Pipeline problems - The four most common causes of water damage and what impact they can have.

Guthrie Insurance

Article courtesy of RSA Insurance

#1 Sewer backups - Pipes and Sewer Blockage:

There are four main causes for pipe and sewer blockages and while some are simple to detect and easy to prevent, some are hidden and can hardly ever be detected before the damage occurs.

1. Solid Flushes

The most common cause of sewage backup is a blockage of the lateral service pipe between the home and the city main. This is usually caused by solid objects accidentally flushed down a household drain.

In home and office plumbing systems, the main cause is grease accumulation, hair, dirt, or solid materials such as disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, broken dishware, garbage, and debris that are too large for wastewater pipes to handle.

This problem is usually a local problem, and when you experience it, only water from your home will be backing up. The amount of backup will depend on the amount of water you are using. If you turn off the water, it will slowly drain, but the problem is likely to return as you turn on the water again – so be prepared to call in a plumber or qualified contractor.

2. Structural Defects

Different structural defects can develop over time and eventually cause major damage to the system, leading to a serious overflow that will require a complete reconstruction of sewer lines.

Structural defects happen due to system deterioration in both pipes and manholes. These defects include problems with sewer service lines such as pipe collapses, sags in the line, cracks, holes, protruding laterals, misaligned pipe, and offset joints. Often this is an issue with the local city, town or municipality and you may need to involve them.

3. Root Infiltration

Tree roots are a major cause of backups. Tree roots can enter the service pipe at joints and travel a long way, causing blockages along the way. Tree roots can also create structural defects when they crack and break pipes as they grow.

4. Flooding of Sanitary Sewers

During heavy rains the sewer lines fill up with water much faster than they drain due to insufficient system capacity. This fact may lead to a sewage backup as the water flows back through residential floor drains and causes overflows.

#2 Burst Pipes:

Burst Pipes in the water system is one of the most common plumbing problems both in the home and the public system. Several things can cause Burst Pipes, the main one been freezing conditions.

Some other reasons can be pipe failure due to age, misuse or damage. The pipe can be put under a great pressure through the system and any fault in the piping will be exposed over time and broken down. The effects of burst pipes can be dramatic and devastating all at the same time. A burst pipe on the main system can cause damage to property, put people out of homes and even close an entire area of a town and roads for a number of days. This can leave people without water and even homes for days.

If a pipe bursts in the ceiling or floor it can be some time before you notice and all too often the first you know is when the bulge appears or the water flows in a torrent.

The potential water loss from burst pipes in your house can be as much as 400 litres, that's 2 full baths an hour. This means if you were away for a full day you could have up to 9,600 litres of water or 48 full baths of water in your house from burst pipes. If you were away for the week you could lose 47,200 litres of water in that week. The amount of litres lost is the equivalent to 336 full baths of water running through your house.

The most likely cause of a burst pipes in your home will come from frozen temperatures and unprotected piping. This normally happens when you don't have the correct heat in your home which includes excluded areas. A pipe bursts when frozen due to the expansion of the water as it becomes ice. This puts pressure on the pipe from the inside and something has to give. This almost always is the soft copper or plastic of the pipe. Sometimes these breaks can be at the weaker joints or in the middle of the pipe. As quite a lot of your piping in your home is hidden in flooring, roof spaces or walls, the damage caused can be devastating. If you have a burst pipe and water coming into your building you will need to take immediate action to stop the damage.

#3 Water Damage from Appliances/Human error :

Water damage can originate by different sources such as: broken dishwasher hose (wear & tear), washing machine overflow, dishwasher leakage(age), human error (person turns on water to fill sink or tub and starts watching TV or takes phone call and forgets about water they turned on which overflows). Be careful not to fill your washer too full – this can lead to the unit being unbalanced or possible leakage.

#4 Ice Damming :

Ice dams form when melting snow on a roof refreezes at the edge of a roof. Why does snow melt on your roof when it's freezing outside? OK, fair question. Well, it melts because the underside of the roof in the attic above 32 degrees Fahrenheit enough that it warms the outside roof surface to the point that snow melts. Ice dams start or get worse after a heavy snow because of its insulating properties. Since snow is such a good insulator (R-0.5 to R-1 per inch) the outside roof surface is able to warm up easier from the warm attic space, thereby melting the snow faster.

Warm attic spaces occur because of inadequate outside air circulation (ventilation) through the attic (soffit to roof ridge), which is necessary to keep the roof deck cold. Attic warming from poor ventilation is made worse with the introduction of heat from the occupied floor below the attic including sources such as lighting, air leaks, ductwork, etc.

As mentioned earlier, when roof snow is melted by a warm attic space, the water runs between the snow and the warm roof surface. The water then freezes and turns to ice when it gets past the exterior wall and hits a cold unheated roof edge or gutter. The ice dam grows as the snow pack continues to melt, and as water continues to flow down the roof surface. When the water flow hits the ice it creates a larger and larger ice dam.

Note: As property coverage can vary considerably from type of policy and one insurer to another, if you are unclear about how your own policy would apply to any of these circumstances it is always best to discuss with your broker.

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