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Water Loss Prevention
by Charlotte McCray on June 21, 2023 • 4 min
Fortunately, one of the most common causes of water losses, the sudden failure of pressurized water pipes, generally is covered. These are often difficult to predict or prevent. However, they don't tend to be catastrophic if someone is there when they occur. For example, failure of a pressurized line (such as those supplying a faucet) might produce three gallons per minute. If someone notices the water quickly, he may be able to get it turned off within a few minutes, and the majority of it cleaned up within in a few more. Five minutes might translate to roughly fifteen gallons. In contrast, in one weekend that same failed line could result in over 8000 gallons of water escaping. This is enough to drench wood, drywall, electrical
Most people understand the basics of fire prevention. They know to check their smoke detectors and lint catches regularly, store flammable liquids safely, and never leave flames unattended. There are also numerous regulations designed to prevent fires, such as those codified in building codes or requiring the inclusion of flame retardant chemicals or various safety features in consumer goods.
Water loss prevention receives much less attention, in part because it's less dangerous. However, water can be just as destructive to property. There are many different kinds of water losses. The most dramatic come from nature in the form of floods, tidal waves, and storm surges. Others can be subtle, like ground water intrusion, or gradual and repeated seepage. Many of these events are specifically excluded in typical homeowners policies.
components and any possessions in the water's path. Over a week, the volume increases to over 30,000 gallons.
At first, water travels downward, through gaps and porous surfaces, bringing waterborne contaminants from the building materials along with it. It also leaches upward through porous materials like drywall, fabric and wood. The humidity inside the building increases, especially if the water is hot, resulting in something like a greenhouse. If a hot water loss occurs during cold weather, warm water vapor may rise to the top of the structure, then condense on cold surfaces and drip back down. Wood buckles, drywall and plaster weaken and collapse, and electrical components may corrode and short, increasing the risk of fire. This doesn't have to happen. The following tools and strategies can greatly reduce the chance of a major loss:
1. Water Shutoff Valves,
2. Smart Thermostats,
3. Smart Water Meters,
4. Water Alarms,
5. Humidity Monitors, and
6. House Sitters.
Water Shutoff Valves: You can turn off the water if you plan to be gone for a while. This solution is free, easy, and close to foolproof. If people consistently did this, we would have had significantly fewer cases. If the weather may get below freezing, you may also want to drain the pipes and to know where in the system you are stopping the flow. For some houses, you may remain vulnerable to leaks and frozen pipes before the shutoff valve if they are not properly heated.
Smart Thermostats: Frozen pipes are a common cause of Michigan water losses. A smart thermostat can be configured to send alerts if the temperature drops too quickly or below a set point. My ecobee thermostat let me know my furnace was failing when I was out of town on Christmas eve. This allowed me to get home and get the water shut off before the frozen pipes thawed and let significant water escape.
Smart Water Meters: If you have a smart water meter, you may be able to set usage alerts and receive a notification if your usage goes above them. For example, you might be able to arrange to receive an alert if you use more than 20 gallons per day while on vacation. These systems measure usage at the meter,
Water Alarms: In contrast, water alarms detect the presence of water in a specific place. There are many different kinds, including some that do not require a subscription. The general idea is to place the alarms near likely water sources (such as under sinks, plumbing stacks, and major appliances), and receive immediate mobile alerts if they detect water. They work best in combination with remote shutoff systems (such as those included in some smart meters) or someone who can quickly shut off the water if the owner is too far away. If these aren't options, many municipalities will shut off water at the street fairly quickly upon request.
Humidity Monitors: Humidity monitors are similar to water alarms, but better tailored to detect ambient moisture in obscure places like attics, crawl spaces, and walls where the locations of potential water sources are difficult to predict and see. Because these locations are susceptible to hidden water and mold issues, it may be worthwhile to monitor their humidity levels constantly, even when people are present.
House Sitters: A good house sitter is the gold standard of low tech loss prevention. If you have one, let them know how to turn off the water in the event of an emergency. Similarly, it helps if all the adults in the home or business know how to quickly turn off the water. It's much better to know in advance, rather than trying to learn during one of Michigan's many post winter storm power outages while freshly thawed pipes are spraying frigid water.
After the Loss: For all but the smallest water losses, it's critical to dry out the house quickly. As noted above, liquid water and water vapor will continue spreading throughout the building, and eventually spur the growth of fungi and bacteria. Quickly drying out the water (sometimes referred to as "water mitigation," "restoration," or "emergency measures") can prevent much of this additional damage. The size of the loss, the construction of the building, the owner's limitations and resources, and the coverage of the loss all factor in to whether professional mitigation services will be necessary or advisable. The sooner water mitigation begins, the more effective it will be.