The ongoing drought has seen tougher water restrictions implemented by the City of Cape Town. Among the many restrictions is a limitation on filling swimming pools, and the requirement for pools to be covered to reduce evaporation and water wastage.
Under the City of Cape Town water restrictions, manual top up of swimming pools is only allowed if the pool is fitted with a pool cover. “No automatic top-up systems are allowed and the use of portable play pools is prohibited. This gives right to residents to fill their pools only with a restriction to contribute to saving water. It is the policyholder’s responsibility to ensure the pool has a safe water level to help prevent damage to the structure,” clarifies Presodhini Naicker, head of brand and advertising at iWYZE.
But what happens if you can’t afford to get a pool cover, the drought intensifies and lingers long enough for your pool to stand empty and get damaged as a result? Unfortunately damage, like cracks in the pool lining, will probably not be covered by your home and buildings insurance. This is because under your contractual obligations with your insurer you are required to take all steps necessary to mitigate the risk. So this would include you having to fork out thousands of Rands to protect your assets – your pool included.
Santie Stevens, representative for personal lines and commercial lines at InsuranceBusters, explains: “Insurance companies have terms and conditions within the contract signed and agreed upon between themselves and the insured. Under the general terms and conditions of the agreement it is made clear that the client will ensure to do everything within their power to mitigate risk.
“It comes down do taking the required pre-cautions they would have taken if they have chosen to self-insure and not share their risk with an insurance company at an agreed rate that’s calculated based on their unique risk profile.”
Will your insurance company pay?
Naicker points out that pools fall under the buildings insurance section of a short term insurance contractual agreement, which means damage to this will be considered as damage to one’s property. However, short-term insurers may have exclusions on some claims, and claims are evaluated on their merit.
“As a policyholder certain obligations need to also be met according to the contractual agreement with the insurer. For example, taking precautionary measures to prevent damage, maintaining the property, etc. This is the policyholder’s responsibility to ensure the property is well taken care of.”
When it comes to pool damage due to the drought, Naicker says that the evaluation of the claim would consider the fact that there are different types of pools in the market, and depending on the pool’s material composition, it will need to be determined how long it will take for the damage to start.
“As a general rule, no pool should stand empty. Should this occur, various factors will determine the outcome. These factors could range from build quality, the underground water table and a mix between different building products being used like marbelite, fibreglass, concrete or plaster, if a pool has a lining or not or whether the pool was previously refurbished. Furthermore, it will consider how the heat or dryness would have impacted the damage,” explains Naicker.
Failure to take precautionary measures to protect your pool may result in costly repairs.
Catherine Naidoo, general manager for Bancassurance Products at Absa Insurance concurs, adding: “Filling your pool and keeping it clean is part of maintaining your pool and therefore is not covered by insurance policies.”
According to Donald Kau, head of corporate affairs at Santam, pool damage caused by the drought “is not an insured peril and such damage will not be covered in terms of your house insurance policy.”
Stevens emphasises that insurance companies can add specific exclusions and clauses to an insurance policy which will clearly indicate if an event that may take place is covered under the policy or not. “These exclusions, clauses, warranties and endorsements can differ from one insurer to another.”
Ash Singh, segment marketing manager at Regent Insurance, adds: “A short term insurance policy which covers your domestic buildings (inclusive of swimming pools) is a perils based contract. This means that there would only be cover for loss or damage, which may arise from a specific list of defined events.”
He explains that most short term insurance policies provide cover for loss or damage resulting from any of the following:
- Fire, lightening or explosion
- Malicious damage
- Storm, wind, hail, snow or flood
- Earthquake and earth tremor
- Bursting, leaking or overflowing
- Impact (for example from falling trees, vehicles, animals or aircraft)
However, these “perils do not include damages arising from drought and/or related water restrictions. Therefore gradual deterioration of swimming pools due to drought and the lowering water levels would not be claimable under a short term insurance contract unless ‘drought’ is specifically listed as an insured peril,” reveals Singh.
Philippa Wild, head of technical marketing and Vitalitydrive for Discovery Insure, states: “Generally, damage to swimming pools, unless related to the unforeseen causes happen from cracking due to ground movement, low water levels, damaged equipment or inadequate maintenance. This damage occurs over time and is not related to sudden and unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, it does not form part of the cover provided by short-term home insurance. However, if a dangerous and unforeseen event, as listed in the cover agreement, caused damage to the swimming pool an insurance claim will be reviewed.”
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Denying your insurance claim
Ultimately, when it comes to the drought and any resultant damage from it to your pool it is you, the homeowner that is responsible for it. “Should no precaution put into place to avoid or mitigate the risk, the insurance company can or may repudiate the claim. Under the general terms and conditions of an insurance policy it is normally clearly stipulated that the client must take all precaution to prevent damage,” says Stevens.
She adds: “Insurance is for unforeseen events. When we are in the current drought state, mitigation can be taken to avoid damage caused to the pool and for this reason it will not be seen as an unforeseen event, when precaution could have been put into place to avoid the damage that may be caused by water evaporating from the pool.
“However, should the pool crack and the client did take all required measurements to reduce loss or damage, the insurer will indeed look at the claim and base their decision on merits and individual circumstances.”
Singh states: “Homeowners are encouraged to take all reasonable precautions to safeguard against loss or damage to their swimming pools. This includes measures such as installation of suitable, purpose-built pool coverings (which drastically reduce evaporation) and which are, in fact, required by the City of Cape Town, as well as using alternate water sources to maintain the water level of swimming pools where possible. This could include using rain water storage tanks and/or diverting gutters directly into the swimming pool.
“It is also advisable to confirm with your local municipal authority whether the water restrictions in your area allow topping up of swimming pools for maintenance purposes. Level 3B water restrictions (imposed from 1 February 2017 by the City of Cape Town) only prohibit the use of automatic top-up systems for swimming pools.” However this may change if/when the water restrictions are tightened.
Stevens emphasises that the onus is on the insured/client to read the terms and conditions and know what is included and excluded from cover.
Tips to protect your swimming pool
Naickeroffers the below tips to help protect your swimming pool from damage:
- Shield the pool with a plastic cover, this will reduce the evaporation of the water and buy time, it will also keep the pool free from debris.
- Regular maintenance of the pump, piping and seals, check the pool for any pre-existing cracks or leaks and repair these where needed.
- Smart use of rainwater - people residing in affected areas should plan ahead and capture rainwater to use during drought.
Naidoo adds the following ‘don’ts’ to the list of things to do to protect your pool:
- Do not use domestic water into your pool as the chemicals in it can cause harm to the surface of the pool. Rather use that water for your garden and not your swimming pool.
- If you have an older model pump, try purchasing a newer model that is more economical as pumps utilise water to operate, thus reducing water levels further.
- Do not dive into your swimming pool.