Water Loss Prevention

Water Loss Prevention and the Importance of Timely Reporting and Mitigation   

By Matt Komac – Assistant Director PC Pool Operations


During the 2022-2023 holiday break, temperatures in Montana plummeted to the negative 20s and 30s throughout the state for more than a week straight.  During that time, we had more than a dozen freeze-related losses reported, with varying levels of damage at each site. The degree of damage was determined primarily by how quickly the leaks were identified and addressed. 

Not surprisingly, interior water losses continue to be one of MSGIA’s leading causes of loss for our Property & Liability Pool in both frequency and severity.  Not only are water losses costly, but they can also be extremely disruptive to your learning environment.  Water losses are oftentimes associated with either aging school infrastructures, which leads to pipe breaks from normal wear and tear, or extremely cold temperatures, which causes pipes to freeze, break, and when they begin to thaw and leak.  Old, corroded lines are especially susceptible to breakage at elbows and joints, and, notably, a one-inch water line can release up to 210 gallons per minute!

Unfortunately, there are no quick and easy solutions to address our schools’ aging infrastructure, but there are steps you can take to help minimize your risk of a loss when it comes to freezing pipes and aging buildings. For starters, if you see old, corroded water lines, have them replaced immediately. And if you have old water lines no longer in use, we strongly recommend you have them permanently capped or have a shutoff valve added to that section of line – doing so reduces the potential for a loss on a line no longer in service.  

Many modern heating systems now have alarms that indicate when the temperature drops below a certain point; however, because they can fail, these should not be solely relied upon as the only risk management measure. 

If a water line break occurs, identify and mitigate the problem as soon as possible.  One of the best ways to identify leaks and prevent long-term heat loss in a building is to have a staff member do daily or, preferably, twice-daily walk-throughs of buildings to ensure all mechanical systems are functioning properly.  When a heating system fails, this kind of routine due diligence typically helps identify problems and address issues before significant damage occurs. 

Below are some additional measures you and your staff can take to help keep your facilities protected during our long Montana winters:

Ø  Make frequent visits to your buildings, especially unoccupied areas of buildings.

Ø  Inspect all areas along the perimeter of buildings to ensure they are sealed and that there are no drafts that will cause cold spots in any buildings.

Ø  Drain wall hydrants and fire-pump test connections exposed to freezing conditions.

Ø  Verify that underground water mains have adequate depth of cover – water mains that do not have adequate cover can be isolated and shut off to protect them from freezing.

Ø  Maintain an appropriate interior temperature of at least 55°F.

Ø  Check buildings at least once a day to ensure the mechanical systems are functioning properly. 

Ø  Check to be sure that high winds have not caused a pilot light to blow out or cold spots to develop in buildings. 

Ø  Consider installing an automatic low-temperature alarm system (if you do install such a system, do not solely rely on it for the above-noted reasons).

Ø  Know the location of your building’s main water shut-off valve – the quicker the water is turned off, the more you will be able your team to minimize damage.

Ø  If a building is scheduled to be vacant for an extended period, shut off the main water line valve and consider draining and winterize the lines – vacant buildings are notorious for frozen pipes and water losses. 

Ø  If your district provides teacher housing, structure the lease so that the district pays the heating bill, which is then built into the monthly rental cost.  This arrangement will help ensure the bill is paid and, in this way, prevent unsuspected shutoffs and frozen pipes. 

Ø  It is especially important to keep a close eye on the condition of the water lines near gym floors to make sure those areas are properly heated. 

Ø  Finally, inspect exterior door seals to ensure they provide proper coverage to prevent wind-driven rain or surface water from entering facilities and damaging floors.   

If you do experience a water loss, notify your district’s insurer ASAP so they can help identify the necessary resources to ensure the water is properly mitigated to prevent further damage to your building and its contents. 

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