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When your drill hits a water pipe: what to do and how to prevent it

When your drill hits a water pipe, you need to act quickly.
Don’t want a swimming pool in your bathroom? Then there’s no time to waste

When it comes to jobs around the house, showering is usually a welcome cool–down at the end – but water spurting from the wall is enough to make any DIY enthusiast break into a sweat. Deciding to simply drill a quick hole in the wall is never a good idea. After all, if you accidentally hit a water pipe, it can be extremely annoying – and take a lot of effort to repair (much more effort than checking the wall for pipes beforehand). Read on to find out what you can do if it happens to you, and how to minimise the risk in the first place.

A first-aid kit for drilled water pipes

If your drill accidentally hits a water pipe, every second counts. The more water that spurts out of the pipe, the greater the damage to your home. By taking these five steps, you should hopefully be able to keep this damage to a minimum.

1. Turn off the water supply: before you start setting up buckets and cloths, the first thing you need to do is turn the water off. You should find a stopcock in the bathroom or kitchen for this purpose. However, if you live in an old building, you will probably need to turn off the water at the main (this tap is usually in the cellar or basement). It’s a good idea to be aware of where these taps are before you need them – so that you can act quickly if your home is in danger of flooding. Better safe than sorry!

2. Turn off the electricity: if there is a lot of water in your house or apartment, turn off the electricity at the fuse box or electrical panel. If the water were to reach an electrical socket, anybody still in the house could be at risk of an electric shock. If the water is already as high as electrical sockets, leave your home and call the fire brigade.

3. Call in the professionals: depending on how much water is in your home, you’ll either need to call the fire service to pump it out, or a plumber to patch up the pipe. You could do this yourself – but if you’ve never removed a wall or done any soldering, it’s best to call in the professionals.

4. Phone your insurance company: if your home has been damaged, you should contact your insurance company. As well as reporting the damage, you’ll need to discuss the next steps. In some cases, the insurer may want a picture of the pipe and the resulting damage. So don’t start cleaning up yet. If you're in rented accommodation, you should inform your landlord immediately.

5. Let the wall dry out: before you can clean the damaged wall, you need to let it dry out completely. The damp surface requires as much air as possible. If it is only a little damp, simply ventilate the room thoroughly. For more serious damage, you’re best off contacting a professional drying service – it’s far better than having to deal with mould later on.

Who pays for the damage?

Once you’ve dealt with the physical problem, one question remains: who pays for the damage? The answer to this question will vary by case and depends on two factors: your insurance and where you were drilling. For damages in a rented house or flat, your personal liability insurance will pay up – but only if it's not deemed gross negligence. For example, if you were drilling directly above or beneath the bathroom sink – where it's likely that a water pipe exists – it’s unlikely it’ll be covered. The same applies to home insurance, which will only pay out if it was not a case of gross personal negligence.

Check first to minimise the risks!

Use a digital detection device to check for water pipes before drilling.
A digital detection device can help you find water pipes in the wall

To avoid having to deal with the issue of liability altogether, the old saying still applies: prevention is better than cure. If you didn't install the water pipes yourself, you can’t be completely sure how they are arranged behind your walls. Because none of us has X–ray vision, we recommend using a digital detection device such as the UniversalDetect to locate the pipes. If you’re looking for metallic water pipes, for example, select the right mode on the UniversalDetect and move it over the area where you want to drill the hole. If the LED light turns red, the device has detected a pipe and you should choose another location. If it turns green, this means there are no metal pipes in this area. The detection device not only shows you the areas to avoid; it can also help you find wooden substructures that you can drill into.