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Strata buildings and burst water pipes: how to avoid and handle damage

Of all insurance claims arising from strata buildings, water damage is one of the most common, and there is a high chance that damage was caused by burst water pipes. In fact, Flex Insurance and CHU have dealt with over 14,000 water damage claims per year. These can be either within the units themselves, or in the major water pipes running throughout the building.

When the plumbing across all units is of similar age, an issue in one residence may well be replicated elsewhere caused by deterioration of materials either due to the passage of time, or an inherent fault in the products and/or installation. This means that, if a strata committee becomes aware of leaks in one unit, it should notify all residents and/or owners to be vigilant for similar problems in their own homes. If the issue is serious, or identified in multiple areas, the strata committee should look at engaging an inspector to assess the plumbing across the building.

Burst water pipes

As most strata committees would be aware, the damage from a burst or leaking pipe in one unit will often extend to those properties below it or adjacent to it. Depending on the speed or intensity of the leak, repairs can range from simple cleaning and repainting to requiring a complete replacement of equipment and furniture, internal walls, ceilings and flooring, treatment to remove or inhibit mould, and even the cost of covering rental expenses if a unit becomes uninhabitable. In fact, long-term dampness can even be a cause of concrete cancer or building subsidence. And all it takes is one faulty hose, pipe, tap or coupling.

Burst pipes in common areas, which, by their nature, come under the management of the strata committee, can present unique problems.

In addition to damage to the strata corporation’s assets and property (including equipment, furnishings, walls and flooring, doors and hallways etc), the common areas of strata buildings often also house critical utilities’ infrastructure for the building including fire panels, electricity sub-stations, internet and communication hubs, lift machinery, air conditioning units, and access to basement storage units and carparks.

A burst water pipe in the wrong spot may not only shut down the floor upon which it occurred, but the entire building’s systems. It is therefore imperative that strata committees are aware of their responsibility to the owners and occupants of the building to ensure that all plumbing, drainage and pipes on common property are well-maintained and regularly checked.

Prevention is better than the cure.

If not managed and rectified in a timely manner, burst water pipes can be extremely costly and destructive. There are some essential checks and maintenance that will make all the difference.

  • Maintain grout and waterproofing in wet areas due to deterioration causing damage to adjoining areas. 
  • Treat mould early and determine the cause.
  • Inspect walls and ceilings for blistering and water marks as there may be a water leakage.
  • Ensure ventilation is adequate.
  • Investigate any reports of water pressure or usage changing due to water ingress from broken reticulation, swimming pools, spas, pumps or any water device. 
  • Clearing drainage systems and balconies regularly, so water can drain freely.
  • Installing an Internet of Things (IoT) detection device near major pipework areas can also help detect water leaks.

If your property is hit by severe weather, the priority is to make sure everyone is safe and informed before tending to any burst pipes. Then, ensure you carry out any emergency work (‘make safe’) to minimise further damage or personal injury and contact your insurer.

Regular inspections of key plumbing components and networks within and around a building – including garden irrigation systems, water meters and connections to the sewer system – should be part of any ongoing maintenance schedule. A specialist plumbing inspector should be able to assess pipework that cannot be easily seen, and will often look for tell-tale signs of leaking, such as dampness, low water pressure, mould growth, warping, discolouring, or contaminated tap water.

Calling on Flex Insurance to help

When a disaster such as a burst pipe occurs, Flex Insurance claims are managed by the experts at CHU Underwriting Agencies, who work in conjunction with a pre-approved panel of builders and restorers. This register can be found on the Flex Insurance website and provides a list of experienced tradespeople to call on in each state.

First, the builders and/or repairers are called in to fix the issue as soon as possible, get things working again, and make it safe to occupy or use again.

The restorers are sometimes engaged to remediate the site to its previous condition and minimise further damage that the problem may otherwise cause, such as mould or discolouring.

By using Flex Insurance's Builder and Restoration Panel, the claims process can be streamlined, payments can be made by Flex directly to the contractors, the work is guaranteed, and strata committees and apartment owners can feel assured that the people doing the repairs are appropriately certified, vetted and experienced.

In addition to the Building and Restorers Panel, Flex Insurance gives committees more options to design their own policy, with flexible cover and an extensive list of optional extras. That way, committees know they’re paying only for the inclusions they need.

To find out more about our Builder and Restorers Panel, or to find one of our approved Builders or Restorers for your building, see more information here.

This article was supplied by Flex Insurance.

Important note

Disclaimer: CHUiSAVER Underwriting Agency Pty Ltd (ABN 85 613 645 239, AFSL 491113) trading as Flex Insurance acts under a binding authority as agent of the insurer: QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited (ABN 78 003 191 035, AFSL 239545). Any advice in this article is general advice only and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before acquiring any products mentioned.