|You may or may not have had the opportunity to consider building new or renovating your sorority chapter house. It would be an understatement to say that there has been chaos in the construction market. Cost of materials has skyrocketed, and materials continue to be difficult to come by. A representation from a large national construction firm recently remarked, “rebuilding the same property compared to a year ago would cost at least seventeen percent more. Such increases have been fueled by an overwhelming demand for building materials and the supply chain bottleneck.”|
Why is this important for your chapter house? As an insured, you are obligated under your insurance coverage to insure your building and contents at the valuation of replacement cost, which does not reflect any depreciation of values due to age. The insurance company is then obligated to “repair or replace for like kind and quality” should your property be damaged due to a covered cause of loss.
We are seeing new construction come in at a minimum of $200 per square foot (except in California where it is more like a minimum of $350 per square foot). In looking at near and medium term factors that will continue to affect your property valuation, the effects of inflation combined with more costly natural catastrophes, which are occurring far more frequently.
The issue of valuation is further complicated in catastrophe-prone areas by the fact that potentially thousands of insured businesses will be seeking construction and professional services, such as roofers and other trades, to begin repairs on their properties at the same time. As a result, the costs of labor and materials will increase substantially (often ten to fifteen percent increases), which will then impact the cost of the claim.
Another influence we have been noticing in the Sorority Department is a substantial increase in the cost of a claim. Our records indicate a jump over the last six years of 223 percent on average.
We want to continue to make you aware of the trends in the marketplace. If you want to discuss your current insurance limits, we encourage you to reach out to your Client Executive to ensure you are adequately insured in light of the rapidly changing market conditions.
Originally published in the April 2022 News & Notes.
Every state has laws regarding the care and maintenance of certain mechanical pieces of equipment that potentially pose a greater risk to residents/occupants/guests in a sorority chapter house. This exposure is often referred to as boiler and pressurized vessels. We generally think of the steam operated boilers that heat a house; however, even hot water heaters in some states are also included.
Generally speaking, these laws require: (1) an operating permit to be obtained from the State Department or jurisdiction prior to operating a regulated boiler or pressure vessel; (2) all operating permit inspections to be performed by a boiler or pressure vessel inspector licensed by the Department; and (3) the Department to perform operating permit inspections on all regulated boiler or pressure vessels owned by the state.
Your insurance coverage for boilers and pressurized vessels is part of your property insurance coverage. In addition to paying for a claim should one of these items explode, the coverage also provides extensive safety engineering and inspection services which will ultimately minimize the potential for a loss.
As the law prescribes, inspections must be performed on a regular basis as determined by the state law. These could be anywhere from a quarterly to an annual inspection. As part of your insurance premium, these inspections are done by your property insurer Travelers Insurance Company, and they are free of charge.
The jurisdiction however should they be asked to inspect by the building owner would have a fee attached to that service, thus why we encourage our clients to rely exclusively upon your insurance company to fulfill this role.
There are basically two separate transactions with this exposure:
- Safety inspection-offered free of charge by the insurance company
- Issuance of the certification that is placed on the item that has a small fee assessed for the certificate by the jurisdiction, which the property owner will be responsible for paying as this is not included in the insurance coverage
The process is as follows:
- 30-45 days prior to the expiration date of the boiler or other item, Travelers secures from MJ the contact information for the house corporation and the property is inspected by a Travelers Risk Control representative. This contact person will also be receiving the invoice from the state for the issuance of the certificate. They will also be the individual receiving the certificate back from the state.
- During the inspection, they will be commenting on anything related to equipment-electrical exposures, panel concerns, etc.
- The report of the inspection is sent to the house corporation with any violations or items noted that will need to be addressed by the property owner.
- Upon addressing the violations or items, Travelers then sends the status to the jurisdiction.
- The jurisdiction will send an invoice to the property owner and once the invoice is paid, the certification will be provided.
- The certificate then needs to be prominently posted to provide to a fire marshal or someone from the jurisdiction requesting proof of the inspection.
- Should there be a mix up with Travelers missing the inspection and the state must do the inspection and then charge you, let us know as we will work with Travelers to pay that costs.
March 2022: Topics include property claims trends, spring weather resources, FAQ on hiring contractors, 2022 MJ Housing Forum recordings and more!
January 2022: Topics include winter weather reminders, Covid-19 updates, accounting best practices, renting your chapter house for events, and insurance limits.
The milder days of spring are a perfect time to do a thorough spring cleaning and perform routine maintenance. After a long winter, it is a good idea to spend time on preventive measures to help maintain your property throughout the year. Tasks such as cleaning out your gutters, checking for dead trees and branches and cleaning and inspecting facility mechanical and plumbing systems, such as heating and air conditioning equipment, can help make spring a season of safety.
Cleaning and maintenance of your chapter house should be done inside and out. Although the tasks are different, checking to see if all the elements of your property are in good working order can help keep your members and employees safe and your maintenance expenses lower over the long run.
Inside the Chapter House
Here are a few things inside your facility that should be inspected to determine if they are in good condition:
- Electrical Outlets and Cords: Check electrical outlets and cords throughout your property for any potential fire hazards such as frayed wires or loose-fitting plugs. Extension cords and power strips are not designed to be permanent fixtures and should only be used on an interim basis.
- Fire Extinguishers: Check your fire extinguishers at least once yearly, including the hose, nozzle and other parts to determine if they are in good condition and that the pressure gauge is in the “green” range. Check the expiration date.
- Air Conditioning: Check around the unit for indications of leaks. Before turning it on for the season, have your air-conditioning system inspected and tuned up by a professional. Check the drain lines annually and clean them if they are clogged. Change the air filter.
- Water Heater: Check for leaks and corrosion. Check your owner’s manual for any recommended maintenance.
- Furnace or Boiler: Have your furnace or boiler cleaned or inspected annually.
- Under Sinks and Around Toilets: Look for any signs of leaks or corrosion on pipes, supply lines and fixtures.
- Plumbing: Check exposed pipes and valves in your basement or crawl spaces, if safely accessible, for signs of leaking or corrosion.
- Appliances: Check supply lines for washing machines, ice makers and water dispensers, refrigerators, and dishwashers for signs of leaks or wear and tear.
- Plumbing for Hose Spigots and Irrigation Systems: After opening valves for outdoor water supplies, be sure to inspect components for leaks. Don’t forget to check inside plumbing as well as outdoor spigots.
- Dryers: Dryer lint can build up inside the vent pipe and collect around the duct. Clean both the clothes dryer exhaust duct and the space under the dryer. Use a brush to clean out the vent pipe. Look for lint buildup around the lint trap and clean it as needed.
- Smoke Detectors: Daylight savings time is a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Inspect each smoke detector to determine if all are in working order, and make sure to test them monthly.
- Light bulbs: Check each light bulb in every fixture for the correct recommended wattage and replace any burned out bulbs.
Outside the Chapter House
The cold winter months can do damage to your property as well. Here are a few things outside your facility that should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition:
- Roof: Check for any damage from snow or ice, and make any necessary repairs to reduce the possibility of leaks. If you have a skylight, check outside for a buildup of leaves and debris. Also, check the indoor ceiling for signs of leaks. Remember to put safety first any time you are on a roof. If you have any doubt, leave it to the professionals.
- Gutters: Clean leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts to keep water flowing and reduce the possibility of water damage.
- Trees: Visually inspect trees for damage or rot, and remove (consider hiring a licensed professional) any dead trees that might blow over in heavy winds or during a storm. Keep healthy trees and bushes trimmed and away from utility wires.
- Lawn Equipment: Make sure lawn mowers, tractors and other equipment are tuned up before using. Store oil and gas for lawn equipment and tools in a vented, locked area.
- Walkways and Driveways: Repair any cracks and broken or uneven surfaces to provide a safer, level walking area.
A little home maintenance in the spring can go a long way to help keep the chapter house safe and secure throughout the rest of the year.
Unofficial Houses: What, Why, & How – In this episode, Allison and Sara discuss what we call “unofficial houses.”
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
- Refrigerators with ice makers and water dispensers
- Hot water heaters
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 devices are a great way to prevent a sewer backup from doing more significant damage. Click here for further reading.
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.