As cold weather sets in, the danger of freezing pipes becomes a pressing concern for property owners and managers. This concern is particularly heightened when freezing temperatures can lead to burst pipes and potential water damage.
But what does insurance actually cover when your rental property’s pipes begin to feel the winter strain, and who is responsible? Let’s dive in.
Why Frozen Pipe Damage Is a Problem
Water expands when it freezes, which can cause metal or plastic pipes to break due to the pressure it exerts. Pipes in your home that freeze most frequently include those exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, water supply pipes in unheated interior areas, and pipes running against poorly insulated exterior walls.
Freezing pipes disrupt the regular flow of water to critical areas of your home like showers, sinks, and toilets. If you wait for your pipes to thaw naturally, it can take hours, days, or even weeks before the temperature outside increases enough to fully unfreeze the pipes. However, there are methods to thaw pipes manually you can do yourself or with the aid of a plumber.
Frozen pipes do not always burst but the stress of built-up water pressure can turn into long-term leaks down the line. The immediate area around the burst can suffer from waterlogged walls, floors, and ceilings. If the pipe burst occurs in a hidden or enclosed space, such as within walls or under the flooring, it may lead to structural issues or mold growth.
Additionally, if the burst pipe is part of your home's heating system, it can disrupt the warmth distribution, leaving certain areas uncomfortably cold.
Does Insurance Cover Frozen Pipes?
About one in 60 insured homes has a claim caused by water damage or freezing, according to the Insurance Information Institute. When pipes succumb to the pressure of freezing water, insurance steps in to alleviate the financial strain in a two-pronged approach:
Burst Pipe Repair and Replacement: This insurance policy provision typically covers the costs associated with repairing or replacing broken pipes in the event of a burst. Whether it's a corroded metal pipe or a burst plastic conduit, a burst pipe insurance claim also extends to restoring the plumbing system's functionality.
Resulting Water Damage Coverage: Beyond the pipe itself, insurance also covers the water-related aftermath. This includes the costs of repairing damages to walls, ceilings, and floors caused by the escaping water.
DP1, DP2 or DP3 for Freezing Pipes
A dwelling policy (DP) is insurance coverage for residential properties, which can include the structure, optional additional structures, and personal property. Understanding your policy is crucial, as DP1, for instance, offers basic protection but excludes freezing pipes.
DP2 policies offer broader coverage, often including freezing pipes as one of the covered named perils. DP3 policies provide even more comprehensive protection, encompassing a wide range of named perils, including freezing pipes.
Additionally, different policies may offer different forms of replacement if your pipes do freeze or burst. You should consider the differences between ACV (actual cash value) or RCV (replacement cost value) when choosing the coverage that best fits your needs.
When Coverage May Not Apply
Aging Pipes: If the pipes in question are exceptionally old and burst due to the natural wear and tear that accompanies aging, coverage may encounter limitations. Regular inspections and maintenance become paramount to address potential issues before they escalate.
Negligence: Insurance coverage could be compromised if the damage is a result of negligence, either on the part of the property owner, manager, or tenant. For instance, if a tenant neglects to report a noticeable leak or a property owner fails to implement preventive measures like insulating pipes.
Clarifying Landlord vs Tenant Responsibilities
Combatting freezing pipes will require you and your tenants to work together as temperatures begin to drop.
You will bear the responsibility for the overall maintenance and structural integrity of the property. This includes:
Implementing preventative measures that can protect pipes when you are not on the property.
Conducting regular inspections of the property, including the plumbing system, to identify potential issues promptly.
Maintaining open lines of communication through which your tenants can report any issues.
Tenants will need to:
Promptly report any visible leaks, unusual sounds, or signs of plumbing issues.
Ensure a reasonable temperature within the property (at least 55 degrees), especially during extremely cold weather.
Implement preventative measures that protect pipes while you are not on the property like allowing faucets to drip during cold weather.
How to Prevent Frozen Pipes
While insurance is a safeguard in the aftermath of freezing pipes, it's always a good idea to take proactive property maintenance into your own hands. Here are methods to help your pipes withstand freezing temperatures:
Drain swimming pools and sprinkler lines: Follow the manufacturer's or installer's guidelines to ensure proper drainage. Avoid using antifreeze unless explicitly advised, as it's environmentally harmful.
Perform Seasonal Hose Maintenance: When the cold season approaches, remove, drain, and store outdoor hoses. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to facilitate water drainage, and leave the valve open for any remaining water to expand without causing pipe damage.
Enhance attic, basement, and crawl space insulation: Increased insulation in these areas helps maintain higher temperatures for pipes that may be exposed to outside temperatures.
Utilize Specialized Products: Explore dedicated products designed for insulating water pipes, such as "pipe sleeves" or UL-listed options like "heat tape" and "heat cable." These materials are crafted to provide an extra layer of protection.
Innovative Alternatives: Embrace unconventional yet effective alternatives like newspapers for insulation. Surprisingly, even a layer as thin as ¼” can offer significant protection in areas not accustomed to frequent or prolonged freezing temperatures.
Close Garage Doors: Keep garage doors closed if water supply lines are present in that area of the property.
Promote Good Cabinet Ventilation: Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors during cold spells to allow warmer air to circulate plumbing. Ensure harmful cleaners and household chemicals are stored safely out of reach.
Let Faucets Drip: Allow cold water to drip from faucets served by exposed pipes. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent freezing.
Even with all these measures in place, freezing and burst pipes can occur suddenly. For tips on how to file a frozen pipes insurance claim, check out Obie’s guide to successfully filing a claim for your rental property.
Seal the Pipes, Not Your Fate
As winter descends across the country, the partnership between you and your tenants becomes paramount in safeguarding rental property pipes. Consistent and impactful preventative gestures from both parties will fortify your investment and deter damage to your home.
Don't let winter catch you off guard–be prepared and insured. Secure a personalized insurance quote from Obie today to protect your property throughout the season.