If you have ever seen a house being built, it is much like the support system the human skeleton provides.
Walls are held up by wood resembling bones. Snaking up, through and around those “bones” is the plumbing system; bringing water in and taking water out of the house. These pipes resemble the circulatory system of veins and arteries. And like veins and arteries, a rupture in any one of those pipes can cause a lot of damage.
This article discusses common pipe burst issues, insurance claims, and coverage expectations.
Pipe Materials and Common Issues
There are all kinds of pipes that run through your home. Some are inside your home, and some run outside underground. The pipe material will vary depending on the age of your home and the location of the pipe. Newer homes have more durable and cost-effective PVC pipes, while older homes may have copper or perhaps even cast-iron pipes.
Cast Iron Pipes
Cast iron pipes tend to be used as sewage pipes to carry waste away from your home. It is a heavy material with an average life span of 50-75 years.
Cast iron pipes in older homes are prone to corrosion, and will eventually crumble if they’re not replaced. Wastewater pipes beneath your house or in your yard may also be punctured by tree roots. When these kinds of pipes burst, it can cause a backup in your home resulting in a hazardous mess.
Copper pipes last 20-50 years. They are generally used to deliver clean water to your taps and they are especially common for hot water lines.
One issue is pitting corrosion. This type of localized corrosion can result in a leak. If the leak is not noticed, over time the water pressure could eventually burst through the corrosion causing significant damage to your home.
Another issue with copper pipes is they are less flexible than plastic pipes. If exposed to freezing temperatures, they can freeze and shrink. The continued changes in pressure may cause the frozen pipe to burst.
PVC pipes are the most widely used for interior plumbing in newer construction. If you look under your kitchen or bathroom sink, you will likely find white plastic pipes. These are much cheaper and durable than other materials. They can last 50-70 years and it some cases they can last more than 100 years. The failure rate of PVC is so low, any failure at all is usually attributable to a manufacturing defect, improper installation or incorrect usage.
It is possible for a PVC pipe to burst, but it happens less often. Some causes of a PVC pipe burst could be improper joint fitting. If a PVC pipe is not joined properly, over time the water pressure due to regular usage will weaken that joint and might even leak at that point.
What To Do When Pipes Burst
If the conditions are right and you must deal with a burst pipe, the steps in dealing with other types of water damage will apply here. However, if you are dealing with a sewer pipe burst, it is important to stay away and not try to handle it yourself. Sewer water is contaminated with bacteria that are hazardous to your health. This requires professionals who have the knowledge and equipment to deal with this type of water damage.
Step 1: Turn Off The Water
The first thing you will want to do is get any active leak under control by turning off the water to the house. You may also want to take photos of the damage at this stage if you think you’ll need to file a claim.
Step 2: Contact Your Insurance Company
If the leak is severe and you need to file a claim, call your insurance company right away to report what happened—as soon as your water is off. Do not put off calling the insurance company. They could use any delay in reporting against you when deciding to cover or deny your claim.
They may also have resources that can help you repair the damage. If they prefer to work with certain plumbers or contractors, using those contractors may help your claim be processed more quickly.
Step 3: Call a Plumber
A plumber can identify the problem pipe and repair the damaged plumbing. This may involve cutting into the wall to access the damaged pipe or perhaps drilling into your slab to access below ground pipes.
Step 4: Dry Out Your Home
Then you need to get the water out of the house to prevent further damage including potential mold growth. Water dry out companies have the equipment to remove standing water as well as dry out building materials such as walls, floors, and cabinets. The kind of water and the extent of the damage will determine the kind of equipment and duration of the dry out.
Even though dealing with a pipe burst can be overwhelming, take the time to photograph the damage and the repairs made. Also, keep invoices and receipts for services provided to submit with your insurance claim.
Am I Covered?
The answer to this question hinges on a number of factors, particularly the reason the pipe burst, the location of the pipe and the kind of damage.
Many policies will limit coverage of underground pipes to only those on the property. Insurance companies may say that an underground pipe running through your front yard is not “on the property”. However, some courts have clarified that pipes anywhere on the property would be covered. This means, however, that if the city pipe bursts at the sidewalk and causes damage to your home, it is likely not covered under your insurance policy.
Your policy may also limit or deny coverage for sewer backups. While some policies will deny any coverage for a sewer backup including the cost of cleanup, other policies will cover the cost of clean up and repair of subsequent damage but will not cover the cost of replacing or repairing the pipe.
For PVC pipe issues, you may not be covered if the failed pipe was the result of a manufacturing defect or improper installation. This again could result in a full denial of coverage or partial coverage of the cleanup only.
Copper and Cast Iron
Some policies will also limit or deny coverage if the burst pipe was the result of age or failure to replace the pipe at the end of its lifespan. Corrosion is generally not sudden and therefore may affect coverage of the claim. Finally, some policies will greatly restrict coverage of pipe bursts even if it was hidden and unknown. The fact that the pipe was behind a wall may not defeat a denial of coverage in those extreme situations.
Pipe burst claims come in many varieties and ultimately, the issue of coverage for pipe burst can be complicated and a fact-intensive analysis. But knowing what kind of issues to expect will help you navigate through a pipe burst claim.