Should you turn off the water supply if you go on holiday?

Nobody wants to come back to flood damage when they’ve been on holiday. Whether you’re going away for a couple of weeks or taking a weekend break, you’ll want to make sure your home is safe from leaks and burst pipes while you’re gone.

So should you turn your water supply off if you go on holiday? Let’s find out.

Nobody wants to come back to flood damage when they’ve been on holiday. Whether you’re going away for a couple of weeks or taking a weekend break, you’ll want to make sure your home is safe from leaks and burst pipes while you’re gone.

So should you turn your water supply off if you go on holiday? Let’s find out.

Sofia Hutson
Utilities expert
minute read
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Last Updated 16 MAY 2022

The risks of leaving your water on while you’re on holiday

Water can cause a lot of damage. A leak or burst pipe could significantly bump up your water bill and your insurance premium if you make a claim (‘escape of water’ is one of the most common types of home insurance claim). Even the smallest leak can become a torrent of water if a pipe bursts.

Burst pipes aren’t just a winter problem either. Although most pipe-based claims are the result of a frozen pipe, burst pipes can happen at any time of the year, from:

  • Poorly connected dishwashers and washing machines
  • Clogged pipes that increase water pressure and then fail under pressure
  • Old or weak pipes
  • Temperature changes that cause pipes to swell and shrink
  • Bath, shower or toilet leakages
  • Storage tanks in the loft.

The risk of water damage in our homes is higher than ever before due to:

  • More plumbed-in domestic appliances
  • More central heating
  • An increase in en-suite bathrooms and more toilets in our homes
  • Complex plumbing systems
  • Use of less water-resistant (and damage-resistant) materials such as chipboard 

A plumbing emergency is a nightmare at the best of times, but can become a real catastrophe if you’re not at home to stop things escalating.

How do I turn my water off before I go on holiday? 

Water leaks are one of the most common domestic disasters holidaymakers return home to, yet most of us don’t bother to turn off the water supply when we go away. Although it won’t stop water that’s already in the pipes from escaping, turning off your water supply can limit the risk of a flooded home.

How to turn off your water supply
Turning off your water supply is easy to do, as long as you know where to find the stopcock.

What is a stopcock?
The stopcock is a tap or lever that acts as a connector, blocking the flow of water in your pipes when it’s turned off. There are actually two stopcocks – one in your home (internal), and one outside (external). If you’re going on holiday, you should only turn off the internal stopcock. The external stopcock belongs to your water supplier and should only be turned off in an emergency. If you live in a block of flats, you’ll share the external stopcock with others in your block, so turning it off will cut off their water supply too. 

Where exactly can I find the stopcock?
The internal stopcock is not always in an obvious spot, especially in older properties. The most common places are:

  • Under the kitchen or bathroom sink
  • Next to your gas meter
  • The cellar
  • The utility room or garage
  • The airing cupboard
  • A cupboard under the stairs
  • Near the front door.

If you’ve exhausted every nook and cranny and still can’t find the stopcock, you could ask your neighbours. If your home is a similar design, it might be in the same place as theirs. As a last resort, you may have to call out a plumber to locate it for you. 

I’ve found the stopcock, now what?
Once you’ve found the stopcock, turn the valve clockwise. If it hasn’t been turned off for a while, it may stick a bit, and you might need to apply a lubricant such as WD40 to loosen it up. Turn the valve until you start to feel some resistance. Don’t use excessive force or you could damage the valve. It might take a few minutes for the water to stop running from your taps, as there will be some water left in the pipes before you turned off the stopcock.

How do I turn the water back on again?
Once you’re back from your holiday, simply turn the valve anti-clockwise. It might take a few minutes for your taps to start flowing again, and it may splutter a bit at first as any air locks in the pipes are released.

Top Tip
If you’ve been away for a couple of weeks or more, make sure you run your drinking water taps for a while to rid the pipes of any stale water left in the system. Water quality will deteriorate when left in the pipes for a long period of time. Not only will it taste and smell a bit musty, in extreme cases, the build-up of bacteria could also make you ill.

Should you turn off the heating when you go on holiday? 

Although turning your heating off while you’re away will keep your energy bills down, it’s best to leave it on a low setting during freezing cold snaps.

Pipes exposed to sub-zero temperatures are at greater risk of bursting if they freeze. So set the heating to come on at regular intervals with a timer. The thermostat should be set to at least 13°C (55°F) so the water in the pipes won’t get cold enough to freeze. You can also set the timer to make sure it comes on during the coldest part of the day. Some thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) have a frost setting that opens only when the room is at risk of freezing. So you can also use these if fitted, where appropriate. Check your boiler and heating system handbooks for advice.

If your system has a hot water tank then your boiler will typically be set to heat the water and keep it at a set temperature. As you won’t be needing hot water while you are away, ideally switch that function off, unless there is the possibility of pipes or the tank freezing.

What can I do to get early warnings of leaks?

There are now plenty of smart devices that can give you early warnings about leaks. From devices that can turn off your water supply to sensors that will tell you if you’ve sprung a leak or humidity levels have been breached, while others will alert you if your sink, washing machine are leaking. They can vary in complexity from devices that are placed on the floor to systems that monitor pipes for irregularities in usage. This kind of device can alert you early before leaks become a bigger problem.

This can be especially helpful while you are away on holiday – especially as some systems will also alert you to temperature drops, so you can ask a family member or neighbour to pop in, check for leaks and turn on or turn up the heating while you are away on holiday, or turn up the heating yourself remotely.

Water saving tips 

Being water wise can help you save money on your energy bills while also helping the environment:

  • Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth – it can save around six litres per minute
  • Fill up your washing machine – one full load uses less energy than two half loads
  • Replace daily baths with a four-minute shower
  • Swap your normal showerhead for an aerated, low flow one
  • Collect rainwater in a garden water butt, then use it to water the plants and wash your car
  • A fully loaded dishwasher on eco setting can be more energy efficient than washing up by hand.

Frequently asked questions

Should I turn off appliances when I go on holiday?

As well as your water supply, you should also turn off electrical appliances like your TVs, games consoles and computers when you go away on holiday. Don’t just leave them on standby. According to government figures, the average UK household wastes about £86 a year by leaving devices in standby mode.

In fact, you should unplug them completely. Even if electronic devices like TVs, kitchen appliances, chargers and lamps are switched off, they can still consume electricity while they’re plugged in. This is called ‘vampire energy’. Not only will they add to your energy bill, but they can also be a fire risk in an empty house.

Should I turn off my boiler when I go on holiday?

If you’re going away during the winter and want to keep the heating on at minimum, you’ll need to leave the boiler on. This will keep the water in the pipes moving and prevent them from freezing.

Turning your boiler off in freezing temperatures could also damage the internal components and cause the valves and pumps to seize up, resulting in expensive repairs or a broken boiler.

Ideally, you should set your boiler to run a couple of times a day while you’re away. A smart thermostat can be controlled via your smartphone from wherever you are. Some advanced models also have a ‘holiday mode’, which will keep your home warm enough to prevent pipes from freezing without consuming too much energy.

What should I leave turned on when I go on holiday?

You’ll still need to keep your electricity running while you’re away. There are some essentials that can’t be turned off: 

  • Fridge/freezer – you don’t want to come home to rotting food and a puddle on the floor, so leave your fridge/freezer running, unless you’re going away for an especially long time. If the fridge part is virtually empty, a tip is to fill it with jugs or bottles of water as this will help keep it running more efficiently while you are away.
  • Security systems – check that your alarm, sensors, and security lighting are working properly before you leave. If you have a smart home security system you can keep an eye on things even if you’re far away.
  • Automatic timers – these can be programmed to switch the lights in your home on and off in the evenings, giving the impression there’s someone home, to deter burglars.
  • TV top-box – if you don’t want to miss your favourite shows while you’re away, your recording box will need to stay plugged in, even if the TV is unplugged at the wall.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure your home is properly secure while you’re away. Read our useful tips on keeping your home safe when you go on holiday.