Survey Says Homes Not Prepared for Water Damage

January 25, 2005

As the Northeast digs out from the weekend’s blizzard, many homeowners are reportedly unprepared to deal with two of the leading causes of damage to their homes – burst water pipes and leaky roofs.

Nearly one-third (31%) of homeowners have experienced a water damage loss caused by a roof leak and one in five (20%) caused by burst water pipes, according to a survey of 1,633 people sponsored by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

Chubb advises homeowners who have experienced a pipe burst to turn off the closest shut-off valve to the damaged pipe, mop up wet areas to help prevent further damage and contact their plumber or maintenance person.

To help prevent other pipes from freezing and bursting, homeowners can:

* Introduce heat to exposed pipes in cold areas by opening access doors to allow warmer air to flow in;
* Set thermostats at a minimum of 65 degrees Fahrenheit;
* Drain and shut off pipes flowing to outside faucets; and
* During extended unoccupied periods, turn off the water supply and ask a trusted individual to check the home on a daily basis for heating system malfunctions and frozen pipes.

To help prevent a roof leak, homeowners should have a maintenance worker or roofer remove snow from the roof and gutters. Chubb also recommends that homeowners check for proper ventilation to prevent ice-damming caused by snow buildup.

“Despite the risks, many homeowners are not taking steps to help prevent water pipes from bursting and roofs from leaking, potentially causing thousands of dollars of damage,” said Scott Spencer, worldwide home appraisal manager for Chubb Personal Insurance.

“Burst pipes can cause very severe damage if they are hidden behind walls and the water runs for a long period of time,” he said. “Homeowners who turn their heat off or to less than 60 degrees when they go on vacation are raising their risk of water damage from burst pipes.”

Before leaving their homes for vacation, 39 percent of survey respondents turn down the heat during cold weather months to less than 60 degrees, according to the Chubb survey.

Other key findings of Chubb’s survey, which was conducted this past summer by Impulse Research of Los Angeles to assess how well homeowners prevent water damage, include:

* More than one-third (37%) of the respondents said water had damaged their homes;

* Many respondents indicated that they do not take basic steps to prevent water damage —

* 31% never inspect washing machines,

* 36% never inspect toilets,

* 61% never inspect water heaters,

* 41% of vacation homeowners do not shut off the water and drain pipes when closing up these dwellings at the end of the season, and

* 97% have not installed a moisture or water detection system; and

* More than half (51%) of the survey respondents who said they had sustained water damage reported that the losses were either not covered or minimally covered by their homeowners insurance policy.

Home water losses are on the rise. The average cost for a claim from water damage or freezing rose 38%, from $2,519 in 1998 to $3,469 in 2002, according to the Insurance Services Office.

Spencer said many people today are loading their homes with high-cost items, such as fine arts and computers, and they’re installing home theater systems in basements. In many cases, these homes also have more bathrooms and hot tubs, and hence, more plumbing that can leak or crack. “This is a recipe for disaster,” Spencer said.

Spencer urged homeowners to take preventative measures and check their insurance policies or speak to their agents about their coverage in the event of a water damage loss.

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