How to mitigate your water damage risks

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What water damage risks might your commercial clients be facing?

  1.  The most common water damages that businesses face come from natural sources (rain, flooding), grey water and service water.
  2.  Your building’s age, structure, materials and maintenance greatly impact these risks.
  3.  Learn steps to take to mitigate these risks, from leak detection, proper pipe diagrams, roof inspections and more.

Each year businesses spend billions of dollars trying to recover from losses caused by water damage. Even small leaks can lead to costly damages, and leakages can happen at any time of year. Share these tips on how to mitigate water damage risks with your commercial clients to ensure they don’t fall victim to one of these costly claims.


The most common water damage risks

Types of water

Water damage is frequently caused by the following sources: natural water, grey water or service water. It is important to make provisions for all kinds of water sources by prevention through regular maintenance and inspection.

Natural water, such as rain, can frequently enter a building through the roof, either through faulty design or poor maintenance. Design flaws or neglected areas requiring maintenance can cause areas where water collects and pools. These can result in seepage and roof leaks over time, especially during periods of persistent precipitation. Gutter system  blockages can cause water to back up and overflow, escaping back into the building. Even the best-designed or well-maintained roofs can fail under the rigors of intense storms or severe seasonal weather patterns.

Grey water is water runoff from appliances such as sinks, washing machines, dishwashers and other kitchen appliances. Most commercial buildings contain systems that handle grey water. The more sophisticated a system, the greater potential for error or failure and subsequent water damage claims if not installed or maintained properly. Because these systems are not usually in constant use, they can cause intermittent leaks that slowly build up over time. These leaks are more difficult to detect.

Service water makes large volumes of water readily available for various service functions, like fire suppression systems. Leaks in these systems can cause swift and severe water loss, especially if the affected system is located on the roof or top floor of a multi-story building. Other potential issues include:

  • The feed sources of municipal water supplies require proper maintenance.
  • If there is a loss of water, faucets and other access points can accidentally be left in the open position.
  • Unoccupied buildings are prone to freezing and burst pipes if the proper care is not taken.
  • Some water supplies contain minerals that are corrosive to equipment over time.
Related: Help your clients mitigate commercial property risks


Vulnerable Buildings

Certain factors  make a building more susceptible to water damage and subsequent water damage claims:

Age. Buildings over 20 years old tend to have higher water damage risks, due to wear and tear on its internal and external infrastructure. Older piping and water systems are also more prone to failure.

Materials. Sometimes younger buildings can also experience this risk, especially if they were built with more modern or experimental materials. Traditional materials have been tested by time and are often installed to certain standards that may not be in existence for newer kinds of materials. Newer materials may also be at higher risk for certain types of damage for which traditional best practices haven’t been able to take into account.

Architecture. In a high rise with multiple floors and units, such as an apartment complex, each unit has its own water systems, introducing many more areas of potential leakage or system failure. If even one unit’s water system should fail, the damage will not necessarily remain localized to that unit, but is very capable of spreading and damaging many other units, compounding damages.

Weather and Region. The area in which a building resides can also be a factor, because different regions subject buildings to different weather factors. In some cases, either seasonal extremes or geographical risks must be taken into extra consideration in order to prevent damage.

Maintenance. Buildings that have had their regular roof or HVAC maintenance (such as roof, plumbing or HVAC) deferred face greater risks of loss through water damage, increasing the probability of water damage claims. While maintenance deferrals are sometimes inevitable, efforts should be made to provide the required maintenance as soon as reasonably possible. There is no better defense against preventable claims than a commitment to disciplined building maintenance.

Related: Loss control tips to prevent winter freeze-ups


Water damage mitigation programs

 Now that many of the potential scenarios and causes of loss have been discussed, it’s time to think about what to do in order to prevent and mitigate water damages. If not considered well in advance, it can be hard to cope with and mitigate a water damage event once it has occurred.

Developing a mitigation program analyzes a specific building’s structure, weak points and the organization’s preferred methods of clean up and restoration. Additionally, each building should have its own set of regularly performed checklists to ensure that systems are frequently inspected for potential wear and damage. Each building will have its own unique needs, but some sample checklist items could include:

  • Provisions are in place to repair small leaks promptly.
  • All leaks are analyzed to determine if it is a fluke or a system failure.
  • Housekeeping staff is trained to notify maintenance personnel promptly when certain damage is found (leaks, drips, clogged drains, etc.).
  • Work on water systems performed by contractors is monitored and inspected.
  • Liquid storage tanks and vessels are regularly inspected, and procedures are in place to mitigate leaks and failures.
  • Pipe diagrams are current and show all valves for all water systems.
  • Shut-off valves are exercised at least annually by being closed, opened, and lubricated if necessary, to be sure they are able to be closed easily during a water damage event.
  • Protocol is in place to have someone is available on all shifts who is trained to respond immediately to any leak.
  • Protocol is in place to have someone available 24/7 with authorization to call approved professional restoration services.
Related: Steps to prevent winter property damage to roofs

In addition, making the following suggestions part of your building’s procedures is an excellent way to mitigate risk:

  • Make sure your critical equipment or materials (such as valuable papers) are placed or stored in such a way as to protect them in case of a water damage event.
  • Inspect roof, flashing, drains, downspouts, and roof-mounted equipment at least twice a year, and especially after major weather events.
  • Create a systematic maintenance schedule to avoid excessive wear and tear on systems (and to identify any potential system failures before they cause water damage claims).
  • Supervise new construction or renovations to be sure that current water systems are not compromised, and that your policies and procedures remain sufficient.

Above all, be sure your water damage mitigation plan addresses all of the four following items:

Prevention. What your organization does in order to prevent water damage from occurring, such as checklists, procedures, inspections, staff training, etc.

Preparedness. Steps your organization has taken to be sure that they are ready to respond if a water damage claim does occur: identifying and maintaining water shut off points, having clean up supplies accessible, and so on.

Response. How employees are trained to respond to a water damage incidents: notification procedures, damage mitigation, clean up priorities, etc.

Recovery. Documenting damage, response efforts and working with restoration companies and insurance carriers to reestablish operations as soon as possible.


This article originally appeared on Arrowhead’s Tribal blog. It has been modified and updated to better fit the needs of Arrowhead producers and their commercial clients.