Water pipe breaks arise from all kinds of situations. Following Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina, I represented a number of hotels that were being repaired and then had significant water damage caused by a freeze before the heat could be restored. This winter’s cold weather reminded me of these losses, and I came across a couple of articles explaining the severity of them and suggestions to prevent the occurrence.

Protecting Pipes from Winters Bone Chilling Freeze is a post tweeted to me by Dimechimes from an excellent insurance website, Insurance Answers. Citing to StormForce31.com Weather Blog » Blog Archive » Cold Could Burst Your Pipes, Insurance Answers noted that "State Farm insurance reports that the average cost for water claims is on the rise – that the average cost per claim – approx $15,000 – is up 33% from 2007 to 2008." I have no idea how an average water damage claim can go up so much in one year, but those are not small losses for most homeowners on tight budgets.

The State Farm spokesperson stated the following:

“A small crack in a pipe can cause extensive damage,” says State Farm spokesman Roszell Gadson.

“In most cases, water losses can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions. Spending a few minutes to protect your pipes could save you time and expense down the road.”

Interestingly, State Farm has a "Water Damage" article, describing various steps to protect a building. State Farm also has a loss prevention article, that lists tips to prevent water loss claims from frozen pipes. The frequency of this type of loss was estimated at over a quarter million each year. I felt these State Farm articles were interesting because as I noted in Is the State Farm Policy Really Worth Anything? that State Farm does not always pay for accidental water damage caused by pipe breaks. The best advice for State Farm policyholders is to pay attention and act upon these loss prevention warnings because you never know if your claim will be paid.

Insurance Answers listed some practical ideas to prevent pipes from freezing and causing a loss:

  • Run small amount of both HOT and Cold water. Keeping a small amount of both the hot and cold water running through the pipes will help keep them from freezing.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to circulate around piping.
  • Plan ahead and know where the water shut off valve is – not only around the fixtures, but the MAIN valve coming into the house. If a pipe burst in a wall, you can save major damage from occurring if you know where the main valve is and can get to it quickly.
  • This may be obvious – but proper insulation on the pipes is also very helpful.
  • For homes that have pipes in an open crawl space, be sure to close off the vents to the crawl space.
  • Install a whole house water leak detection system.
  • If you are going to be gone for extended periods of time, either have someone check the home frequently, or have the lines professionally drained prior to leaving.

And if you happen to be so unlucky as to have a pipe burst, I came across this troubling note by an insurance restoration contractor at Home Disasters Forum:

I am a contractor in the restoration business for decades and seen thousands of residential and commercial insurance loss claims. I have handled losses from less then a thousand dollars to losses in the millions. IMO too many property owners trust their insurance company to properly handle their claim. Most insurance companies, (not all) have contractor programs for one reason and one reason only, to control their costs. I can only count on one hand the number of insurance companies that really care about doing whatever it takes to satisfy their customer after a claim.

When you file an insurance claim, it’s parallel to filing a claim in court demanding money for damages. When in court, both parties have their own independent representation to protect their interests. In the insurance industry, (and the only industry I know of) most property owners allow the other party to represent their interests. Who do you think the insurance adjustor is going be devoted too, you or the company who trained them and signs their paycheck?

For the most part, insurance companies don’t train adjustors how to properly mitigate or repair property damage. Adjustors are not highly trained in construction and if they do have some construction skills they were not taught by the insurance company. Insurance adjustors are trained how to manage the claim. Insurance companies train their adjustors how to negotiate. The primary job of the adjustor is to limit the insurance company’s costs. (emphasis added)

Regulators need to make certain policy language is not changed to make these losses uninsured. To the extent possible, policyholders should take measures to protect their water pipes in freezing weather and buy insurance that works, even if it costs more.