Evaluate Water Damage Risks Before They Wind Up in Claims
Drip. Drip. Drip. That bothersome sound that can keep your policyholders up at night may be the least of their concerns when it comes to water leaks. Out of sight, moisture from a seeping roof could be creating a haven for mold and mildew to grow in the vents, which could trigger health concerns, or the water trickling from a pipe could slowly be creating structural damage where the wet wood is rotting.
Underwriters should assess for water damage before an insurance carrier accepts a new or renewing policy to evaluate the risk of it worsening and winding up in claims, even if it shouldn’t be covered. Insurance personnel should also know what has the potential of producing immediate water damage that would require an insurance settlement.
Ways Water Damage Can Occur
Melting snow and ice can cause water damage, but water freezing inside pipes could cause additional complications. Photo Credit: “Frozen Pipes” by David King / CC BY 4.0
Plumbing leaks causing water damage are one of the most common homeowner’s insurance claims, according to Roto-Rooter. These may be caused by a malfunctioning sink or toilet or a pipe that has sprung a leak at its joints. Depending on how bad the leak is, the water damage may occur over time.
Pipes can also cause more sudden, immediate damage. A common problem in winter months and in colder climates are pipes bursting when the water inside a pipe freezes and the inhibited water flow increases the pressure. Pipes also break due to roots from nearby plants wrapping around them or from the overall water pressure being too high for pipes or hoses to handle.
Water damage may occur from natural causes, including too much rain in a short time, flooding, ice dams, melting snow, or storm surges. These, combined with poor drainage, unsealed windows, or cracked or broken shingles, can all open the flood gates for unwanted water saturation.
Appliances may also be the culprit for water damage, and risks increase when that happens because appliances release gray water, which is wastewater that is not a biohazard like sewage but could be contaminated. Gray water can also come from a sump pump, sinks, and bathtubs, and requires proper clean up.
Water Damage Can Cause Structural Concerns
Water damage can appear in several ways and has the potential of affecting multiple items in a policyholder’s home.
On the roof, soft or spongy areas are the result of longstanding water damage. This is unsafe to walk on and could cause water to leak internally. Inside, wooden structures, including those that support walls and floors, and drywall could also become weaker and softer if they become too wet. This may be a risk of foundation instability. Hardwood or laminate floors may buckle or bulge, which could make them unstable and a safety hazard, and carpet is likely to mold if moisture is untreated.
Staining on walls, ceilings, and floors is another sign of water damage. The discoloration could be evidence of mold or have a foul odor, and repairs should be made. Too much water, and the ceiling is liable to leak or crack.
Possessions Are at Risk of Damage, Too
Water damage can cause the power supplies in electronics, like this copier, to malfunction.
Items inside the home are also susceptible to water damage if they get too close to the source.
Outlets, wiring, and electrical boxes that encounter water while powered on could have shorts or blown circuits because elements in the water serve as electrical conductors and create a current. Anyone touching these items should use extreme caution when trying to unplug them or remove them from the water.
Water damage can also stop electricity’s flow in electrical items. This usually happens from corrosion, and the rate of corrosion depends on the amount of ion in the water.
While appliances can be the cause of water damage, they can also feel its effects. Mold is a concern if appliances don’t dry completely or are in humid conditions. The appliance’s water line may determine how high the water level rose and if components were submerged. Sustained contact with water may cause mechanical damage.
Simple steps can be taken to prevent some of these damages from occurring.
- Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens and sump pumps to remove moisture and water.
- Regularly switch out washing machine hoses.
- Turn off water when away for long periods of time.
- To prevent frozen pipes in the winter months, policyholders should insulate pipes close to walls, attics, and crawl spaces; disconnect hoses and turn off water to outdoor faucets and sprinklers; open kitchen or bathroom cabinets with pipes in them to let warm air in; turn on hot and cold faucets at a trickle during the coldest parts of the day; and leave the heat on and drain the water system while away.
- Clean gutters and areas of standing water on the roof or ground.
- Ensure adequate drainage is available by installing more downspouts and keeping water flowing away from the home.
- Keep plants and roots away from utility pipes.
- Grout and caulk areas that may be prone to water seeping into the walls or floors.
- Install storm windows to prevent water coming through the cracks.
- Use a pressure gauge or pressure regulator to monitor water pressure and make changes as needed. Install a water detector near leak-prone areas that alerts when moisture is present.
Inspect Early and Often
Monitoring the water meter is one method of testing for a leak. Photo Credit: “Water Meter Reader” by RegioTV / CC BY 4.0
Leaks and problems with pipes and appliances may not immediately be seen or heard, and when they are, the damage may already be done. Policyholders should check their washing machines, dishwashers, laundry vents, and other appliances regularly for leaks.
One method to check for a leak is by monitoring the water meter levels while the water is turned off. If there is movement in the amount of water used after 5 minutes of it being off, that could point to a fast-moving leak. If there is movement after two hours of being off, there is a slower leak. Policyholders can also monitor their water bills to see trends. If it has a major increase one month, there may be a problem.
JMI Reports can help you and your policyholders consider water damage risks. As part of the onsite assessments, inspectors look for evidence of water leakage, such as water stains; rate the overall condition of utilities; search for stock susceptible to water damage; and note whether surface water drains away from the building. This keeps insurance carriers in the know for water damage that could wind up in their policyholders’ claims. Learn what other damage JMI Reports assesses for to make sure you are including it in your risk and loss assessments.
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