Safeco Study Shows Hot Water Tanks, Washing Machines Most Likely to Drench House and Wallet

February 15, 2005

Of all the appliances found in the home, the water heater and washing machine are reportedly the most likely to cause serious damage and leave homeowners financially high and dry.

According to a nationwide analysis by Safeco Insurance, one out of every 10 water-damage claims can be traced back to a malfunctioning hot water tank or washing machine. These two appliances are more likely than Mother Nature to inflict damage on the home.

“Water is the most common cause of home damage today — even more likely than fire,” said Jim Swegle, vice president of personal property for Safeco Insurance.

“Americans are spending twice what they were 10 years ago to repair water damage. In most cases, homeowners can save themselves a lot of time and money by adding a few simple protective devices and doing routine maintenance. These tasks usually take just a few minutes and the parts often cost less than $20,” Swegle said.

Some water damage is covered under homeowners insurance, but some damage is not, he noted. Homeowners who fail to maintain systems may face thousands of dollars in repair costs and weeks of invasive home repairs.

Simple fixes, such as installing a $10 stainless steel hose or replacing an aging water heater, could save a homeowner thousands of dollars and a lot of hassle. A full list of water prevention tips for consumers is available at

Water repair costs soar
Safeco analyzed three years of water damage claims from approximately one million homeowners insurance customers in 44 states. Hot water tanks and washing machines were the appliances that caused the most damage, followed by refrigerators with water or ice units, dishwashers, and air conditioners located in attics.

Safeco found the typical cost to repair water damage now stands at
approximately $5,000. Of those home water claims:

— 30 percent were due to appliance failure
— 62 percent were due to faulty plumbing systems
— 8 percent were due to weather.

“The biggest difference today is where we’re putting our appliances,”
Swegle said. The hot water tank and washing machine once relegated to the basement are now found in utility rooms right off the family room or near finished living areas. When leaks occur, water runs through ceilings and walls, damaging finished areas of the home. In addition, as homeowners upgrade kitchens and bathrooms, water damage repairs become more expensive.

“In the 1980s, we had stock cabinets and vinyl floors in our kitchens and laundry rooms,” he said. “Today, the kitchen is an entertainment center, with hardwood floors and expensive cabinets. When the dishwasher hose fails, it’s more expensive to fix the damage.”

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