Preventing Water Damage In Your Home

Feb 15, 2011

By Staff writer State Farm™ Employee

The first signs of water damage might seem trivial: a drip here, a drop there Ė nothing that canít be dried with a towel.

But warnings like water stains on the ceilings or a leak under the kitchen sink can lead to real problems like a weakened roof or rotten floorboards. A burst pipe can damage your furniture and other personal possessions, and flooding can very quickly lead to problems with mold.

Why take a chance? Learn where your home is most likely to suffer water damage, and what you can do to help prevent it.

Finding Possible Culprits: Indoors

The Kitchen

A good place to start when youíre trying to prevent water damage? The kitchen: a place with a whole lot of water.

Look carefully at your major appliances, and make sure they are up to snuff.

  • The Dishwasher: Periodically check for leaks under the sink where the hose connects to the water supply. Look around the base of the dishwasher for evidence of leaks, such as discolored, warped, or soft flooring materials, or water damage to nearby cabinets.
  • The Refrigerator: If your refrigerator has an icemaker, make sure the hose connection is securely attached to the water supply line. Also, a wet spot on the floor may be a sign of a crimped icemaker line about to burst.
  • The Sink: Replace deteriorated caulk around sinks, and check the pipes under the sink for leaks. A slow-draining pipe may indicate a partially blocked drain that needs cleaning.

The Bathroom

The bathroom is another water damage hot spot. Hereís what you should examine and address:
  • Showers And Bathtubs: Remove and replace deteriorated or cracked caulk and grout. Water from a broken supply pipe behind the wall can leak through these damaged sealants, causing stains or soft areas around nearby walls and floors. Leaking drain pipes and shower pan leaks are also common sources of water damage. If necessary, contact a plumber or contractor for help.
  • Sinks: Check under the sink for leaks from water supply lines or drainpipes. If necessary, contact a plumber or contractor for help.
  • Toilets: Clogs can result from too much toilet paper or objects such as hanging bowl deodorants. Also, some chlorine tablet cleaners may corrode internal plastic or rubber parts, leading to a leak. Again, donít hesitate to call in a professional.

The Basement, Laundry, Or Utility Room

  • Washing Machine: Check hoses regularly for bulging, cracking, fraying, and leaks around hose ends. Replace the hose if a problem is found or every 3 to 5 years as part of a proactive maintenance program. To help make sure the hose doesnít kink, leave at least 4 inches (or 11 centimeters) between the water connection and the back of the washing machine. Be sure to read the manufacturerís installation instructions carefully.
  • Water Heater: Most water heaters last 8 to 15 years. Wet spots on the floor or a rusted tank may signal a leak. Water heaters should be installed on the lowest level of the home, next to a floor drain, or inside a drain pan piped to the floor drain.
  • Sump Pump: Battery-operated backup sump pumps can help protect against power failure or failure of the primary pump. Test the sump pump before the start of each wet season. Sump pumps are not intended to last more than 10 years and must have some components replaced or serviced within those 10 years.

Since water may still come through an overflowing drain or cracks in the foundation walls, make sure items stored in the basement are kept off the floor. Furniture should be on casters or shims and arranged away from floor drains.

Stopping Indoor Leaks

The quickest way to stop a leak is to turn off your homeís water. Of course itís not a permanent fix, but turning off the water in the moment can give you time to repair the specific problem.

Make sure everyone in your household knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it. Check it frequently for problems, and shut off the water if you are away from your home for several days or longer.

Depending on the severity of your leak, you may be able to fix it with relative ease. Plumbing, though, is a complicated business; if youíre not sure what to do, donít hesitate to call a plumber or a contractor.

Finding Possible Culprits: Outdoors

The Roof

Itís not rocket science: roofs are there to keep your home dry, and if youíve got water coming inside, your roof is a pretty good place to start. That said, there are a number of different ways for water to get in through your roof, so consider the following points as you conduct the examination:

  • Keep the roof free from leaves, twigs, and other litter to allow for proper drainage. Clogged gutters can easily lead to poor drainage, which in turn can lead to leaks in both the walls and at the foundation.
  • Make sure air can flow freely through all soffit and roof vents. This will reduce the buildup of heat and moisture and help extend the life of the roof.
  • Consult a professional on using a preservative or cleaner (depending on the type of roof you have) to help limit the weathering effects of moisture and slow the growth of molds and mosses.
  • Replace missing, curling, cupping, broken, or cracked shingles.
  • Watch for damage in valley areas of the roof, and around the flashing at chimneys, vents, and other junctions.
  • Check your attic around flues, plumbing vents, and chimneys for roof leaks, especially if youíve noticed water stains on the ceiling.
  • If itís winter and youíve got water in the attic or see water stains on your ceilings or walls, look for any ice dams.

From Gutters To The Ground

Once youíre off the roof, there are still possible culprits to investigate. Take a look around the foundation of your home; a few simple changes could make all the difference.

  • Place splash blocks at the end of downspouts to carry water away from the foundation, or add an extra length of downspout if necessary.
  • Every spring, have the air conditioning (A/C) system serviced by a qualified contractor. Make sure their service includes inspecting and cleaning the A/C condensation pan drain line. Change the air filters on a regular basis.
  • Before winter starts, disconnect garden hoses from all spigots and turn off each spigotís water supply.
  • Replace any damaged caulk around windows or doors.
  • Repaint wood siding as needed.
  • Fill in any low spots next to the house to help water drain away from the foundation.

Hardware That Can Help

To help keep an eye on these or other trouble spots, you may want to consider installing a water leak detection system, especially if youíre frequently away from the house. Leak detection systems can be either active or passive.

Along with leak detection systems, individual appliance systems can be installed on specific home appliances.

Active Leak Detection Systems

  • These systems usually generate some type of alarm, but they also perform a function that will stop the water flow. They feature some form of shutoff valve and a means to determine that a leak is occurring. Most devices use moisture sensors to detect a leak. Other systems utilize a flow sensor and a timer to determine that something is leaking and the water needs to be turned off. An active leak detection system can either operate for an individual appliance or it can control a whole property.

Passive Leak Detection Systems

  • These systems, also called "water alarms," are intended to alert you to a possible water leak. They generally sound an audible alarm tone; some may also feature a flashing light.
  • Passive systems are frequently battery-operated, stand-alone units. They are inexpensive and easy to install. Some simply sit on the floor while others may be wall mounted. A moisture sensor is located on the bottom of the unit and activates the alarm when it becomes wet. Battery-operated devices need to be tested regularly, and the batteries should be replaced on a periodic basis.

Individual Appliance Systems

  • These systems are installed on a specific appliance and will automatically shut off the water supply in case of a leak.
  • Depending on the type of device, you may be able to install this system without any special tools. However, in some cases, a qualified plumber may be needed.

Whole-House Systems

  • These systems feature a shutoff valve installed on the main water supply pipe. When the system detects a leak, it will automatically shut off the entire water supply. If you travel often, this type of system could help you rest assured while youíre away from home.
  • Whole-house systems typically take between four and six hours to install, and a qualified plumber is normally required.
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