Water damage – everything you need to know

bathtub leaks

Water damage – everything you need to know

Water can cause severe damage to a house or apartment in a short amount of time – whether a pipe breaks, a washing machine leaks or a weather event causes flooding. In the text below you will find the most important information on the topic of "water damage".

After a pipe bursts, water drips from the ceiling in the middle of the living room. The underfloor heating has a leak, but this is only noticed when beams are already rotten. Or after a heavy thunderstorm, the cellar fills up with 50 cm water: Water damage can have many causes. However, the consequences are usually the same – moisture in the building fabric, destroyed furniture, floor coverings and valuables. 

Find out everything you need to know about "water damage" – who pays, what to do in the event of a loss, how do I protect myself?

Who pays?

A different type of insurance may be responsible depending on why damage was caused by water. In addition to this, there are also different cantonal regulations. That is why we have compiled an overview for you.

What types of water damage are there?

  • Generally, the insurance distinguishes between two types of damage caused by water: Burst pipes, leaky fittings or leaks in washing machines, dishwashers, aquariums or waterbeds as well as damage caused by backwater from the sewage system are considered "water damage" from an insurance perspective. 
  • High water, floods or hail are caused by the effects of nature. From an insurance perspective, the damage caused by this is considered a natural hazard. 

This distinction is important for you because different insurance companies will be responsible depending on what caused the damage. The deductible, i.e. the part of the damage that you have to pay yourself, also varies. 

Which insurance covers water damage or damage caused by natural hazards?

  • Damage caused by water may be covered by household contents and buildings insurance. A different insurance cover will apply depending on whether a leaking pipe or a natural hazard caused the respective damage.
  • The private Household contents insurance covers damage to furnishings in almost all cantons, from a swollen bookshelf, to a wet parquet floor, to a "drowned" computer, from an insurance perspective it doesn't matter whether the damage was caused by water or natural hazards. This insurance is worthwhile for any person or family with a certain amount of personal belongings. Cantonal insurance is only responsible for natural hazard damage to household contents in the cantons of Nidwalden and Vaud. 
  • If a building is damaged by floods, for example – which is natural hazard damage – either the cantonal or the private buildings insurance is responsible, depending on the canton in question. Either way, the benefits are regulated by law. In the event of water damage due to a leaking pipe for example, the private building-water insurance will pay. Depending on the contract concluded, in addition to the repair costs, search and clearance costs, disposal or even the rent for a replacement apartment or loss of rental income can also be insured. This insurance is worthwhile for owners of houses and apartments. Tenants, on the other hand, do not need buildings insurance.
  • There is knee-high water in the underground car park after heavy rain, and the electronics of your parked car have been damaged by this: Such damage is covered by the single vehicle accidental damage insurance. 
  • You are on the road for two hours and have forgotten to turn off the bath water. If you unintentionally flood the rented apartment because of this, you may be liable vis-à-vis your landlord. In such cases the personal liability insurance is responsible. If you are the owner, the building water insurance will cover the damage.
  • Your mobile phone is generally insured against water damage under your household contents insurance. However, this does not apply if a full glass of mineral water falls over and damages your mobile phone, or if your mobile phone falls into the toilet or a full bathtub. Such cases can be covered by the electrical comprehensive insurance.
What is the cause? What was damaged? Who pays? What do I have to pay?
An act of God, e.g. flooding, high water Objects in the house or apartment, e.g. furniture, electrical appliances, musical instruments Private household contents insurance as part of natural hazards cover (exception: cantons of Vaud and Nidwalden) The deductible is regulated by law and is currently CHF 500.
An act of God, e.g. flooding, high water Building components, e.g. walls or floors Depending on the canton in question, private buildings insurance (applies to Geneva, Schwyz, Uri, Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Valais and Obwalden as well as the Principality of Liechtenstein) or cantonal buildings insurance (all others). The deductible is regulated by law; in cantons with private buildings insurance, it is 10% of the indemnity with a minimum of CHF 1,000 and a maximum of CHF 10,000. Different deductibles apply to the cantonal buildings insurance depending on the canton in question.
 Leakage from water from pipes and appliances connected to them, or from objects such as aquariums or waterbeds. Objects in the house or apartment, e.g. furniture, electrical appliances, musical instruments Private household contents insurance as part of the "water damage" cover The deductible is agreed on contractually. As a rule, it is CHF 200.
Leakage from water from pipes, appliances or objects such as aquariums or waterbeds. Building components, e.g. walls or floors Private building-water insurance The deductible is agreed on contractually. As a rule, it is CHF 200.

What to do in the event of a loss?

My basement is flooded – what should I do?

  • Call the fire brigade if necessary. It can pump out the water from a basement or an underground car park, for example. 
  • Save what can be saved – but your own safety comes first. It can be dangerous if the water reaches sockets or electrical cables, as there is a risk of an electric shock.
  • Provide a list with the damaged property, take some photos and keep any receipts you may have at the ready.
  • Inform your insurer and have the damage assessed as soon as possible. As a customer of Zurich, you can contact us for help and advice on the emergency number 0800 80 80 80.
  • Clean up, because after the flooding, mud and moisture can cause consequential damage.

Water leaks into the apartment due to a burst pipe or a leaking appliance. How can I limit the damage?

  • Turn off the pipe in question as soon as possible, if necessary turn off the mains tap.
  • Try to catch at least some of the escaping water, e.g. with cleaning buckets, bowls or towels, etc.
  • Clear away all objects that are sensitive to water / moisture in the area at risk.
  • Inform your insurer and have the damage assessed as soon as possible. As a customer of Zurich, you can contact us for help and advice on the emergency number 0800 80 80 80.
  • Have the damage repaired professionally, e.g. with drying equipment and, if necessary, replacement of the building fabric, so that even more expensive consequential damage can be avoided.

How do I know if water is leaking in my apartment?

  • A typical sign is that the water meter continues to run although no water is being used anywhere in the home.
  • A drop in water pressure can also be an indication of a leak. 
  • If you see the typical water stains on the ceiling or wall, or if it "rains" in the apartment, considerable damage has usually already been done.

How do I protect myself?

How do I prevent burst pipes?

  • Burst pipes and leaking electrical appliances are things that cannot be prevented completely. But you can reduce the likelihood of such things: 
  • Before drilling, always use a locating device to check there is really no pipe behind the plaster. 
  • Be aware that exposed water pipes can freeze and burst in winter. You should therefore drain and turn off outdoor pipes in autumn.
  • You can also mitigate the consequences of burst pipes: In a new building, smart water controls help to detect leaks and pipe bursts quickly and shut off the pipes completely. 
  • Water detectors or sensors can be installed on the wall or floor so that you notice an overflowing bathtub or leaking washing machine, dishwasher, aquarium or waterbed very quickly.
  • Generally, the following applies: Have household appliances installed and regularly serviced by a professional. Fittings should also be checked regularly for leaks. 
  • Do not run the dishwasher or washing machine if you are going to leave the building for several hours. It is also worth investing in aquastop valves: They shut off the flow of water if a hose comes loose, bursts or leaks. 

My basement is at risk of flooding. How can I prevent severe damage here?

There is no such thing as absolute protection. However, you can reduce the consequences of flooding by acting smart: 

  • If there is a flood warning, clear out basements and garages that are at risk or store items at a safe height.
  • Always store things higher up and not at ground level, for example, on a pallet, on a shelf or on a self-made platform. Just 20 cm can make a big difference – not only in the case of high water and floods, but also if a water pipe bursts in the laundry room, for example.
  • Seal areas where water could gain access, windows for example.
  • Turn off electricity, water and gas in exposed parts of the building, as water penetration can cause short circuits, contaminate water pipes and even lead to fires.

How do I secure my underground car park against flooding?

  • Mobile mechanical barriers, like a levee or dike, can keep water out effectively. 
  • Remove your electric car from the charging station in the underground car park if heavy rain is possible. A charging e-vehicle can be life-threatening in a flood – after all, water conducts electricity.

Can I also insure myself against water damage as a business owner?

  • Companies can insure themselves against water damage under property insurance, for example, if liquid leaks from pipes, equipment or containers. Natural hazards such as flooding or high water are also included.
  • You can also insure yourself against water damage to the company building – via a buildings insurance policy or, in the case of Zurich, directly via the property insurance. As with private buildings, natural hazard damage is covered either by cantonal or private buildings insurance, depending on the canton in question.
  • In the event of a loss, we can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will help you immediately so that you can get back to serving your customers as quickly as possible. We not only pay for the direct damage, but also for the clean-up costs or, if necessary, for replacement premises. If required, we can even organize a specialist to set up a drying machine after a flood, for example.

Which additional modules are interesting for corporate customers?

  • For corporate customers in particular, it is important to insure not only the direct costs of water damage, but also the indirect costs - because a company often has to temporarily shut down its operations as a result of such events. And that can be a lot more expensive than the property damage.
  • The additional module "Business interruption" in the property insurance is therefore recommended. This can help to compensate for lost sales and possibly even save the company's existence. 
  • Furthermore, the costs of searching for, uncovering, walling up, recovering and repairing exposed or non-exposed pipes due to leakage or bursts can be also be covered.
  • Losses on receivables, i.e. a loss of income due to the destruction or loss of invoicing documents, can also be insured.
    The loss of rental income can also be insured if an insured building becomes completely or partially unusable due to water or other property damage.

In the Zurich SME Magazine, you can find out how we helped a customer with his water damage in a very specific way.

Home Assistance

You are lying under palm trees in the sunny south, but at home the basement is under water? With the "Home Assistance" insurance, Zurich organizes specialists for the required immediate measures, even in your absence, if damage would be incurred, or damage that has already been incurred would increase, if immediate action is not taken. Costs of up to CHF 1,000 are covered. Of course, higher damage amounts are also covered under your contents or building water insurance.

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As a result, you enjoy all-round protection at home.

Household insurance covers household contents insurance and personal liability insurance and is the basic insurance for your home.