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4 steps to manage water leaks

4 steps to manage water leaks

We have been building houses for about a million years – but buildings still leak! As Brisbane enters day 3 of continuous torrential rain, let’s look at some guidance on how to handle building leaks.

The focus of this article is on water that enters a building from its roof, walls and windows. These 4 steps apply and should be followed before any discussions about insurance take place.

Insurance companies do not help owners and body corporate committees to stop the leak, the role of the insurer is to pay for financial losses which are specifically covered under each policy. Generally the insurer cannot advise whether something will be covered until the cause of the leak is identified and stopped – and the final damage is known.

1. Identify the source of the water leak

You’ve just noticed a wet patch of carpet… Time to start hunting for where that water is coming in. Check the walls, windows and doors nearby, and ceilings above.

Common sources of water ingress into buildings & responsibility guidance

Unsure whether your building is a building format plan (BFP) or standard format plan (SFP)? Read our website FAQ: maintenance.

Roof (flashing, skylights, perished silicon etc)

  • In a building format plan (BFP):
    • The body corporate is responsible for nearly all roofing issues
    • Owners are responsible if their installations are causing the leak (solar panels, satellite dish etc)
  • In a standard format plan (SFP):
    • The owner is responsible for the roof of their lot

Blocked gutters/downpipes

  • In a building format plan (BFP):
    • The body corporate is responsible for nearly all gutters/downpipe issues
    • Owners are responsible if a tree in their private yard/courtyard has caused the gutters to become blocked
  • In a standard format plan (SFP):
    • The owner is generally responsible for gutters and downpipes.
    • The body corporate may be responsible for shared gutters that span multiple lots

Leaking windows/doors

  • In a building format plan (BFP):
    • Doors and windows which open onto a balcony, patio, courtyard or side access path are generally the owner’s responsibility to maintain.
    • Body corporate is generally responsible for doors and windows which open directly into a common property area
  • In a standard format plan (SFP):
    • The owner is responsible for doors and windows

Balconies filling with water – inadequate or blocked drainage

  • Balconies are the responsibility of lot owners. Owners must ensure that the balcony is able to drain freely and that any drains are clear and not blocked with leaves or debris.

Courtyards filling with water

  • Courtyards are the responsibility of lot owners, including the way the courtyard drains and manages stormwater.
  • Over time courtyard soil can become compacted and can stop accepting rainwater to soak into the ground. This may be corrected by aeration of soil, or installing garden areas instead of hard surfaces (paving).
  • Owners are responsible for their courtyards but may require body corporate approval to make changes to these areas.

Water seeping through joints under exterior walls

  • In a building format plan (BFP):
    • Exterior walls between the lot and a private balcony, patio, courtyard or side access path are generally the owner’s responsibility to maintain.
    • Body corporate is generally responsible for exterior walls which form the boundary between private areas and common property areas
  • In a standard format plan (SFP):
    • The owner is responsible for exterior walls

2. Stop the leak if you can

This may sound obvious, but try to identify and stop the source of the leak. If water is coming in through your balcony door frame, go out and sweep away the water away from the door if it is safe to do so.

In many cases you will not be able to stop the leak until the rain has stopped, in that case – take actions to mitigate the loss or damage.

3. Mitigate loss or damage

Owners and residents should always take any possible steps to mitigate or reduce loss or damage. This rule applies whether or not there is insurance coverage over the issue. If the issue is covered by insurance, the insurer expects that you will have taken steps to reduce the damage and loss, otherwise the insurer may not pay the claim.

For water leaks, the following steps should be taken as soon as possible:

  • Move furniture away from the leak area
  • Unplug any nearby appliances and move them
  • Remove curtains/blinds that might become water damaged
  • Put out buckets to catch water instead of letting it hit the floor
  • Lay down towels to act as a barrier to incoming water and change them frequently
  • If water is coming through or near electrical devices (light switches, downlights, powerpoints) – go to your switchboard and switch off those circuits to prevent electrical damage.

For fitted carpets, these can usually be towel-dried with pressure (e.g. walking on a dry towel to soak up moisture). If the carpets are very waterlogged, they can be pulled up and back to allow the underlay and the carpet to dry out. It is often cheaper to re-lay existing carpet that has been pulled back, rather than to replace it.

There are companies that specialise in carpet drying – if carpets are wet they should be dried as soon as possible to prevent mould.

These actions are often very inconvenient, but are a very important part of managing a water leak into your home.

4. Be patient if the rain is ongoing

If the rain is ongoing, you will generally not be able to get a contractor to attend to the cause of the leak until the rain stops. Particularly with roof leaks (the most common cause), a roofing plumber cannot safely get onto the roof and then treat the problem if it is still raining (or raining on and off).

This type of leak will generally need to wait until the rain stops, so that the problem can be repaired properly in dry conditions, and then have the fix tested.

Roofing plumbers are in high demand after rain events, so there may also be a delay to wait for a suitable contractor to assist you.

Further reading:

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