where it’s going after use.
Obviously, this hasn’t always been the case, and it is only relatively recently that an effective and (largely) operational drain and sewage systems have been in use.
Throughout history successful civilisations have focused on developing efficient drainage, diverting wastewater away from drinking water and rainwater towards crops in agricultural use.
The main changes between our forebears’ systems and ours are the materials we use. Where once drains and pipes were made from clay, lead, wood, stone or even bamboo, now they are built using more durable materials, such as copper, brass and plastic inside homes, with water moved around using a system of high-pressure pumps rather than the original reliance on gravity.
All in all, the systems work pretty well, but aging infrastructure, growing demand from burgeoning populations and our own stupidity and abuse can test them beyond their limits.
Fatbergs are a bizarre sign of problems building beneath our feet! Probably the most infamous is the Whitechapel Fatberg,1 the weight of 11 double decker buses.
A chunk of it big enough to create a walk-through exhibit, was put on display at the Museum of London to try and educate city dwellers on the risks of continuing to abuse the sewage systems with nappies, wipes, fat leftover from cooking and fast food, and goodness only knows what else.
Fatbergs are a growing problem around the world. In the UK, Birmingham, Plymouth and London (again), have all fallen victim to these man-made monsters during the early months of 2021. But while fatbergs fill the headlines, it’s probably the smaller blockages in our own homes that concern us more.
The general common-sense rules about what not to flush down the drain apply to each and every one of us. Don’t be fooled by labels, either. Even though some wipes and sanitary products may be marketed as flushable, they’re not biodegradable unless they specifically say so. If they go into the drains, they can clog them – and that can happen long before the biodegradable ones get a chance to disintegrate.
The big fatbergs are big problems for the water companies – although consumers pay for clearance work in the end. However, anything that goes wrong with the drainage and sewers on your property is generally your problem. Grease, build-up of hair, small objects, fat, leaves, and many other things can cause drain blockages within individual flats or in the building’s collective drains can cost you dearly.
Put simply, for any pipes that serve your property and are within your boundaries – including drains running through your garden, driveway or under the property itself – it’s up to you to maintain and arrange repairs for. For any pipes outside of your boundary – and for any pipes which connect your drains to a neighbour’s drains – it becomes your water supplier’s responsibility to carry out repairs.
It doesn’t take much to cause domestic chaos, either. Your drainage system can be rendered fully ineffective just from one blocked drain. A blocked sink or toilet, as well as smelling foul, can affect other utilities which are connected such as baths, showers or even washing machines and dishwashers.
Bear in mind that it may not always be caused by poor flushing habits, such as too much paper or fatty food waste.
It can also be a sign of broken underground pipes or a sewer caused by age and collapse, or mechanical damage from tree roots or heavy vehicles.
So, if your block is experiencing any signs of a drainage problem, such as bad odours, that cannot be quickly traced to a single flat, toilet or sink, don’t put off investigating the cause.
Modern CCTV drain surveys make the process relatively quick, easy and inexpensive, and avoid the need to dig holes and search manually for damage or blockages.
Are you insured?
Luckily, structural damage may be covered by your buildings insurance. Most buildings insurance policies include cover for damage to underground pipes, drains, cables and tanks (often called underground services).
Buildings insurance won’t, however, cover the cost of unblocking drains to remove things that have been put down there which shouldn’t have been!
If a leaseholder found that a basin or toilet etc. wasn’t draining as it should then they would need to pay the unblocking costs themselves.
However, if the blockage resulted in damage to the property (i.e. the fabric of the building) caused by an ‘escape of water’, then the cost of rectifying that consequential damage would be covered up by the Policy after the deduction of any excess applying.
We do offer Group Emergency Assist2 cover to owners of blocks of flats with an option for individual flat owners to opt in which provides them with cover for emergencies affecting their private plumbing and drains where the situation makes the property unsafe or is a health risk.
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 trading as Deacon 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.