Water Tanks, Washing Machines Likely to Soak the House

November 1, 2006

Of all the appliances found in the home, the water heater and washing machine are the most likely to cause serious damage and leave home owners 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, home owners 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. Home owners who fail to maintain appliances and plumbing systems may face thousands of dollars in repair costs and weeks of invasive home repairs.

For its study, Safeco analyzed three years of water damage claims from approximately 1 million homeowners insurance customers in 44 states. The review found the typical cost to repair water damage now stands at $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 home owners upgrade kitchens and bathrooms, water damage repairs there become more expensive., he indicated.

“In the 1980s, we had stock cabinets and vinyl floors in our kitchens and laundry rooms,” he added. “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.”

Home owners can take simple steps to reduce their chances of water damage, Swegle said. He suggested:

* Replace old water heaters. Water heaters do damage when they get too old and the tank rusts and bursts, allowing water to pour into adjacent rooms. On average, water heaters last 10 to 12 years. Don’t wait for them to fail; replace your tank once a decade. Today’s energy-efficient systems will also be cheaper to operate.

* Stainless steel hoses: Inspect standard rubber or plastic hoses that come with washing machines, refrigerators and dishwashers, and consider replacing them with stainless steel-braided or mesh hoses. Worn out hoses with kinks, cracks or bulges need to be replaced immediately.

* Don’t leave dishwashers and washing machines running if you leave the house. If something breaks while a home owner is away, what could have been a small mop-up job often turns into a thousand-gallon mess best left to professionals.

* Check attic air conditioners and swamp coolers. When attic systems fail, water damages everything that lies below. At least once a year, go up to the attic or roof to check these appliances before they wear out. Look for wear and tear and loose connections – particularly if the unit is mounted on the roof and exposed to sun and rain.

* Water alarms: Homeowners can install water alarms for a quick alert when an appliance isn’t working right. Hooking up the system to an appliance is usually as simple as hooking up a hose to an outdoor faucet.

Safeco has an online guide to help homeowners avoid water losses. The site includes an interactive home tour, a maintenance checklist and information about gadgets that detect and prevent leaks. Web site: www.safeco.com/drip.

Safeco is a casualty insurance company based in Seattle.

Water Damage List
1. Hot water tanks
2. Washing machines
3. Refrigerators with water or ice units
4. Dishwashers
5. Air conditioners in attics

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