Year in and year out, water and leak damage is among the top causes of claims against homeowners’ insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Nearly 2 percent of homeowners file a water-damage-related claim every year with their homeowners insurance companies, making water damage the 2nd most common claims-generating occurrence in the industry, behind only wind and hail damage.
Water damage and freezing/burst pipes also accounted for 26 percent of all property damage claim dollars paid, with the average water damage claim topping $7,479 in 2013 – the last year for which full-year data is available. That figure, of course, is in addition to any deductibles that may have been on the policies.
Many of these claims could have been prevented or mitigated with a bit of foresight and a comparatively small investment in new home technologies that can detect even small water leaks around appliances and automatically alert the homeowner and/or shut off the water before the leak can spread and do significant damage.
Isn’t this damage covered by my flood insurance?
Often, the answer is no. Flood insurance purchased under the Federal Flood Insurance Program is not designed to cover leak issues specific to a single house. These policies sharply limit available coverage to basement areas where washers, driers and water heaters are normally stored. The National Flood Insurance Program also does not cover damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold that ‘could have been avoided by the property owner.’
What are my options?
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of water detection and alert systems – whole house systems vs. point-of-use systems. As the names imply, point-of-use detector is installed to detect leaks or water system failures with specific appliances, while whole-house systems are central systems that can shut off the water to the entire home. Whole house systems will usually require professional installation. Most point-of-use systems are readily installed by the homeowner in a few minutes with a few basic tools.
You may also hear these systems described as “passive” or “active” systems. Passive systems simply detect leaks and alert users. “Active” leak detective systems are those that also stop the water flow – often by activating a ball-valve solenoid mechanism that blocks the water pipe, preventing leaks from spreading.
Depending on the environment and your budget, you can choose to have a system that shuts down the water to a specific appliance, or that automatically sends you a text or email alert when the sensors detect a problem.
Some systems will also turn off the electrical power to that appliance or circuit, depending on how or where they are installed.
Where should I install them?
You should install them near any indoor water appliance. Homeowners commonly install them behind washing machines, toilets, sinks, water heaters, refrigerators and icemakers.
Leading manufacturers include Flologic, WaterCop, Watts, FloodMaster, IntelliFlow, Z-Wave, Valve Screamer and FortrezZ.
You can get advice and guidance from your plumber or low-voltage automated home installer, such as many security systems or home theater or A/V vendors. Some homeowners choose to have the system alert an offsite monitoring company, similar to residential home security systems.