Preventing water leaks in social housing

  • The Association of British Insurers estimates escape of water causes £2m worth of damage every day
  • We discuss some of the sophisticated leak-detection technologies that your organisation may wish to consider to protect your property and tenants
  • It is important to consider the benefits and costs of installing such technologies at the design stage of new developments

Emerging technologies such as smart alarms, cameras and locks have begun to change the way we protect our properties.

Having their water supply cut off for a couple of hours will cause far less disruption than if they were forced to move out of their home for a few days due to water damage,”
Richard Parslow, Risk Analyst, Zurich Risk Engineering

Sophisticated smart technologies are capable of doing more than just detecting intruders – they can also reduce other property risks, such as water damage.

Incidents involving escape of water lead to a fifth of all buildings and contents insurance claims, with the damage to UK properties from such incidents estimated at £2m per day.

We look at the potential benefits of water leak detection systems in social housing.

Key benefits of water leak detection systems

There are a huge variety of leak detection systems available today, many of which feature on the Water Technology List, a website set up by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Some use cables and sensors that trigger an alarm when they come into contact with a certain volume of water. Others monitor the flow of water around a building and create an alert if there is a sudden, unexpected change in the water pressure that could indicate a leak.

Several of the simplest systems are designed for individual properties, and can be linked to smartphone apps, to notify the occupant that a leak has occurred when they are not in the property.

However, more complex systems are available that can automatically cut off the water supply if a leak is detected.

Richard Parslow, Risk Analyst, Zurich Risk Engineering, explains: “We are starting to see these types of systems used in a variety of commercial and public buildings, for example in museums to protect valuable archives.”

Are leak detection systems worth the cost?

We understand that as a Registered Provider (RP) of social housing, you have to manage your resources carefully.

Parslow says: “The cost of installing water leak detection devices in individual properties may be hard to justify.

“However, if you are building several new apartment blocks, with 20 units each, and if you consider that an escape of water incident could cause significant damage to a number of properties on a number of floors, then it becomes much more cost-effective.

“You need to carry out a risk assessment so that you can understand whether or not it would be beneficial to put a particular system in.

“Consider factors such as the claims history in your own property portfolio, the wider trends for escape of water incidents across the social housing sector, and the potential size of the largest losses.”

The significance of water damage

Much like a major fire or flood, escape of water incidents can cause significant upheaval for your tenants. It is therefore important to consider whether or not to invest in water leak detection technologies.

Parslow says: “Housing associations can find themselves under immense pressure to quickly find alternative accommodation for tenants following these kinds of incidents.

“From your tenants’ point of view, having their water supply cut off for a couple of hours will cause far less disruption than if they were forced to move out of their home for a period of time due to water damage.

“We would encourage housing providers to carry out a thorough risk assessment at the design stage of any new build, or before any refurbishments and maintenance work, so that you can properly weigh up the benefits of these kinds of systems against the costs.”