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How to create a water leak response plan — and why you need one

Do you know what to do if there’s a leaky tap, faulty appliance or broken pipe in your home? And do you know what steps to take while you wait for a plumber to mitigate any damage or costly repairs?


Most people have a fire escape plan, but haven’t considered creating a water leak response plan. But water damage is on the rise, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), whether caused by outdated infrastructure, poor building maintenance, domestic accidents or even climate change (resulting in more severe weather, such as flooding).

In fact, at Wawanesa, water-related events account for our highest number and severity of personal property losses. Leaks can happen at any time, not just when you’re away from home — even something as simple as an overflowing tub or toilet.

“If you have kids and you have toilets, it’s bound to happen. And if you don’t react quickly enough, what should be a cleanup nuisance could turn out to be a fairly lengthy claim,” says Dom Mandaliti, Manager, Risk Services with Wawanesa Insurance.

Watch our video series for easy ways to prevent home water loss

Get familiar with your water shut-off valves

Most importantly, know where your main and localized water shut-off valves are located. Surprisingly, a lot of homeowners don’t know where they are, and they don’t test them regularly. Some valves are even hidden behind decorative panels or behind furniture.

“Many homeowners don’t look behind their toilet or under their sink before an emergency happens to see if there’s a localized shut-off valve,” Mandaliti explains. When panic strikes and you see water gushing out of a pipe, having that knowledge can help you jump into crisis aversion mode — saving time and limiting damage.

“For those who already know where their shut-off valves are, do they test them once in a while or, when they go to use it, does the knob fall off because it’s so old or it physically won’t shut off?” cautions Mandaliti, who has seen that happen many times.

“We go into a lot of older homes and find those valves to see if people are maintaining them, and to get an indication of the plumbing materials that have been used. A lot of times you see rusted shut-off valves, which we recommend replacing as soon as possible. Unfortunately, they don’t last forever.”

And while it may seem obvious, those valves shouldn’t be blocked by furniture or covered with decorative panels. (It’s a bylaw requirement to keep them clear of obstructions.)

Get to know your pipes

Particularly in older homes, water damage is often caused by leaks or ruptures in pipes.

“Some older homes have a bathroom or kitchen where the pipes run on the outside wall, and that wall may not be insulated,” says Ward Henderson, Manager, Prevention - Training, Innovation and Communications with Wawanesa Insurance. “So if there’s a cold snap, it’s going to freeze those pipes.”

Some older homes may also have an outdoor faucet. “We’d like to see policyholders upgrade those with frost-proof outdoor faucets,” says Henderson. This isn’t costly, but you may want to consider having a plumber do the work so it’s properly installed. While the plumber is there, request that they install a water shut-off valve that’s dedicated to the outdoor faucet.

Old appliances can also cause water leaks or sudden pipe ruptures, such as dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines. Appliances have a life expectancy (which could be shorter than you imagine) and should be replaced before they start leaking. Look for telltale signs of leakage or corrosion. “Corrosion doesn’t have to look like rust — it could be white flakes or hard water deposits,” warns Henderson.

Find out the most common cause of washing machine flooding – and easy ways to prevent it.

Watch Video

Also consider plumbing materials. Steel-braided hoses for washing machines, for example, cost a little bit more than rubber hoses but offer additional burst-resistance measures. It’s recommended that washer hoses be replaced every three to five years.

If you have Poly B (polybutylene) piping, you’ll eventually need to replace it. “Poly B piping will leak — it’s not a matter of if, but when. Look underneath your sink — if there’s any moisture, you probably have those types of plumbing materials,” says Henderson.

Finally, if you’re going away in winter, Wawanesa recommends shutting off your water. The Insurance Bureau of Canada also requires you to have someone check on your home if you’re away for more than seven days — otherwise, a claim could be denied. It’s also a good idea to notify your broker if you plan to be away from your property for the winter season.

Install automatic water shut-off valves

For extra protection and peace of mind, it’s well worth installing a ‘smart’ automatic water shut-off valve, which will shut off the main water supply if it senses a continuous leak or a rupture. There are numerous types of sensors and shut-off devices on the market, so choosing one will depend on your home and your specific requirements.

An integrated valve controller is installed on the main supply valve (and should be done by a plumber). Other valves can be installed over an existing shut-off valve, which is often easy to do yourself. And some can be connected to a smart home system, such as Google Home, Alexa and similar options.

If you already use a central home alarm monitoring service, ask whether water sensors are available as part of your plan. While there may be an upfront cost to the sensor, the cost of monitoring is usually included in your existing plan.

Water leak response plan checklist

  • Do you have a plumber on speed dial in case something goes wrong?

  • In the case of a leak or rupture, do you know where your main and localized water shut-off valves are? Consider clearly marking the main valve so it is easily identified in the event of an emergency.

  • Are your shut-off valves easily accessible (not blocked by panels or furniture)?

  • Do your kids know where the shut-off valves are and what to do in the case of a leakage?

  • Do you have an outdoor faucet and is it winterized? If it’s equipped with a dedicated shut-off valve, do you turn the water supply off during the winter?

  • Have you considered a water leakage detection system with automatic shut-off valve? If not, consult your plumber and/or local plumbing supply retailer for options. Learn more about water leakage detection technology.

  • When was the last time you reviewed your appliances? Look for rust or white flakes that may indicate seals have worn out. Ensure pipes and fittings are inspected on a regular basis.

  • If you’re going to be away for more than seven days, do you have someone to check in on your house?

  • Do you have a maintenance plan for your plumbing? Talk to your plumber about what makes sense for your home (depending on how old your pipes and appliances are).

By going through this checklist on a regular basis, such as once a year or after major renovations, you’ll be more prepared to deal with an unexpected water leak. And if an unfortunate scenario is sprung upon you, you’ll know exactly how to jump into action.

Have you recently upgraded your appliances or plumbing? Reach out to your broker to review your coverage and make sure your policy reflects your current needs.

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