Water Rising: The Threat to Construction Is Real; the Solution Is All Around Us

By: | July 13, 2020

Adrien T. Robinson is Head of Construction, Inland Marine & Complex Casualty for the Middle and Large Commercial segments at The Hartford. He holds licenses in law and engineering, and in 2008, founded the Environmental Division of Navigators insurance. Adrien can be reached at [email protected]

Over the past several years, the primary threat of construction project losses has shifted from fire to water. The change is seen in both the frequency and severity of events and has shown up particularly in the building phase.

This doesn’t mean that fire is no longer a concern.

It shows that the construction industry’s long-running efforts have been able to reduce the number and impact of fire incidents with investments in better risk management strategies, including improved training, use of non-combustive building materials and adoption of technology solutions, among others.

These results suggest that, if we focus industry energy and innovation to the same degree on water-related losses, we can achieve the same success.

Until recently, water events weren’t as common, and the scope of potential damage wasn’t widely recognized. But whether from a faulty sink fitting, a frozen pipe or a water main connection break, the true threat of water intrusion and escape comes into focus when we look at the actual exposures.

Direct costs go beyond property damage and include debris removal, construction and equipment repair, material replacement, mold remediation and project delays to name a few.

Indirect costs such as legal fees, business interruption, reputational harm and public relations expenses also add up.

It isn’t hard to imagine how losses could reach into the millions of dollars for an overnight leak in a high rise.

As the industry adjusts to ever-greater project complexity, a less experienced labor force, doing more with fewer resources and a growing number of large weather events related to climate change, the risk of significant water-related losses will continue to rise.

What’s The Answer?

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By collaborating to prioritize and maintain focus on three areas — quality, planning and testing — owners, contractors, insurance carriers and risk engineering can achieve results that deliver real financial benefits for a relatively low cost.

Quality, planning and testing — the work itself isn’t new.

The difference is it isn’t done in silos. It’s planned and executed by all parties, together. Here are some places to begin.

Before you start:

  • Design a formal Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) plan around water prevention and water controls.
  • Sequence the right way and never allow scheduling concerns to modify it. The building’s structure should be fully enclosed, with all windows, doors, walls and roofs complete prior to the installation of finishes.

During construction:

  • Make sure buildings are properly enclosed to prevent water entry and properly heated to prevent freezing.
  • Ground water and weather-related events are typically a concern early in the construction project during excavation and foundation activities.
  • Water intrusion and water escape become primary concerns once the building structure is complete and the MEP systems and finish materials are being installed.
  • Perform material verification to determine that installed materials are as specified. If the finishing materials are stored in the building prior to installation, they should be on pallets and covered adequately by tarps or plastic sheeting.

Team awareness:

  • Catalog and share water valve locations.
  • Establish and train everyone on water emergency procedures and protocols.

When project stakeholders work together to establish and consistently execute a mitigation plan through all phases of construction, water damage and the associated losses can be minimized. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]