Winter Season Water Losses

It’s that time of year again – cold weather is upon us, and so are the inevitable claims and damages from frozen pipe water losses. The dollar amount of these claims can be significant, ranging from $5,000 to well over $100,000.

A “passive” water loss failure is one that happens quietly, without the insured noticing damage for a long time. Damage due to passive failures can be small or large, depending on severity and when they are discovered. In contrast, an “active” water loss failure is one that is noticed immediately and can cause significant damage unless action is taken right away.

An example of an active failure is a water pipe that bursts due to freezing in cold weather. There are many causes for pipes freezing. Pipes located in an exterior wall in cabinets under a kitchen or bathroom sink are especially prone to freezing during cold spells. Pipes can also freeze in areas that are sealed off from the conditioned space, such as in an unfinished basement or crawlspace, or in discrete areas that experience excessive air infiltration.  These locations can be difficult to diagnose without the assistance of fan pressurization and infrared thermography techniques.  This is more common with newer custom homes that incorporate a complex floor plan and roof framing system, which increases the potential for air leakage and thermal bridging heat loss.

Another common scenario that results in frozen water pipes is the building being left vacant for extended periods of time.  If the heating system or controls are not set properly or malfunction during this period, the losses can be significant as the water loss may not be recognized for some time.

The cause of these water losses may range from the building design and construction resulting in uncontrolled air leakage and excessive heat transfer at localized areas, to roof flashings and ventilation, and even plumbing system or component failures that are not readily definable without laboratory analysis.  Be prepared this winter season.