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  • Writer's pictureMegan Connor

How to prevent water damage from frozen pipes; Insights from Winter Storm Uri

Updated: May 9, 2023

As temperatures lower and we approach the most wonderful time of the year, the risk of water damage from leaky or busted pipes increases for homes and businesses across the U.S. Nothing can ruin the holiday season quite like thousands of dollars in property damage.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, freeze and water damage claims comprise 29% of all homeowner insurance claims in the U.S. These claims represent the third most costly for carriers, with an average payout of more than $11k.

At Zap, we've seen our fair share of freeze and water damage claims, particularly in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri which impacted the state of Texas in February 2021. The devasting effects of Uri were further compounded by widespread power outages across the state, resulting in losses from the freeze, water exposure, and electrical power surge.

In this article, we’ll learn how to prevent frozen pipes and what to do when mother nature has other plans. We'll also take a deep dive into the loss types Zap investigated in the early spring of 2021 compared to 2020 - how did Winter Storm Uri impact insureds the greatest?

Why do pipes freeze?

It’s no secret what causes frozen pipes – weather. When outside temperatures drop below 20.0 degrees Fahrenheit or -6.6 degrees Celsius, the pipes in your home or business are at risk of freezing.

As water flows through the pipes freezes and hardens, the integrity of the pipes becomes compromised. Pipes are subject to expansion, cracking, or fracturing, resulting in leaks throughout the location, or in even worse instances, can burst entirely.

At Zap, we’ve seen flooded basements, bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and more. The resulting water exposure can cause damage to the electrical system and fixtures, including outlets, switches, exhaust and ceiling fans, and electrical panels.

Exposed electronics and appliances can quickly sustain damage ranging from minor cosmetic blemishes to irreparable water logging and deterioration. While the water is presumably “clean”, the effects of the exposure can be devasting to the structure and contents of the property.

So, how do you prevent pipes from freezing in the first place?

  • Know your weather. During the cooler months, periodically check the forecast in your area. Are temperatures expected to fall below 20.0 degrees overnight? This should pique your concern and lead you to consider the next steps in preventing an expensive loss.

  • Avoid adjusting your thermostat to cooler temperatures overnight. While lowering your thermostat in the evenings can benefit your energy bill, maintaining a stable temperature can help keep the water in your pipes flowing properly.

  • Allow water to trickle from faucets connected to exposed pipes. This is a mountain home favorite. By keeping the flow of water moving, you can lower the risk of pipes freezing and busting.

  • Insulation, insulation, insulation. While not a practical matter the night before an expected freeze, insulating exposed pipes ahead of the season can help better protect your pipes from freezing in the colder months.

  • Leave cabinet doors open to circulate warm air. This simple fix takes seconds and can help keep exposed pipes in kitchens, bathrooms, and basements warm and protected from a potential freeze.

You suspect your pipes are frozen, now what?

  • Run water from a faucet. If you only notice a slow trickle, your pipes may be frozen, or there may be an ice blockage, preventing the water from flowing freely.

  • Inspect the exposed pipes for possible breaks, leaks, cracks, or fractures. If your pipes have busted, turn off the main water supply and contact a plumber ASAP.

  • If the exposed pipes appear OK, leave the faucet running, allowing warm water to thaw the pipe. You can also apply heat to the pipe, using a gentle device, such as a hairdryer or heating pad; however, you should NEVER subject the pipe to an open flame.

  • If you’re not making headway warming the exposed pipes, contact a plumber ASAP. There may be more significant problems occurring within the location's plumbing system. A plumber should diagnose and repair the issues to prevent further damage.

Where things get complicated: what we learned from Winter Storm Uri

No one could have anticipated the impacts of the big Texas freeze in 2021. Aside from the shocking fact that Texas temperatures dropped to as little as 6 degrees as a result of the storm, according to the Texas Department of Insurance, greater than 500,000 insurance claims related to the freeze event were filed. As of July 2021, more than $5.8 million was paid out by insurers for Winter Storm Uri-related losses.

The storm resulted in sub-freezing temperatures, widespread power outages which lasted days and weeks, flooded homes and businesses, and roofs caved in from the snow and downed trees.

This severe weather event, in an unlikely environment, caught carriers and policyholders off guard. This type of anomaly will undoubtedly occur in the future as weather and natural disasters become increasingly unpredictable. Taking steps to safeguard your home or business from severe weather events has never been more important!

Between February and April 2021, Zap Consulting received requests to investigate a myriad of loss types; however, we saw a notable increase in assignments requesting an investigation of damage from power surge, water, and unknown, three loss types associated with severe winter weather event, Uri.

Power surge, water, and unknown loss type investigation requests comprised 54% of all assignments received between February and April 2021. In 2020, these loss types represented only 39%.

The greatest hike was discovered in the requests for water and unknown loss type investigations - moving from 24% in 2020 to 38% in 2021. While the data reflects assignment requests from across the country, the 14% increase in water and unknown loss type investigation requests corresponds with the severe weather in Texas in 2021.

Despite the unpredictable nature of Winter Storm Uri, the experts at Zap Consulting were prepared to help. By quickly investigating the damage and providing loss type confirmation and recommending RCV and ACV settlements, Texas freeze claims were handled accurately and efficiently - helping insureds get back to normal. Don't hesitate this season. Contact Zap Consulting to handle freeze claims fairly, accurately, and fast.

Have questions about a freeze-related claim? Reach out to Zap today.


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