Personal Risk Matters

Water, Water Everywhere: Cautionary Tales of Water Damage

Posted by Kelly Nash Tuesday, May 09, 2017

I love to share claims stories, especially the over-the-top, almost unbelievable, stories of real claims our clients have faced, and how we were able to help them. The truth truly is almost always stranger than fiction. But when I really go about protecting clients, I start by asking myself about the more mundane, more frequent causes of loss. What are the everyday risks our clients actually face? The answer is resoundingly clear: water.

One insurer’s study of 100 clients over a five-year period showed that residential water damage was both the most frequent (more water losses than any other cause of loss) and the most severe (most dollars paid). Another insurer reported that an astounding 72 percent of their losses in 2015 were attributed to water, with an average cost of $320,000. The American Insurance Association reported that between 2007 ­- 2009, water leaks in homes resulted in $9.1 billion in property loss. This is equivalent to nearly 23 percent of all property losses suffered by homeowners during that same time period.

Avoid Water Damage While You Are Away

Secondary homes are particularly vulnerable, as small leaks can become big problems when no one is home to address the issue. Water can create significant damage when it goes unchecked.  

One client had water backup into their unfinished basement while they were away. The basement was empty, so there was nothing to damage. How bad could that be, right? Wrong. It was winter, and the homeowners were out of town for an extended period. By the time they came back home, the heat in the house had caused moisture to rise through the first and second stories of the home. The resulting condensation caused extensive water damage  – hardwood floors were warped, silk wall coverings had come unglued and fallen off the walls, and the sheetrock was wet and bulging. This water backup ultimately totaled more than $1 million in damage.

Frozen pipes are another potentially avoidable source of residential water damage. If your home is closed during the winter in an area where there are freezing temperatures, you should have pipes and appliances drained completely to keep them from freezing and causing extensive damage. It is recommended that an unoccupied winter home’s temperature be set to no less than 55 degrees* to avoid coming home to serious problems.

When closing your home for the season, follow these tips to keep it safe and secure.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Flood Damage?

Because damage caused by flooding is not covered by most homeowners policies, as homeowners, it is important to understand the difference between a flood loss and other types of water damage.

Water damage can come from many different sources – a broken pipe, a hole in a damaged roof, or a water backup as noted above.

In general terms, flooding is usually caused by rising water from outside the home.  Insurance advisors often hear a common misconception, “my home isn’t in a flood zone; I don’t need flood insurance.” Every home is in a flood zone, but lower risk zones do not require flood insurance by mortgage companies. Homes in high-risk areas have a 26 percent chance of suffering a flood over the course of a 30 year-mortgage, as reported by FEMA. In fact, homes in high-risk areas are 2.5 times more likely to suffer a flood than a fire.

So, is it flood or is it water? The information below outlines which policy may respond to a given scenario:




Flood water rising into dwelling



Faulty hose causes washing machine to leak water, damaging flooring



Neighbor’s improper landscaping irrigation causes excess rainwater to enter  residence, causing damage to structure and personal property



Fire causes interior fire sprinklers to activate, damaging interiors



Nearby stream or river overflows and damages residence



Missing, worn, or broken roofing materials allow water to penetrate and deteriorate the roof structure



Water heater bursts and damages flooring and walls




Defend Against Water Damage

What can we do to protect our homes? Maintain your home with common sense precautions and make sure you are covered with proper insurance.

  • Drain pipes and appliances completely to keep them from freezing while you are away, and keep the temperature set at no less than 55 degrees.*

  • Install water leak detection and shut off devices. They are available at reasonable prices, and your insurer may be able to help.

  • Consider purchasing flood insurance. In low risk zones, coverage may be available at a very reasonable cost.

  • Make sure your insurer covers water losses arising out of back-up of sewers and drains.

For more information on how to help protect your family and your property from losses related to residential water damage, review our Winter Weather Preparedness and Flood Preparedness resources.

*Please keep in mind that you may need to set your heat above 55 degrees when you’re away in extreme weather conditions and depending on how well your home is insulated. Insurance policies require that reasonable care must be taken to maintain heat or water must be shut off and all systems and appliances must be drained.

Related to:  Individuals and Families

Kelly Nash

Former Vice President, West Zone Sales Leader, Marsh Private Client Services