After the Water is Gone

October 2022

What happens when there is a major water leak in a high-rise unit?  One recent situation was followed from initial leak, through to unit repairs and the owner’s return home.

The Nightmare Scenario

The problem started in the master bedroom ensuite bathroom.  A flexible hose providing hot water burst.  The hot water shutoff valve was stuck in the open position and could not be closed.

Water poured out of the damaged hose for over an hour spreading through the bathroom, bedroom and throughout the unit.  Floors, walls, furniture and window coverings were damaged.  Water quickly travelled down, causing most of the damage to units and common areas on the four floors below, and lesser damage on lower-level floors.

The first call was to the concierge who was unable to turn the water off.  Once called, it took a plumber more than 45 minutes to arrive.  The water was shut off and the damaged hose replaced.

The second call was to the insurance company.  Fortunately, the owner was fully insured.  They paid their insurance deductible, likely no more than about $1,000, and their insurance paid the corporation’s insurance deductible which was substantially more.  Had they not been insured, out of pocket costs could have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The insurance company then took care of repairing damage to the unit.

The Aftermath

Their insurance company moved the owner to a hotel for 30 days.  They brought in a restoration company to remove excess water and dry out the unit to prevent further water damage.  A similar process took place in other units and common areas.  Damaged building materials and furnishings were removed.  A moving company arrived to remove personal items and furniture that could be salvaged so repairs could be undertaken.  A renovation company replaced floors, repaired walls and repainted.  Appliances were reinstalled.


Once the unit was fully restored, the owner took measures to prevent another water leak.  They checked the pipes and valves under all sinks.

  • One hot water pipe was badly rusted and needs to be replaced by the corporation.
  • One water shutoff valve is missing meaning that water cannot be turned off for the unit. This needs to be replaced by the corporation.
  • One water shutoff valve is inaccessible. The vanity was improperly installed and blocking the shutoff valve.  This will soon be corrected.

Could this water problem have been avoided

Very likely, yes.

Few check their water pipes for leaking or damage.

A pail may be used under small pipe leaks.  Leaks from a faucet or toilet may be ignored.  The cost of wasted water is not a consideration by those who don’t see water bills.

Turning off water to a unit may require an adjustable wrench or a specially designed tool.  Residents of each unit should be educated on where the water shutoff is located and how to turn the water off.  In practice, this is rarely done.  Had water been turned off in minutes rather than an hour later, nearly all of the damage could have been prevented.

Water sensor systems, discs placed near the likeliest sources of water leaks, can be purchased by the owner or corporation.  When water is detected, an audible noise is emitted and an electronic message can be sent out.  Early detection and notification of where moisture is appearing allows for fast remediation and reduced likelihood of damage.

The condominium corporation could have been proactive.  They could have undertaken a plumbing audit of all units to identify water risks.  Owners of units with damaged pipes or visible water leaks could have been informed and told to undertake repairs to avoid being responsible for any future damage arising from their water systems.  The above-mentioned flexible hose might have been identified and replaced prior to total failure.  The stuck water shutoff valve would have been identified and repaired prior to the incident.  For minimal cost, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage would have been averted.  The corporation would have avoided a major insurance claim that will likely result in some combination of higher premiums, larger deductible and reduced coverage.