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Managing the risk of water leakage can save time, effort and money

At a glance

  • Water leaks can cause significant damage and have a huge impact on construction schedules, penalty payments and insurance excesses
  • Zurich has recently published best practice guidelines for the construction supply chain to assist in managing the problem of water escape
  • According to the Association of British Insurers almost one in five claims made on buildings and contents insurance is for damage caused by escape of water, costing £2 million every day

This article counts towards accumulating your annual CII CPD structured learning hours for Construction.

By reading this article, and correctly answering the three questions underneath, you will have achieved the following learning outcome: Identify the key risks affecting construction site safety and security.

Visit the CPD Hub to log in and begin accumulating CPD hours.

Water is ever present in our built environment. Fortunately, most of the time it is well contained and causes no problems for building owners, occupiers or managers.

However, there are times when the opposite is true. When uncontrolled, water leakage causes severe damage to buildings both during and after construction.


Those leaks don’t have to be huge to have a big impact. Even a small, undetected leak in a water pipe can see litres of uncontrolled water pouring through buildings.

Leak detection specialist Polygon Group estimates that even a 0.5 millimetre hole in a pipe could send 20 litres of water per hour cascading through a structure with expensive consequences.

The threat of water damage from leaks is very real for completed buildings, those under construction and those under refurbishment. The Association of British Insurers estimates that almost one in five claims made on buildings and content insurance relates to damage caused by escape of water.

After the event – anticipating a claim

The costs incurred following an escape of water can be significant. Part of these costs may not be covered by your insurers. In the aftermath of an escape, the following simple tasks may prove invaluable:

  • Preserve evidence and retain any failed joints/pipework
  • Take photographs of the failed joints/pipework in situ
  • Obtain details of who discovered the escape and obtain a short statement of what they found, and any unusual events that occurred beforehand
  • Obtain details of those involved with the relevant work
  • Pre-incident, including all subcontractors, and any remedial work
  • If an emergency plumber was called to the scene, obtain full details of who the plumber was, and ask them to provide written record of what they saw on arrival and what remedial works were carried out
  • In the event of security staff being on site, ensure that they are aware of emergency procedures for switching off the water supply in order to prevent further damage

The following information should also be obtained and collated at the earliest opportunity:

  • A short statement summarising the incident
  • Set out details of all parties involved in the relevant work (including all subcontractors
  • Obtain copies of all relevant design documents
  • Obtain details of any commissioning checks undertaken
  • Obtain details of any maintenance carried out, or previous incidents of escapes on site, even if minor, and any remedial work carried out
  • Confirm whether any project insurance is in place, and if so, obtain details of that insurance. Likewise, obtain details of any subcontractor’s insurance

Direct costs in locating the leak, ripping out walls, floors and service ducts, and repair and reinstatement can all add significantly to a project’s cost. Factor in exposure to delays, contract penalties and insurance excesses and those costs can only mount – with a potentially devastating impact on margins.

Now, though, Zurich has issued best practice guidelines for those in the construction and building management supply chain that will help minimise the risk of being exposed to costly water leakage issues.

“It is important to proactively manage this issue to contain costs,” said Stewart Walker, Zurich’s UK Head of Construction – Broker.

“This is why we have created a technical factsheet to help brokers provide practical guidance to their customers. It also covers what to do in the event of an incident.”

Containing water leakage

It highlights areas where the supply chain can begin to look at containing the likelihood of water leakage including designing out features that can exacerbate damage, such as combined service risers, and fitting shut-off valves on each floor to mitigate risks. It also calls for the early involvement of insurers, specifically during the initial design phase of larger projects.

The factsheet also underlines the importance of checking the track record of sub-contractors and their specialisms before they are appointed, particularly in working with the water systems that are to be installed or used during construction. It features guidance on the control of appointed sub-contractors through applying quality assurance systems and inspection regimes.

Importance of training

With tight site control paramount, the guide urges that sub-contractors and operatives are fully versed in the installation of water systems with strict compliance on design guidelines and manufacturers’ manuals. It also calls for operatives to have received on-site training by the supplier.

And when the installation has been completed, there is no let-off for the project/building management team, with further focus required during the testing/commissioning stages.

The Zurich guidelines highlight the need to pressure test sections of pipework, with initial air tests followed by hydraulic tests, and all sections requiring test compliance certification.

For those in construction, by more tightly managing the design, installation and operation of wet systems in buildings, there is a chance that the risk of damage by escaped water can be minimised.

Image © Getty

For more information, get in touch

Stewart Walker | UK Head of Construction - Broker | 0787 588 6584

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