Do plumbing leaks result in hidden damage to your home?


One of the most common insurance claims made by home owners is for burst water pipes. Last year in Ireland there where thousands of burst pipe and water leak claims resulting in tens of millions in settlement claims.

During cold weather, if water pipes are not insulated adequately the water inside the pipe will freeze. This puts enormous pressure on the pipe, as the water expands and eventually splits the pipe. The resultant leak normally does not happen straight away as the frozen water prevents water from leaking through the split pipe.  It is not unusual for an unsuspecting home owner to leave home thinking everything in the house is ok. As the day begins to warm up the frozen water in the pipe begins to melt. When the home owner gets home they can find substantial flooding in their house.

The most devastating and expensive water leak in homes are normally the leaks that originate from the water storage tank or the associated plumbing within the attic space. The water supply to the storage tank is supplied by the rising mains which is a pressurised. The leak normally comes from the water pipes and not the tank itself, as there is room in the tank to allow the freezing water to expand, while there is no allowance for expansion in the plumbing pipes themselves.

In more modern homes the attic floor may be well insulated. The insulated water storage tank and plumbing may prevent pipes from freezing during our typical winters, however if we get extremely cold weather like we did last year even insulated pipes can freeze.

The resulting water leak spreads out over the attic floor effectively destroying the dry-lined ceilings below, the dry-lined walls it runs down, timber floors, timber/chipboard kitchen frames, doors, architraves, skirtings, personal belonging, furniture, electronics and electrical switches, sockets and connections. The insulation in the attic floor will also need to be replaced.

If the water leak is caught very early and just runs over the dry-lined walls, ceilings, timber floors and kitchen units the damage can be very minor, however the cost of repairs can get expensive if water is allowed to soak into these materials..

This year a number of insurance companies in Ireland have written out to home owners advising them of the terms and conditions in their insurance policies and advising them that if their house is to be vacant for a period of time they should turn off the water at the rising mains and drain the water system. This is of very important in relation to holiday houses which are likely to be empty for extended periods of time. It is always advisable to take your time in reading and understanding your insurance policy and comply with the conditions, otherwise a future claim maybe rejected. If you are unsure about any terms in your policy you should seek written advice from your insurance company.

Recent experience.

During the extremely cold winters a number of years back, we dealt with a large number of serious water leak claims. Even small water leaks caused significant damage before the house owner became aware of them typically resulting in settlement amounts in the region of €10,000.

A number of larger water leaks that we dealt with (which not noticed for a number of days) resulted in significant damage costing well over €100,000 to repair.

What really concerns me in the number of home owners that blindly accept the assessment of the insurance company or the insurances companies nominated builder. In one particular case I had last year, a home owner was willing to accept repairs that where suggested by the insurance companies nominated builder. However he felt somewhat uncomfortable when the insurance company requested him to sign a disclaimer (preventing him from re-opening the case against the insurance company) before the insurance company would pay him the settlement amount of €3,000. The home owner called our building surveying practice looking for advice. On examining the damaged caused by the leak we found that there was substantially more damage then the builder was quoting for. In fact we settled the claim with the insurance company for €20,000 when all the damage was taken into account.

The reason I mention the above example is that Insurance Companies want to pay out as little as possible that the client is prepared to accept. Insurance companies are in business and they want to maximise their profits. Most Building Contractors who market themselves to the insurance companies looking for insurance repair work soon realise that if their prices are not extremely competitive they will not get any more requests to quote for insurance work. In this case the builder quoted the home owner for what were in effect cosmetic repairs.