Responsible for more homeowner insurance claims than fires, storms or theft, the number one reason homeowners file a homeowner insurance claim is often easily preventable, according to a recent survey.

Gone unaddressed, however, it’s a problem that can quickly worsen — exponentially

It’s water damage.

Not water damage from floods, tropical storms or too much snow up on the roof.

Rather, it’s water damage due to neglected preventive maintenance.

For example, four in 10 homeowners don’t bother to check a washing machine’s water hose lines and, chances are, sooner or later, those lines will fail.

“As certain as night follows day, the hose that connects the washing machine to the water source will fail,” said Jon Osterberg, a spokesman for Seattle, WA-based PEMCO Insurance which recently polled 600 Washington State residents and discovered many of them have water damage waiting to happen.

“It’s simply a matter of time before it (hose line) fails, and when it does, it’s usually expensive,” said Osterberg.

If the always-on water line to the washing machine goes when no one is home, water will leak or flow until someone arrives. Metal-mesh encased hoses, which generally spring smaller warning leaks when they begin to fail, can provide better protection than rubber hoses.

However, because the laundry room is a low-traffic area, even a small leak left undetected over time can cause extensive damage. Likewise, dishwasher hoses, automatic ice-maker lines and hot water heaters, as they age, all pose hidden dangers.

“Home owners also mistakenly assume that because their hot water tank has a liner, it’s not susceptible to leaks,” said Osterberg. “Water sediment eventually sinks to the bottom of the tank and rusts. This creates a flood just waiting to happen,” Osterberg said.

Unless there’s a drain, alarm or some other protective or warning device or system, the cost of a hose that goes is a lot more than just replacing the hose.

The insurance deductible alone can be costly, but that’s only the beginning.

Preventive maintenance is the best solution.

The problem is compounded if water or moisture is left standing for 48 hours and becomes a mold incubator.

It’s largely, the growing frequency of water and mold related claims in recent years that has sent insurance premiums soaring, caused insurance companies not to renew policies on certain homes and has led more insurance companies not to pay benefits for certain water-related claims.

“The danger of a water leak is that if it’s not addressed right away, even a small leak may cause thousands of dollars of damage to your floors and walls that may or may not be covered by your homeowners insurance. It might not be covered because dry rot and mold typically develop over time. They’re maintenance issues caused by excess moisture, which is usually preventable. They’re not sudden losses,” said

PEMCO conducted the 2005 PEMCO Northwest Insurance Poll earlier this year to learn more about its customers habits.

It discovered 64 percent of men check water lines often or occasionally compared to only 55 percent of women, who more and more often are the head of household.

Western Washington households are 10 percent more likely to check water lines regularly than those in Eastern Washington.

Those with more education typically score higher on the-right-thing-to-do issues, but in this case only 51 percent of college graduates said they checked washing machine hoses, refrigerator water lines, dishwashers, and hot water tanks for wear-and-tear leaks often or occasionally, compared to 68 percent of Washington homeowners without a college education.

PEMCO advises:

Check hoses for kinks and cracks every time you do the laundry. Replace your washing machine hoses every five years with a quality high-pressure hose, preferably a durable metal-mesh hose. The hoses cost only $5 to $10.
Checking for signs of leaks, inspect flooring around your water heater and other fixtures or appliances. A licensed, qualified technician should periodically inspect heaters installed more than five years ago. If your water heater is more than 10 years old, replace it.
Inspect the refrigerator, dishwasher and outdoor faucet lines for leaks and crimps. Place a plastic tub under the kitchen sink to catch leaks before damage occurs. If you move your refrigerator to clean, be careful not to overextend or pinch the ice-maker line. If you see signs of brittleness or moisture, call a qualified repair technician.