We discussed in an earlier article the vagaries around water coverage and how common water losses are. The best way to avoid finding out if your water damage is covered or not is to keep it from happening in the first place!
Now, you can’t always do this. If there is severe weather like a flash flood or a hurricane, you can reduce your risk, but you can’t eliminate it. However, you might be surprised by how much water damage is preventable with a little bit of planning.
Save Me Time!
- Small actions can prevent big damage! A little bit of effort and preparation can significantly reduce your risk.
- Know where your risks are so you can look for damage early rather than be surprised by a big problem later.
- There are now tools such as sensors, battery backups, and shut off valves that can help you monitor your risk to detect problems early and prevent them from getting worse.
The Rest of the Story
There are three primary sources of water damage: appliances breaking down, basement flooding, and freeze. Let’s discuss ways to help you avoid each of them.
A lot of water damage comes from faulty appliances such as cracked hoses or water lines. You can visually look for any signs of wear or leaks on a routine basis as well as have a plumber or other maintenance person check your appliances when they are out on a call to fix something else.
Monitor Your Sump Pump
Remember, water that comes into your home from outdoors such as rising groundwater or sewer backup is unlikely to be covered by insurance.
Your best weapon to defend your home from outside water is a sump pump. However, your sump pump can’t help you if it isn’t working properly!
There are some really simple things you can do to ensure your pump is operating properly. First, pour some water down it and make sure that it activates. If so, you’re all good.
If not, before doing anything else, check to make sure it is still plugged in before calling for help. Yes, sometimes people accidentally unplug it.
This raises a bigger issue, which is it’s not uncommon to lose power during severe weather, so even if your pump is working today, it may not work when you need it if you lose power.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have a battery backup so your pump will still work during a power outage. However, that means you have to check that your battery is still operating as it needs to be replaced every few years.
Install Sensors and Shut Off Valves
While you can’t always prevent water damage, you can at least find out about it before it does too much damage. You can install sensors that detect leaks and alert you so you can shut off water right away before the problem gets worse.
Better yet, you can add devices that shut off the water for you when they detect the leak which can prevent the damage before it starts. These are obviously very valuable if a leak starts while you’re away from home.
Prepare for Freezes
Freezing temperatures can potentially lead to extensive water damage. The two most common causes are pipe freezes and ice dams.
Let’s start with the latter. Ice dams form when snow accumulates on your roof and then freezes as it melts. You’ll know you have ice dams when you see large icicles hanging from your roof. That means your roof is probably covered in more ice that you can’t see.
This ice can damage your shingles or gutters causing damage and allowing water to enter your attic (once the ice breaks through a shingle, the warmer temperatures in your attic will lead to melting).
The easiest way to prevent ice dams is to keep your attic cold. However, if it’s too late for this and you already have damming, the best options are to rake snow off the roof if possible or to try to melt it off, though this is easier said than done as it often involves throwing snow melt onto your roof which is harder to do than you think.
One thing you don’t want to do, no matter how tempting, is to open a window and try to knock them down from the inside. This may prove effective, but it is often not safe as falling ice can sometimes spray like shrapnel.
The greater risk from cold weather is frozen pipes. While at least you can see ice dams and try to get help breaking them up, frozen pipes offer no warning. We could write (and probably will sometime) an entire post on managing pipe freeze risk, but let’s start with a few observations.
Pipes freeze when they get cold. Duh, right? Practically, what does that mean? Your biggest risk during a cold spell is from pipes near the exterior of your home where they are more exposed to the cold and/or less likely to benefit as much from your heating system. Inspect these first (including any pipes that run through the garage)!
If you lose power during a cold spell, your risk goes up meaningfully as you don’t have any heat as a defense against the cold. Therefore, if you lose power, you want to take extra precautions against frozen pipes.
Easy things you can do to reduce freeze risk is open up cabinet doors under your sinks to let warm air in and leave faucets dripping to keep water moving. If there are specific pipes you think are at greater risk, you can bring a portable heater into that room if you have one (though don’t leave it unattended).
Finally, know where your water shut off valve is. That way, if all else fails, and a pipe bursts, you can quickly shut off the water to limit damage (make sure to let water run out of the unaffected pipes to avoid additional freezes).
Make sure to check back as we will continue to add more detailed content about how to avoid water damage. Or, if you have a specific question, let us know below or contact us directly and we’ll try to answer it for you.