Water Damage From Faulty Pipes a Rising Threat to U.S. Homes

March 12, 2019

Homes are increasingly flooding, not from weather-related events but from old pipes and valves, worn-out hoses on second-story washing machines, and faulty connections from appliances that use water, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The uptick has sparked an increase in extensive water damage to homes that has been reported to insurers. One in 50 homeowners filed a water damage claim each year between 2013 and 2017, according to Verisk Analytics’ ISO insurance analytics unit. Insurers have faced a $13 billion water damage bill from insuring homes.

Claims for water damage average about $10,000, according to the report.

“Wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes catch headlines, but the reality is that the number one kind of risk that the everyday consumer has is a water claim,” Jon-Michael Kowall, an executive at USAA in the property insurance business, told WSJ. “It is lurking in the house.”

Contributing to the rising risk, more homeowners are putting their laundry room upstairs. Leaks and water damage from these upper units can cause extensive damage as they move from the upper floors to the lower ones. Also, the rising number of aging homes with old pipes is causing damage to many homes.

Luxury homes aren’t immune to water damage from old or faulty pipes. An oceanfront property in Southern California had a 12-foot seawall around it to protect it from outside flooding, but a second-story toilet tank crack caused more than $1 million in water damages. The repairs—to the home’s oak floors, walls, artwork, home theater, and more—also took more than eight months to complete.

In a pilot program, USAA is having 6,000 policyholders test water-detecting sensors, which are devices to help spot potential water damage before it becomes more extensive. Also, AIG and some other insurers are offering premium credits for policyholders who use technology that can help detect water leaks.

Homeowners must realize that not every water damage bill will necessarily be covered by insurance. For example, standard homeowner policies exclude storm surges and river flooding from coverage. Also, most homeowners’ policies will cover “sudden and accidental” damage but not routine maintenance. As such, homeowners who have ignored a slow leak for months may find insurance denies their claim.

American Homeowners and Their Insurers Face a Flooding Crisis From Within,” The Wall Street Journal (March 8, 2019) [Log-in required.]