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The Additional Damages You May See in Failed Water Heater Claims

When a water heater fails, the cost of restoring the insured to pre-loss condition varies wildly. Repairs could cost as little as $50 or a replacement could cost over $1000. The cost of a failed water heater, however, does not end with the water heater itself. Whether the water leaks in a slow dribble or pours out in a sudden burst, the area around it is susceptible to water damage with varying results.

Within minutes, the water begins to spread, causing more and more damage until the leak is detected and stopped. Depending on where your water heater is, this damage varies. For example, a water heater in a traditional basement or garage is unlikely to damage carpeting or furniture (more on that later), but in a finished basement, the water doesn’t have many options on where to go and can cause a lot of damage. A water heater in a closet or (worse!) the attic can drip water down into lower floors, through walls and ceilings, into carpets, and more. So what damage can you expect to see on a failed water heater claim?

Flooring and Subflooring

When a water heater fails, water is likely to pour out around it, meaning that the floor surrounding the it will probably suffer some water damage. If the water heater is in a garage, crawl space, or basement with concrete floors, the damage shouldn’t be too extensive, but if it is in a closet or attic, particularly if the floors are carpeted; made of wood,  vinyl tile, or laminate; or contain insulation (if it’s an upper floor), the floors could saturate, warp, crack, split, or otherwise fall apart. While carpeting can usually be dried out and cleaned, wet carpet pads almost always need to be replaced. Ceramic tile, thankfully, tends to fare better through water damage, but the grout can suffer and may need to be redone. The subflooring may also be compromised, depending on what it is made of. All of this can easily add thousands to the cost of the water heater failure claim.

Water heater leaking onto the floor.

Walls

Drywall can be pretty absorbent, and if water seeps into it, the structural integrity of the walls may be compromised. In cases where the water heater is in the attic or an upper floor, the water has to follow gravity and can seep down into the lower floors. However, even the walls on the same floor can wick water into them from the bottom, allowing that moisture to travel upwards. What’s more, the water can also penetrate the studs, causing mold and mildew, so the walls may need to be opened up so the studs can be dried. Depending on the depth and square footage of the damage, this can add hundreds or even thousands to the claim.

Water-damaged walls surrounding a water heater.

Ceilings

When a water heater is on an upper level, those floors are a lower level’s ceiling. It’s not uncommon to see structurally compromised ceilings in cases of water heater loss, and the plaster and drywall are not the only things at risk. Ceiling fans and light fixtures can also face serious damage. But even the ceilings in the same room as the water heater can be damaged. When water heaters fail, they can release hot water, which leads to steam. Steam rises, which can introduce moisture into the ceiling in that area, creating a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Mold and Mildew

Speaking of mold and mildew, mold thrives in moist, warm environments like those created by a water heater failure. In these situations, mold can grow in the walls, the floors, the subfloors, and even the ductwork (more likely if the ductwork is situated below the water heater). The cleanup costs for mold damage can be expensive, running hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars just on its own!

Foundation

It’s possible that significant leaking or flooding could seep down into the foundation. Foundations are very difficult to dry and would require much more time using drying equipment, adding significant cost to the restoration. Moreover, water damage could cause cracking. While a few small hairline cracks aren’t a concern, significant cracking and shifting could potentially occur from water damage, but this is only a concern if you’re dealing with a particularly large water heater in a commercial setting.

Personal Property

If the water heater is near or above a storage or living area, you could find that furniture and other belongings get damaged from the resulting water leak. Wooden furniture can saturate, discolor, and rot; fabric can mold and stain; foam may swell and become misshapen; and even metal furniture may face rust if left unchecked long enough. Electronics, wiring, artwork, and decor could also be damaged or lost as the water wreaks havoc on them as well. That could mean adding hundreds more to the cost of returning the insured to pre-loss condition.

Water marks covering a speaker system.

What Happens Next?

When a water heater claim like this hits your desk, you need to be thorough and accurate in your claim settlement. It’s not uncommon for a contractor to recommend replacing everything, but there are times that repairs will restore an insured to pre-loss condition. You aren’t expected to be an expert in every aspect of these sorts of damages, but thankfully, you don’t have to be.

If you’re not sure about the contractor’s assessments of the water heater or additional damaged electronics, or if you just want to be absolutely sure of your adjustment, getting an expert involved is easier than you might think. In fact, you can get a neutral, third-party assessment with just a few clicks. At StrikeCheck, we offer impartial, comprehensive analyses of various electrical systems, including water heaters. Just submit a claim with us and we’ll have a finished report to you in about 5 business days!

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