How to keep dry and avoid water damage

  • Water damage is one of the major causes of losses in commercial residential property
  • The problem has increased as we use more water, and flooding becomes more common
  • Proper risk management can minimise the risk and reduce costs incurred

Water finds a way, as the old adage states. And as we find ourselves increasingly exposed to the wet stuff, whether in the form of floods, or the rising number of household gadgets now using water, so it increasingly finds a way to damage our properties.

“From wide area inundations to burst pipes and leaky dishwashers or washing machines, the damage that unwanted water does to property is one of the major causes of losses in commercial residential properties,” says Richard Parslow, a Risk Analyst at Zurich Municipal.

Research shows that almost 20% of claims made on buildings and contents insurance were for water damage.

“The problem is further compounded by the fact that many modern buildings are built from lightweight materials that cannot cope well with water ingress,” says Richard.

Pro-active maintenance

However, poor maintenance has a role to play in the problem, and there’s lots that housing associations can do to prevent losses and improve their risk management, by simply being more proactive in their housekeeping.

“Start with the roof,” says Richard. “Rain is a major issue and you need to make sure that you are regularly inspecting your properties’ roofs to check that tiles are in place and flat roofing is in a good condition with no pooling. Have a good look at the drainage. Are your roof gutters and downpipes clean and free from obstructions and vegetation?”

Failing to do this can lead to substantial claims: “There have been cases where there has been internal water damage to a number of ground floor flats, where external surface water gullies had not been maintained adequately and were ineffective in directing excessive surface water from entering the premises,” says Stuart Blackie, Property Team Leader at Zurich Municipal.

“Whilst limited in terms of water ingress, this impacted on all ground floor flats, requiring residents to be re-housed temporarily.”

Inside the buildings, start with the biggest storage facilities: your pipes, tanks and cisterns. Pre-empt leaks by checking that your plumbing is lagged, the building is well heated, overflows are working and any exposed pipes are not vulnerable to accidental damage. Don’t forget to check empty properties as well.

“I have seen internal damage caused to a number of flats resulting from poor quality water supply pipe installations involving push-fit connections,” says Stuart.

“There were multiple leaks evident, though the majority were concealed behind internal partitioning, and their identification was delayed, leading to additional damage to internal finishes, floor coverings, insulation materials and contents.”

Increasing risk of flooding

Recent winters – and summers – have shown that flooding is an increasing risk, whether from rivers bursting their banks, marine inundation following a storm surge, or flash floods driven by intense rain overwhelming drainage. The key to developing your strategy is to first understand your risk.

The damage that unwanted water does to property is one of the major causes of losses in commercial residential properties

Richard Parslow, Risk Analyst at Zurich Municipal

“First check for historical flooding and current flood risk levels with the relevant government authority,” says Richard. “Ask if new developments might have changed how you should view the risk, and if and when flood defences will be built or repaired.

“If floods are likely, consider what you can do in advance to prevent and limit damage. Could you be building intervening walls or banks? What about providing floodboards and sills to doorways, or providing tenants with sandbags for emergency use?

“It’s also important to regularly check street drainage for blockages, particularly in the autumn as the leaves fall and heavy storms become more likely.”

Your insurer will be able to advise on these procedures, and the benefits of other solutions, such as water leakage technology, which will set off an alarm if water storage levels or pressure suddenly drops.

“We have a wealth of experience of this risk and can help you assess you exposure,” says Richard.

“Together we can cut the total cost of the risk.”