How to Mitigate Water Damage in Multifamily Buildings

Water damage is among the leading property claims payouts for insurance companies. In fact, the annual cost to insurance companies from water damage and mold, according to the Water Damage Defense, is $2.5 billion. Water damage can stem from various sources including: internal leaks, valve failure, or a supply line failure in a water heater; washing machine failures; frozen pipes; bathroom fixtures; appliance leaks; faulty plumbing; leaky roof; and an aged sewage system.

For multi-family buildings, including condominiums, co-ops, apartment buildings, and brownstones, a few inches of water from a flood can lead to mold growth and structural damage to the roof or foundation, along with undetected water leaks that quickly spread across multiple units, displacing residents and causing thousands of dollars in damage. Additionally, important maintenance issues like a leaky roof, or a broken water heater left unaddressed, pose liability and safety issues for property owners. Following are steps property owners can take to help mitigate water damage exposures to their units:

  • Conduct routine maintenance and regular inspections to help remedy water intrusions prior to causing extensive damage.
  • As temperatures plummet, the risk of pipes freezing and bursting skyrocket. Pipes most at risk are those in unheated interior spaces such as basements, attics, and garages. Make sure residents know what to do to avoid bursting pipes. This includes posting signs advising residents of the following: leave faucets dripping, open cabinet doors, keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during day and night, and set thermostats at no lower than 55 degrees when leaving the unit for extended periods. Also, property managers should keep garage doors closed, particularly if water supply lines are located in the garage; ensure that all external water spigots are properly insulated; and that the heat is on in vacant units.
  • Monitor the age of washers and routinely check the appliances in units for cracked or damaged hoses and connections. Replace washer hoses every five years, and replace worn out washers and dishwashers before an issue arises. A typical washer lasts 13 years and a dishwasher is good for 10 years, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Be sure to inspect water heaters, which usually need replacing after 11 to 14 years.
  • Insulate pipes for sprinkler systems or hot and cold water all year round. Accessible pipes should be covered within three feet of the water source. Use quality pipe insulation wrap, or neatly taped strips of fiberglass insulation around the pipes. Insulating hot water pipes can reduce heat loss and raise the water temperature 2°-4° more than those that are not insulated.
  • Inspect for HVAC system blockages as condensation line leaks can create water damage. Water can seep through ceilings and into light fixtures or drip in between walls, which can go undetected and result in mold growth. Consult a HVAC specialist to blow out the clogged line to allow for water to move away from the unit.
  • Check the sewage system, particularly in older complexes. Over the years, tree roots in shaded communities seek moisture and often penetrate sewer lines through cracks and fittings. The lines become blocked, which eventually leads to a messy backup if they aren’t maintained. Have a specialist annually clean roots out of the line.

Having a proactive approach in mitigating water damage will help save a property owner thousands of dollars in damages. In addition to having a maintenance plan in place, be sure the right property insurance program is secured for habitational risks, including coverage for back up of sewers and drains and water damage.

Distinguished Programs’ hallmark City Homes Insurance Program offers a package product with enhanced property features designed for small urban multi-family buildings in designated cities across the country.

Sources: Water Damage Defense, Consumer Reports