Protecting your home amidst South Africa’s water crisis

Protecting your home amidst South Africa’s water crisis
Lizette Erasmus, manager of Insurance Expertise at IntegriSure Brokers

In recent years, South Africa has grappled with increasing instances of water shortages and extended water interruptions, posing challenges to households and communities.

Gauteng, in particular, currently faces a daunting five years of water disruptions, with periodic shortages expected until the completion of phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). The project is nine years behind schedule due to government delays and political interference. Residents should prepare for ongoing water challenges until early 2029, and this new risk exposure will require proactive management.

“While there are energy alternatives available during loadshedding, developing alternate water sources is more difficult. South Africans must brace themselves for regular water cuts in the foreseeable future, which will affect daily life and infrastructure and will be another cost and contingency to cater for,” says Lizette Erasmus, manager of Insurance Expertise at IntegriSure Brokers.

Water shortages and cuts are not only a significant inconvenience and health risk, but also increase the likelihood of geyser failure and elevated pressure in water pipes, which could lead to more frequent bursts. This, coupled with power surges due to loadshedding, means that the risk of geyser damage is higher than ever before.

When water levels drop below the geyser’s heating element, this exposes the element to air. Since the element is not designed to be exposed to air while heating, this may cause a short-circuit, which in turn may lead to electrical shock and potentially even start a fire. “Such a catastrophic event will be handled as a fire claim,” explains Erasmus. “It is important to note that damage to consumables is typically excluded from cover, but can be addressed through maintenance assistance services for replacement.”

Although most modern geysers feature fail-safe mechanisms, they are still susceptible to malfunctions. Particularly older geysers are at risk and prone to failure, which makes increased vigilance essential.

Certain proactive measures should be considered as part of a risk management plan. Erasmus provides the following practical tips for geyser safety and maintenance:

  • Switch off power to your geyser on the distribution board prior to water shedding and only reinstate power once the supply has been restored.
  • If your geyser has run empty, make sure that you allow ample time for it to refill before reactivating its power supply.
  • Ensure that your geyser, whether electrical, solar or gas, is serviced by a qualified plumber at least every three years. A comprehensive geyser service involves draining the unit and inspecting its various components, including wiring, breakers, anode, element and thermostat. This maintenance helps minimise the risk of geyser-related fires, which are often caused by short-circuits and faulty connections, especially between the element and
  • The entire system should be inspected for leaks, and the plumber should also check that the thermostat temperature on the geyser is set no higher than 60°C, as per recommended safety guidelines.

Also consider innovative solutions to prevent potential damage, such as online remote management tools and sensor devices that allow for a predict-and-prevent approach to water risks. “Wetness sensors and smart geyser technology automatically cut off water supply when leaks or faults, such as geyser bursts, are detected to protect your home from further costly damage,” explains Erasmus.

These sensors also proactively monitor geyser health, detecting abnormalities such as high temperature, blown elements, leaks and ruptures. “If any abnormality is detected, an instant fault notification is sent to the customer, and if required, the water supply to the geyser will be shut off immediately to prevent additional damage,” adds Erasmus.

Furthermore, with the predicted extended water interruptions, it is crucial to assess the vulnerability of water pipes. Excessive pressure when water supply returns can damage water pipes, leading to bursts and resultant water damage.  Water pipes should be inspected to identify and address any existing damage, thereby preventing further potential issues before they escalate.

“It is also important to ensure that taps are not accidentally left open during water disruptions,” cautions Erasmus. “This precautionary measure can help prevent potential flooding and the subsequent damages that may occur once the water supply resumes.”

According to her, ensuring adequate cover in the face of these challenges is vital. “It is advisable to consult a broker to ensure that you understand what your policy covers in terms of geyser damage and resultant water damage.”

As we navigate through extended water interruptions, it becomes increasingly crucial to adopt proactive measures and make informed decisions to safeguard our homes and mitigate the impact of the ongoing water crisis as far as possible.

“Consult a broker and implement solutions that predict and prevent potential issues, rather than simply relying on reactive measures to repair and replace damaged systems. In this way, we can better ensure the resilience and sustainability of our water infrastructure in the face of challenges,” concludes Erasmus.