Frazer Argyros-Farrell of leading commercial insurer RSA talks about the significant threat facing property owners from escape of water and how it can be mitigated, including advice for the winter.

Escape of water poses one of the most significant risks to property owners. The cost to property owners can be considerable when taking into account insurance excesses, lost time, loss of tenants, damage to reputation, loss of valuable data and management time. The value of claims paid by the UK insurance market for escape of water is estimated to be in the region of £2.6m per day. There are several causes that result in the escape of water.

Here is some practical advice to help owners protect their properties and prevent/mitigate the damage.

General Precautions:

  • Check the age and general state of each water-system, including those supported by pipe clips and hangers, and if in poor condition appoint a professional plumbing contractor to replace or improve it.
  • Confirm whether pipes are located in positions vulnerable to mechanical damage e.g. where they are liable to be damaged by fork-lift trucks, delivery vehicles, tenant vehicles or other equipment. If so, they should be protected or relocated, or the threatening activity moved.
  • Ensure water pipes are not installed above critical equipment such as computer-servers and electrical cabinets. In these instances pipework should be relocated.
  • Metal pipes are liable to corrode, internally and externally. Check that closed systems, such as heating pipes, are protected with suitable anti-corrosive additives.
  • Regularly check there are no signs of even the most minor of leakages. If any leaks are found they should be immediately rectified.
  • Make sure that the overflow pipes on water tank cisterns are of an adequate size, and have unobstructed discharge to an appropriate place, usually to the outside.
  • Where pipework passes through walls these should be single runs no joints. Joints are a potential point of failure. Leaks into wall cavities can go undetected for long periods.
  • Make sure that the location of stop-cocks and shutoffs on water-mains are known and accessible to staff. Regularly check that stop-cocks and shut-offs are operational. Ensure that there are sufficient subsidiary isolating valves, especially for large tanks. Provide these with labels to help ensure their correct identification and operation.
  • Air conditioning units can produce large volumes of condensed water. For externally mounted units, this is generally not a problem, but the small units often fitted internally can be problematic as their drain lines can easily be disconnected. Drain lines should be regularly inspected.
  • Items being stored, especially water susceptible items, should be stored off the floor, on racks, shelves or as a minimum on pallets so they can be easily moved if needed.
  • Flexible connectors are often used for wash basin taps, drinks machines and similar. These can suddenly fail and release large volumes of water in vulnerable areas. Isolating valves should be fitted in easily accessible positions, and the connectors themselves regularly examined and replaced if necessary. The use of automatic appliance shut-offs should be considered where there is the possibility of a downstream leak.
  • All roofs should be regularly inspected replace any loose or damaged tiles, slates, ridge tiles and any other damaged roof claddings and flashings.
  • Assess the condition of roof lights checking for leaks, cracks or breakages.
  • Check that flat roof coverings are in good condition not showing evidence of cracks or splits, and are firmly stuck down, particularly at joints.
  • Inspect and repair as necessary all cement fillets and brickwork pointing including chimneys, coping stones, lintels and ledges.
  • Examine roof gutters and downpipes and ensure they are clean, unobstructed and kept free from leaves, moss and vegetation. These should be cleaned at least once a year, possibly more often depending on the location of trees.

One of the most preventable escape of water risks is from frozen pipework and tanks during cold weather. Prior to the onset of winter, some basic checks should be made to reduce the risk of freezing.

  • All isolation points should be identified and made accessible where possible. If limited isolation points exist new isolation points should be installed.
  • Any exposed pipework or water storage tanks should be lagged, this includes pipework running within voids. This is especially pertinent to roof voids and pipework/tanks located near to openings that are in constant use.
  • Where pipework runs externally or where pipework and tanks are in areas where the building’s heating system will not make a difference, trace heating should be installed.
  • Buildings need to be maintained above freezing at all times, especially during unoccupied hours. Set low temperature building frost stats to ensure the building is kept above freezing at all times. On larger buildings the frost stat temperature may need to be at least 10°C. Any lower and the extremities of the building can still be below freezing.
  • Boilers and heating systems should be maintained at least annually. The system should also be tested prior to the cold season in order to ensure the system operates correctly when needed.
  • Any unnecessary openings within the building envelope need to be sealed to ensure internal temperatures are maintained.
  • Regular internal inspections should be made over holiday periods to ensure that any leaks are detected and dealt with.
  • In areas prone to heavy snow fall, it is recommended that roof loading calculations are performed. Where necessary provide adequate equipment to remove snow from the roof and set up an action plan in case of excessive snow falls. Additional considerations should be made where photovoltaic panels (’solar panels’) are installed.

This article is taken from a longer and more detailed bulletin produced by RSA for property owners. The longer bulletin can be found here: RSA Broker

Cardinus Connect | The Prevention Business

Frazer is an experienced risk consultant having worked in the risk and fire industry for over 17 years. He has managed large multinational and global accounts providing strong risk management advice and consulting on current systems, new builds, renovations, extensions and acquisitions. Frazer has spent the past decade focusing on real estate and has vast experience in embedding risk management and providing top level risk management advice to real estate customers and brokers. He is a member of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers and an associate member of the Institution of Fire Engineers.

This article appears in the recent issue of Cardinus Connect, The Prevention Business. Download it at the link above.

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