Unofficial Houses: What, Why, & How – In this episode, Allison and Sara discuss what we call “unofficial houses.”

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October 2021: Topics include Leak Protection, water damage, COVID-19, & wellness rules overview.

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In the MJ Sorority Program, sixty-one percent of the property claims are due to water damage to your building and your contents. The top three areas of water damage events are the following: water pipes bursting, frozen pipes thawing, and backup of sewers and drains. Burst pipes, roof leaks, overflowing toilets and leaking appliances can cause significant damage. These types of water damage can also result in business interruption, relocation costs, lost rents and can negatively impact your reputation as a business.

Water damage claims can be very disruptive to your operations, especially in today’s environment with the shortage of building materials and construction supplies. Though you do have very broad water damage insurance protection, as the property owner, you should consider all types of tools to help you prevent water damage events and/or reduce the impact of a water claim.

One of the best things that you can do to reduce and prevent water damage is to install a flow-based water leak detection device. The most comprehensive tool available is a leak protection system, which includes both a flow-based monitoring system along with leak detectors or water sensors.

How does a flow-based water shut-off device work?

Installed by a plumber directly onto your water line, a flow-based water leak detection device monitors the flow of water throughout your sorority chapter house. If an unusual activity or flow of water is detected – probably caused by a leak somewhere in your plumbing or pipes – the device will alert you first and then shut off your water supply to help minimize damage.

How do water sensors work?

The water sensors can detect the presence of water, often by measuring the electrical conductivity of the water present and completing a circuit to send a signal to either an email or text.

Where should water sensors be placed?

In addition to washing machines, hot water heaters, dishwashers, damaged supply lines to automatic ice makers and overflowing toilets are some areas where water damage inside the home can occur, often without advanced warning. Performing regular maintenance and checking for rusty, corroded, or damaged water supply lines and other potential problems before you have a leak is one of the best ways to help prevent water damage.

You might want to install water sensors in areas near:

  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers
  • Refrigerators with ice makers and water dispensers
  • Hot water heaters
  • Sinks
  • Toilets
  • Furnaces connected to water systems, including hot air system humidifiers

Additional Tips to Consider

Choose a flow-based leak detection device

While individual sensors that simply detect the pressure of water are acceptable, they cannot test for microleaks, monitor water usage, or detect burst pipes in walls or under foundations. The flow-based devices provide enhanced protection, functionality, durability, reliability, accuracy, and great value for the cost.

Speaking of cost, we have had several clients install the flow-based devices and the costs for a typical sorority chapter house range from $2,500-$4,000 a location. When leak detection and flow monitors are installed, your property will be eligible for a five percent discount to our property insurance premium.

Select a device that automatically shuts off the water when a pipe ruptures or in an unattended water anomaly. These preferred flow-based devices not only detect trouble, but also help mitigate the problem itself.

Hire a plumber to professionally install your flow-based leak detection device – it should be installed on your domestic water main pipe near where it enters your chapter house. These devices will need access to a power outlet and a wi-fi router signal.

Consider using one of these best-in-class leak detection devices recommended by Travelers Insurance Company, who they have partnered with for preferred pricing of their products:

Other leak detection companies that we have researched include the following:

Determine your water main pipe size to order the right produce size – ask your licensed plumber, contractor or the product vendor to assist you in picking out the best device for your chapter house.

As we mentioned in above, roughly sixty-one percent of the property claims are water damage-related. Any preventive action will certainly reduce, not only the amount of damage, but, as importantly, the disruption that might arise with a large water damage claim. Even when the claim is handled expediently and thoroughly, it often requires your member residents to have to relocate to other lodging for a time, which obviously impacts their member experience and causes additional headaches for the House Corporation volunteers and/or property managers.

For further reading on preventing water damage, refer to our printable infographic or this resource for additional tips. For further information on water damage claims for the MJ Sorority book of business, refer to this infographic.

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Understanding the risks

In the event of flooding or a higher-than-normal water table due to heavy rains, sewage could back up through floor drains or plumbing fixtures located in a basement or lower level. When rising storm waters are expected, it is vitally important to establish a watch system to monitor your property drainage system to quickly identify and address any issues such as back-up, flooding, etc. Being prepared and responding quickly often minimizes the damage potential. The following are some methods to help minimize sewer backup into a building.

Floor drains

If sewage starts to back up into a home or business from the floor drains, it is possible to plug these drains. Floor drains are often at the lowest point in your facility and, as a result, may be the first entry point for sewage backup. Rubber or wooden plugs, purchased at many hardware stores, may be used to close off drains during heavy rains. If plugs are used, mark them prominently if they protrude beyond the floor level so they don’t become a tripping hazard.

Toilets, shower/bath drains and other fixtures

After plugging floor drains, if the sewer water level becomes high enough, it may fill and overflow other plumbing fixtures located in the basement or lower level. Plug these drain openings with stoppers or plugs. A string mop can be used to help plug toilet openings. Be aware that ceramic plumbing fixtures such as toilets may be fragile.

Important note:

Plugging of drains or fixtures should only be done where the condition of the sewer piping below the floor is considered to be strong and tight. Otherwise, heavy rainstorms or flooding may cause a build-up of water pressure within the house or business’ sewer system great enough to rupture pipe joints or damage basement floors.

Backwater prevention valves

Some properties may have backwater valves installed on sewer lines. Some are manually closed gate valves, while others are automatic check valves.

  • Manual valves – You can isolate your system from the sewer system by closing manual valves at the first sign of backup during heavy rains and flooding, or if you plan to leave the building
  • Automatic valves – Automatic check valves require periodic maintenance to ensure that they will operate properly when needed. If there hasn’t been a recent inspection and maintenance, this valve should be inspected and maintained as soon as possible if heavy rains or flooding are a possibility in the area

Remember that while the valve is closed and protecting your home or business from sewage backup, normal sewage flow from the building to the sanitary sewer is also cut off. This means that plumbing fixtures cannot be used unless a pump bypass is provided.

Local advice

Many towns also have a comprehensive website with information and advice regarding prevention techniques. You should also refer to your local municipality for assistance.

Leak detection

Leak detection devices are a great way to prevent a sewer backup from doing more significant damage. Click here for further reading.

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The cold spell across much of the U.S. this past December and January unfortunately coincided with many of our campuses being on winter break. The cold temperatures coupled with less oversight and heat in the chapter facilities led to a surge in claims arising from frozen pipes. When sprinkler pipes freeze, they cause more extensive (and expensive) damage because the water comes out more forcefully.

We send out reminders at the beginning of the cold weather season, but you may want to put a reminder on your calendar for late next fall to review the following risk management tips to lessen your risk of frozen pipes:

  • keep furnace on and thermostat set at or above 68 degrees
  • providing a reliable back-up power source to ensure continuous power to the building;
  • insulating all attic openings;
  • ensuring proper seals on all doors and windows; and
  • sealing all cracks and openings in exterior walls.

In addition, make sure you complete MJ’s Winter Weather Checklist prior to the onset of winter weather. More detailed tips to manage the risk of frozen pipes is available here.

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Event Planning: All About Contracts – Ruth and Allison are back to discuss the ins and outs about insurance contracts: what are contracts, why are they important, what to look for when dealing with contracts, and why all of this matters to our clients.

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Property Basics – In this episode, Allison and Sara discuss the basics of the property coverage. Even if your chapter doesn’t have chapter house, there is still plenty of useful information for all chapter members in this episode.

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When we think of making campus facilities more secure, we often chink of high-tech or expensive solutions such as using the latest in communication systems or installing an extensive network of surveillance cameras. Although these efforts do deter crime and arc worth the expense, says Denise Swen, dean of Middlefield Campus at Foothill College in California, many of the efforts to make campus facilities more secure are relatively low cost and low tech.

During her recent online seminar “Including Safety and Security in Campus Facilities Planning,” Swett outlined how to make new and existing facilities more resistant to crime, including the following low-tech options:

Faculty and student training

Students have long been experts at circumventing the safety and security hardware that campuses install in residence halls, Swett noted. They prop doors open, ignore alarms, and lend one another their IDs and/or security swipe cards. As a result, training is key in making the most of equipment.

On Swen’s campus, trainers conduct five-minute meetings in classrooms. The training focuses on the positives of staying safe, rather than on scaring students with potential dangers. (Swen said she is happy to share the script her campus uses in these five-minute classroom appearances. Please email her at to request a copy.)


Something as seemingly simple as landscaping can impact facilities security, Swett noted. A bougainvillea border underneath a bank of windows, for example, serves a security function. The flowering shrub’s tangle of thorns deters potential criminals from accessing the building through the windows. Low-to-the-ground hedges and trees with their lower branches pruned away also enhance security: they keep windows from being obscured and don’t afford potential criminals places to hide.

Landscaping that offers full outdoor view~ also deters potential criminals. On Swett ‘s campus, for example, a grouping of tables in an outdoor spot affords a view in all directions, making it harder for a potential criminal to surprise anyone sitting there or commit a crime without being observed by someone else in the area. In contrast, another campus has a path winding through a garden of tall bamboo plants: although the garden is lovely, people on the path cannot see other people there until they’re in very close range.


Well-maintained campuses send the message “We don’t want you here” to potential criminals, Swett said. In contrast, poor maintenance sends the message, accurately or not, that the campus is “unsecured, ignored, and overlooked”- in other words, a good place to get away with crime.


Clear, well-designed signage can also deter crime. Signs should be easy to read at night and should not use confusing jargon or acronyms. Campus maps that are current and note the locations of emergency call boxes are helpful to both potential crime victims and first responders.

Addressing windows and doors

Among the top safety modifications included in the report released after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2006 were recommendations to install the following:

• solid doors

• window coverings

• doors without handle~ or bars that can be chained together

Swett noted that among the students locked into classrooms for safety reasons during the Virginia Tech shooting, all survived. Having a solid door, or at least a door with windows that can be covered by curtains or a shade, increases the safety of being locked into a room because an assailant can’t see if anyone’s inside.

Many double door sets can be chained together by an attacker because each door has a handle. If such doors can’t be replaced, at least one of the handles can be removed as an alternate solution, Swett said.

Which approaches should your campus take?

To determine the deterrents that will work for your campus, Swett recommended the following steps:

  1. Assemble a work team.
  2. Conduct an audit of your facilities for
    its security weak spots.
  3. Determine priorities for safety
  4. Find resources and enhancements.
  5. Install equipment and implement
  6. Develop training materials.
  7. Conduct ongoing training and drills.
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Special Episode: Housing Forum 2020 Recap – In this episode we recap this year’s MJ Housing Forum, the premier gathering for sorority housing professionals and volunteers.

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We’re Back! – Our first episode back after a long COVID-19 hiatus. We share what we’ve been up to, a few lessons from COVID-19, and what we’re planning for future episodes.

Chapter Events in Light of COVID-19 – In this episode, we asked Will Frankenberger, Chief Safety Officer at Delta Zeta Sorority, to join us to discuss events in the time of COVID-19.

Chapter Housing Lessons from COVID-19 – In this episode we discuss what lessons the MJ Sorority team learned from COVID-19 as it relates to sorority chapter housing.

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