Water Damage: The Most Common Cause of Loss for Condo Owners

March 2021

Water Damage: The Most Common Cause of Loss for Condo Owners

From burst pipes to appliance leaks, to HVAC malfunctions and more, according to PURE’s claims data, water damage is the number one cause of loss among condo owners. In fact, more than 70% of condo claims reported to PURE have been the result of water damage.

Although some instances are out of a condo owner’s control—like a toilet overflow originating from the unit above that allows water to leak through the ceiling to a PURE member’s condo below, or water backup from a building’s rooftop pool—the majority of claims can be prevented by taking proactive steps today to reduce the likelihood of water damage in the future.

Research and analysis conducted by our claims and risk management team uncovered some of the most frequent types of water losses experienced by PURE members and steps you can take to protect your condo and the other valuable belongings within it.

Appliance Malfunction

When the water filtration system installed underneath a member’s sink failed overnight, water flowed throughout the kitchen and surrounding rooms for several hours until the member woke up the next morning. Luckily, the building was able to shut off the water and begin immediate remediation to prevent the damage from becoming even more severe but not before the marble tile flooring, kitchen cabinets, wall panels and drywall were extensively impacted. Damage was even caused to the neighbor’s unit below, resulting in more than $100,000 of damage.


Home appliances with pipes or other fixtures that feed into a water line—including refrigerators, dish washers, ice makers, washing machines, toilets, HVAC systems and more—have the potential to malfunction, develop blockages or spring leaks that can lead to significant water damage. However, there are a number of inexpensive devices ranging from $50-$200 that can help detect or even prevent such an event from occurring. To mitigate your risk, consider taking the following steps:

  • Install water leak detection sensors on individual appliances prone to water loss. These devices have the ability to detect and notify you of a water leak. In addition to sounding an alarm, Wi-Fi connected devices like Roost can notify you even when you’re away from home by sending an alert to your smartphone.
  • Automatic water shut off devices, like Leak Defense System and FloLogic, go a step further by automatically turning off the water supply when a leak is detected to prevent further damage. However, these devices must be installed on a building’s water main. Check with your building’s property manager to see if your building is equipped with such a device or to request that one is installed.  
  • Install an HVAC safety switch or float switch on the water pan underneath your unit to automatically stop the system from operating when an overflow is detected. While your unit may have been equipped with a safety switch at the time of installation, older units are less likely to be equipped with these devices. Click here to learn more.
  • Install a drain pan beneath your washing machine to catch leaks due to washing machine overflow or hose failure. The drain pan, which slides underneath your washing machine and provides the first line of defense against leaks, is connected to a drainpipe to move water away from the area. Because drain pans are typically made of plastic or another composite material that may break or crack over time, it’s important to be observant of the drain pan’s condition and replace it periodically to be adequately protected.
  • Opt for braided metal supply lines. Ensure all appliances that are connecting to a water source are equipped with braided metal hoses which are far more resistant to leaks compared to standard rubber hoses. At about $10 each, this simple and inexpensive step can help to prevent a costly claim.
  • Prevent toilet blockages. To avoid a toilet overflow, consider the types of materials and quantity of products flushed.


Frozen and Burst Pipes

While a member was away from home, he was notified by his building manager that a frozen and burst pipe in the sprinkler system of his condo had allowed for water to run throughout his entire property and to the unit below. The resulting damage was more than $500,000.

  • When temperatures drop, the risk for frozen and burst pipes is heightened. Condos that serve as secondary homes or those that are unoccupied for extended periods of time are even more vulnerable because when no one is home, the water can run undetected for hours. To prevent this, set the heat at a minimum of 65° while you’re away to ensure that the pipes in your home do not fall vulnerable to cold temperatures.


Wind-Driven Rain

During a severe storm, wind-driven rain penetrated the window seals of a member’s 15th floor penthouse apartment, allowing for water to enter. As a result, water collected underneath the marble floor which lined the main living area of the 10,000 square foot condo, causing discoloration to the tile and grout, and resulting in damage that exceeded $400,000.

While your home may typically stand up against common weather elements like rain, high winds can cause rain to fall at an exaggerated angle allowing for water to enter through sealed areas—like windows and doors. Taller buildings that experience greater wind exposure and penthouse condos located at the top of these buildings are often most vulnerable. However, with properly installed window seals, water entry can be avoided.

  • Ensure the window seals throughout your home are in good condition. Dampness around the edges of windows or on window ledges and cracking are signs that your window seals may be deteriorating. Depending on your residence, it may be your responsibility or your building’s responsibility to replace them. Check your building’s bylaws to determine who is accountable and contact your building’s superintendent (if it’s their responsibility) or a professional (if it’s your responsibility) to evaluate them and replace them if necessary.


Balcony Drain Lines

Following a series of heavy rains, a member discovered pooled water on the floor of their secondary home. Later it was determined that a clogged drain line on the exterior of the building was preventing the water from properly draining which allowed the water to enter through an air conditioning duct. Damage to the wood floor, which became warped from the standing water, amounted to more than $6,000.

Depending on the property you live in, it may be your responsibility or it may be your building’s responsibility to clean the outside drain lines or gutters. As a unit owner, it’s important to understand who is accountable. Once this has been determined, ensure that the drain lines are cleaned twice a year to prevent a water backup from occurring.


Additional Advice to Protect Your Condo from Loss

While water damage may be the most frequent type of condo loss experienced by PURE members, properly protecting your home and belongings requires keeping other risks in mind. Following are additional steps you can take to be proactive about preventing loss.

  • Install a central station burglar alarm to prevent theft. Burglary and mysterious disappearance makeup the second most common cause of loss among PURE members who own condos. Even if your building is secured by a doorman, building renovations may allow visitors to enter the hallways and staircases where outside access is typically restricted. Particularly vulnerable are those who live in penthouse apartments due to laws which permit service crews to stage equipment on top floor balconies, allowing them to see directly inside an apartment.
  • Secure balcony items when a severe storm is forecast. In the event of a high-wind storm, secure furniture and other items on your balcony that could become windborne and cause damage to the exterior of the building.
  • Establish an emergency plan. When an issue occurs in your unit, 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. If you do not have preferred vendors, a PURE Member Advocate can assist with locating local service providers and can connect you with our trusted partners in remediation, art preservation and much more. If you plan to be away from home for an extended period of time, share your plans with your caretaker and make sure they are empowered to take action in your absence.
  • Discuss loss-prevention with your neighbors. While you can choose to take steps to prevent loss that originates from within your own unit, losses originating from neighboring units may be out of your control. Encourage your neighbors to take action to improve the resiliency of their home. Preventing a loss in the unit above you may mean avoiding significant damage to your home as well.
  • Build a relationship with your property’s management firm. Each homeowners’ association has its own set of bylaws which can vary drastically from building to building. Get to know the maintenance requirements put in place by your property’s management firm and, if you plan to be away for an extended period of time, understand if there are plans in place to check in on unoccupied units or if a plan can be arranged. Speak to your building’s property manager, superintendent, or your homeowners association to understand what steps they are taking to prevent loss in the building and encourage them to implement these recommendations to reduce risks to your entire community.


For additional information to help you protect your condo or for assistance locating, hiring and coordinating a service provider in your area, contact A PURE Member Advocate® at 888.813.PURE (7873) or memberadvocate@pureinsurance.com.

Tags: Homeowners | Water Damage