Nine Ways to Protect Your Home While You Are Away

October 2017

Nine Ways to Protect Your Home While You Are Away

Imagine for a moment: 20,000 gallons of water running down from your attic through two levels of your beach house while you are 1,000 miles away. It seeps through your custom wood floors and antique Persian rug. It runs down walls that hold priceless artwork and beloved family photos. It drenches your children’s toys and your brand new furniture. It touches everything in your home. Eventually, the ceilings and frame give way. The result is $2M worth of damage.

Water damage has consistently ranked as the costliest cause of loss among PURE members year over year; in 2016, nearly a third of all our claim payouts were related to water damage, and in 2015—which included a severely cold winter—that number was over 70%. The largest of these losses, not surprisingly, have all occurred while members are away from home. According to our claims data, water damage claims are 4X more severe when they occur in a home that is unoccupied. When no one is there to notice it, water can run undetected for days—or even longer—causing considerable damage to a home and its contents.

The following are examples of what can happen when water damage goes undetected:  

  • While on vacation, the sprinkler line in the attic of a PURE member’s home burst in five locations throughout the length of the line. Water ran from the breaches for two days before the home’s alarm alerted the local fire department. By that time, there was over $1.5M in damage to the structure and contents.
  • Upon returning to their home after a two-week-long vacation, a PURE member was devastated to find that a water line in the attic had rusted through and split days earlier, dispelling water throughout the three levels of the home. There was considerable damage, much of it to newly installed hardwood flooring and antique furnishings and fixtures. Damages totaled nearly $150K.
  • While on vacation, a member received a call from his alarm company notifying him that an alarm had sounded at his home. The police were dispatched, but without access to the home, they found no issues. The following day, the member’s father-in-law visited the home to investigate and found that a pipe to the air conditioning handler in the attic had burst, dispersing water throughout the home and resulting in nearly $1.3M in damages.

While cold weather often plays a part in large water losses, it’s not always to blame. System failures and mechanical breakdowns also make up a fair share of these losses, resulting in water damage claims from Maine to California. That’s why it’s important for all homeowners to take precautions to help prevent water damage. Whether you’re planning to be away for a short vacation or leaving for the season, you can take steps to help reduce the chances that you will suffer a water loss.

 

Ten Ways to Make Your Home More Resilient to Water Loss:

Automate your home with smart-home technology. Products like Nest allow you to monitor and manage the systems within your home while you are away. Depending on the system you select, you can control the thermostat, security and video systems, lights, appliances and more from anywhere on your smartphone, tablet or computer.

As a courtesy, many utility companies provide free or discounted home automation systems, like Nest, to their customers. Check with your energy company to see what offers they can provide. You can also contact a PURE Member Advocate® to learn more about these and other home automation systems to find one that’s right for your needs.

  • Install monitoring systems to detect and respond to leaks and frozen pipes before damage occurs.

    • Automatic water shut-off devices. Water shut-off devices, such as Sentinel Hydrosolutions Leak Defense System, WaterCop and Flologic, monitor the flow of water in your home’s plumbing system. If a leak is detected, the system can automatically shut off the water and notify you before serious damage can occur.

    • Low-temperature alarms. Centrally monitored temperature sensors placed in each heating zone within your home can alert you to extreme environmental changes—including cold, heat and humidity—helping to reduce the risk of frozen pipes and damage to climate-sensitive wines, collectibles or other valuables.

    Note: If you have baseboard heating, your plumber can help to reduce the risk of burst pipes by adding an antifreeze solution to your boiler.

  • Maintain an ideal temperature in your home. Utilize smart-home technology to help monitor and control the temperature and humidity of your home while you are away.

    • In cold weather climates: Maintain an inside temperature of at least 65˚ to help avoid burst pipes. Open cabinets under sinks and in front of plumbing to help circulate warm air.

    • In warm weather climates: Maintain an interior relative humidity at or below 40% to help avoid mold.

  • Maintain ideal conditions in your attic. Many of the burst pipe claims we have handled—even as far south as Alabama—have originated in the attic. HVAC systems, water heaters and other water lines are commonly placed in the attic, away from the heat of the home, so they are more susceptible to freezing during cold temperatures. To protect these pipes:

    • Make sure the attic is properly insulated.

    • Make sure the pipes themselves, along with all exposed surfaces, including tees and valves, are properly insulated with flexible closed-cell polyethylene or elastomeric insulation. (Refer to the table below as a guide for determining the thickness of the insulation.) You can also wrap each pipe in self-regulating heat tape, an electrical heating cable that automatically varies its heat output with changes in surrounding temperatures.

  • Conduct an energy audit to identify at-risk areas of your home. We have seen instances in which homeowners take precautions to maintain adequate inside temperatures and insulate pipes that they know to be vulnerable, but they still suffer burst pipe claims as a result of frigid drafts in unknown areas of the home. An energy audit can identify hidden defects hat could put plumbing at risk, including insulation gaps, air leakage, duct leakage, and moisture issues. As a courtesy, many utility companies offer these audits free to their customers. Contact your utility provider to see if they offer this service, or contact a PURE Member Advocate® to find a trusted third party who can help.

  • Install a backup generator. During a power outage, an installed generator can help to keep important equipment running. Briggs and Stratton generators are a good option due to their power-management technology, which gives you the ability to utilize a smaller, more fuel-efficient generator that is more cost effective to install and operate. Their wireless monitoring system also allows you to check the status or maintenance needs of your generator from a computer, smartphone or tablet. Kohler generators are also viewed as a dependable option due to their reliability, design, high-quality power and premium warranty.

    If you are considering installing a generator, contact a PURE Member Advocate® to learn about special offers available exclusively to PURE members.

  • Install a sump pump with a backup power source if you reside in a low-lying area. Sump pumps are beneficial for homes located in flood-prone areas and areas where rapidly melting snow can lead to flooded basements or crawlspaces. Having a battery or water-powered backup power source in place will help to keep it running during power outages. Many sump pumps can be wired into your smart-home system, providing you alerts of issues as they develop.

  • Take precautions to prevent ice dams in cold-weather climates. In early 2015, high levels of snowfall coupled with temperature fluctuations led to a record number of ice dam claims. To reduce this risk:

    • Make sure your attic is well insulated and vented. We have seen many ice dam claims that were the result of improperly installed attic insulation.

    • Maintain your regular snow removal schedule, including clearing your roof (especially following large storms).

    • Arrange for gutters to be cleaned prior to the winter season and consider heating strips that can be attached to drains and downspouts to prevent blockage by ice.

  • Enlist the help of a trusted caretaker or house sitter. Always perform a background check before hiring anyone who will have access to your home and personal property. PURE members are eligible for complimentary background screening services; contact a PURE Member Advocate® to learn more. Once a caretaker is selected, establish the frequency of their visits and outline what is expected of them. PURE recommends that a caretaker check on your home at least once a day during mild weather and at least two times a day during colder months.

  • Establish an emergency plan. When water is flowing, every minute is crucial. Create a list of preferred vendors and emergency contacts whom you would like to respond in the event of a loss. (Don’t worry if you do not have preferred vendors. PURE maintains trusted relationships with remediation firms, fine art experts and others who are well-qualified to assist.) Share your plans with your caretaker and make sure they are empowered to take action in your absence.

computer-icon-contact-us.pngFor additional information to help you protect your home or for assistance with finding a local service provider in your area, contact a PURE Member Advocate® at memberadvocate@pureinsurance.com or 888.813.7873.

Tags: Homeowners | Occupancy | Water Damage