When water is not your friend

Automatic shut-off systems can help prevent costly damage or frustrating cleanup.
Automatic shut-off systems
can prevent costly damage.

Refrigerators, water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and toilets can be sources of leaks that can cause significant damage if not detected early.

A burst pipe with as little as a one-eighth-inch crack can release 250 gallons of water a day, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

The most effective way to prevent costly water damage in your home is to install a leak detection and water shut-off system. There are several levels of protection that can meet the needs and budgets of all homeowners:

  • Leak detection system. This system sounds an audible alarm when a water leak is detected. These can often be integrated with your security system to automatically notify you even when you are not at home. This type of device does not provide any water shut-off feature once the leak is detected, but it can be purchased for $50 or less.
  • Leak detection with single-appliance shut-off system. The next level system detects water leaks in a single appliance, then automatically shuts off the water supply to that appliance. These are commonly used on water heaters and washing machines. Single-appliance devices can be purchased for $75 to $150.
  • Whole-house leak detection/automatic shut-off protection. Top-level systems sound an alarm and automatically shut off the main water supply to the home when a leak is detected at any of the common water sources where a sensor has been placed. Because these systems are fully automatic, they are potentially the most effective in preventing expensive water damage claims.

They often can be connected to your home security system, and many allow you to control them remotely. Sensors can be hard-wired or wireless. A wireless system may work best for multi-level homes where multiple sensors are needed to cover all leak-prone areas. The cost may range from $300 to $1,500 depending on equipment and installation costs, with additional monthly monitoring fees if connected to a security system.

You may be able to install simpler systems yourself, but a whole-house system should be installed by a licensed plumber. Check your local codes for permit and inspection regulations.

Some insurance companies offer premium discounts for homes equipped with automatic leak detection and shut-off systems.

Consider installing an automatic leak detection/shut-off system to protect your primary residence as well as vacation homes or rental property that you own that may commonly be left unoccupied.

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One Response to “When water is not your friend”

  1. William T. Bell

    I wanted to prove to my wife I could fix something around the house; so when we had an element in the hot water heater go out, I decided that I could handle it. Not knowing how to do it, I went to the local hardware store and explained my dilemma. The guy was very reassuring and told me exactly what to do. I even took notes!
    I remember asking him about draining the tank before doing this and he told me it is so simple that all I needed was to put some bath towels down because the exchange of taking the old element out and inserting the new one in was a snap and that there would be little spillage. (I now realize I didn’t ask the right question AND that he assumed I knew to shut the water off before doing any of this!!!)
    Well, needless to say… things did NOT turn out as expected. Since I didn’t shut off the water, the surge of pressure that followed as soon as I took out the old element was too much for me to handle. I literally could not push the new element in good enough to start screwing it into the tank. I started screaming for my wife for help. She runs in and sees the new lake in our upstairs bathroom, screams, and asks what she can do. And I’m ashamed to say this, but I didn’t know to tell her to go shut off the water (I didn’t even know where to shut it off at.) Finally I told her to call someone. She ends up calling a neighbor who lives almost two miles away. Needless to say the time lapse between the initial burst and the time it took for my neighbor to get there, assess the situation, and located the cutoff was over an hour. By this time there was as much water on the first floor as there was on the second floor.
    The total damage was over $70k. That day… water was NOT my friend.
    Editor’s note: William Bell is a Cincinnati Insurance associate.


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