Q&A: How to win the fight against water damage

While home ownership has inherent challenges, grappling with water damage is among the most prevalent, and often the most exasperating. Consider the following statistics:

  • Each year, on average, one in fifty insured homes has a property damage claim caused by water damage or freezing, according to Insurance Information Institute calculations.1
  • Water damage and freezing claims, such as plumbing leaks and frozen pipes, are the second most frequent insurance claim, following wind and hail damage.1
  • Water contributes to billions of dollars worth of property damage costs annually.2
  • In addition to cost, water damage can cause significant disruption, especially if the damage causes the individual or family to be displaced from their home for repairs.

Here’s the good news: many water damage incidents can be avoided or mitigated by detection and shutoff mechanisms, and other preventative solutions. Paul Cuzzola, Berkley One’s Vice President, Property Claims & Risk Management, and Dan Cuccia, Berkley One’s Vice President, Risk Management, help to break down four things you can do.


Q: What types of water damage should I look out for?


Paul: There are a few types of water that can cause damage to your home. Consider:

  • Water coming into your house through your plumbing system
  • Water leaving your house through sewers and drains
  • Water from a storm or weather event

Water coming into your home is the most important for prevention, because the damage it causes is the most common, can be the most severe, and is the easiest to avoid. Think about the water lines that supply your kitchen, appliances, and bath fixtures. They’re most often damaged by plumbing failures (including normal wear and tear) or frozen pipes—both of which can happen to nearly anyone.

Dan: The reason these incidents can be so serious is that the water can continue to run. If you leave home and a pipe bursts, you may not realize the extent of the damage until you return—or until someone calls to let you know water is pouring from your windows or leaking from your garage. If a pressurized water line leaks, at 50 pounds-per-square inch of water, even for just one hour, the damage is invariably going to be extensive.


Q:  What practical measures can homeowners take to curtail leaks?


Dan: There are two components to preventing water damage: behavior and technology. Both are important.

  • Preventative behavior can mean simple changes in what you do. Sometimes old-fashioned solutions are the most effective
  • Preventative technology today includes devices that can identify water leaks and notify you immediately if an issue is found. Sophisticated devices can even monitor water flow through the whole house system and automatically shut off your water if needed. Smart devices can even integrate with other devices in your home


Q:  So, what are some things people can do to help avoid water damage?


Paul: We’ve broken it down to four of the most important items.

  1. If you’re going to be away from your property for a significant amount of time, turn off the water supply. This is the most important, least expensive thing you can do—and there’s also technology that can help you remember it.
  2. If you have systems that you need to keep running while you are away from your property for an extended period of time, consider an automatic shutoff device.
  3. Maintain the heat in your home above 58-60 degrees in the winter. Thermostats can be programmed to maintain heat or monitored through your smartphone.
  4. Install sensor technology that can alert you when you have a leak. Some devices can even detect small leaks that can cause damage over time.

Dan: When it comes to technology, choosing the device that is best for you depends on lifestyle factors, including whether your home is a primary or vacation residence. A consultation with your Risk Manager can help.


Q: What do you do if you do detect a leak?


Paul: The sooner you address the leak, the better chance you have of mitigating the damage. Call your plumber (if you don’t have one and you’re a Berkley One client, we can help). Next, call in the claim to your insurance provider ASAP.

At Berkley One when a client comes to us with a water damage issue, we can send a link to their smartphone. When they download the link, it allows them to show us the damage through their phone, which can help us figure out what resources they may need. For example, we always look to get an adjuster to the property quickly, but what people may not realize is that it can be just as important to get a (qualified!) restoration company there fast, because the restoration company can start the drying process. Here at Berkley One, we have access to vetted, insured, qualified plumbers and restoration companies that can help. We call it our PlusOneSM service network.


Q: What are some of the challenges in getting people to act?


Dan: The biggest challenge is overcoming the belief that, “It won’t happen to me.” This is a real psychological bias, and there has been a lot of research on this topic.3

When you think about it, risk managers are really educators. It’s my job as a risk manager to create a “compassionate paranoia” so that we can help people before something happens. We understand that it’s not always easy to be proactive, or even to to know where to start. We’re trying to help people by working with them and with human nature, not against it.

Paul: At the end of the day, you are the best risk manager of your own property. But we’re in your corner—we can help you create a plan. Talk to your agent or risk manager. Ask them about ways you can help protect your property, such as sensor or leak defense technology, and coverages such as service line coverage for your home.

Of course, even the most prepared homeowners may nonetheless experience water damage. When claims happen, we’re here to offer solutions and look for ways to help keep your world up and running.

Dan Cuccia is Vice President, Risk Management at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).

Paul Cuzzola is Vice President, Property Claims & Risk Management at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).