Flooding is a common (and destructive) natural hazard. As climate change increases the risk of floods worldwide, we’re likely to see more losses related to water damage in the near future.
But your home can be damaged by water in other ways, too — not just a sudden, catastrophic event. A clogged toilet, a failing water heater, burst or broken pipes, a sewer backup or a leaky roof can all cause slow leaks that can generate mold, mildew and dry rot. Any one of these situations can cause as much damage as a single big storm.
Wondering what coverage you have under your current homeowners policy to protect against water damage? It all depends on whether the damage is accidental, sudden or gradual, and on the type of policy you have. Keep in mind that water damage from lack of maintenance typically isn’t covered.
That’s why it’s important to mitigate the potential for water damage by following these best practices:
- Keep an eye on your water bill. Set a baseline, and if there’s an uptick in your usage month over month, you know an issue exists somewhere.
- Find your main water shut-off valve. If you live in a colder climate, the main shut-off valve may be in the basement; if you live in a warmer climate, it’s likely attached to an exterior wall or in an underground box. Know where this valve is before you have a burst pipe or other plumbing issue, so you can quickly stop the flow of water when needed. Also, if you’re going away for vacation, consider shutting off your water main — you have less chance of coming home to a flooded house if water isn’t flowing into it.
- Test your water pressure. Pipes and hoses can burst with high water pressure, so check yours to make sure it’s not set too high. Your local hardware store likely sells water pressure gauges, which can provide a reading. Your home’s water pressure should stay around 40 to 70 psi. A pressure regulator can keep it in check.
- Install water leak detectors. Just as smoke detectors help with fires, water leak detectors can help prevent water damage. These electronic devices range in cost from around $30 to several hundred dollars, but they’re well worth it. Water leak detectors find low moisture levels or slow leaks that may otherwise go unnoticed for long periods of time. Install them where water damage could start, such as in the laundry room, bathroom, under your kitchen sink or near the water heater.
- Take care of your pipes. Inspect the pipes around your house regularly to make sure they’re protected from the elements. In colder climates, keep a steady trickle of water flowing through the pipes to prevent freezing and bursting. Disconnect outside hoses, as they can also cause damage to floors and walls when the water freezes within, then enters the house.
- Look for other outdoor hazards. Standing water in your gutters can also cause problems, as it may freeze or overflow, creating roof damage or puddles on the ground that could damage your foundation. It’s wise to clean gutters and downspouts twice a year and ensure downspouts point away from your home. Also, look for possible problems with tree or shrub roots, as they can wrap around your pipes and break them. If possible, avoid landscaping around utility pipes.
- Be aware of flood zones. If you’re building a new home, do so above flood water levels and identify potential openings where flood water could come in. Inspect all existing flood prevention systems, such as dikes, flood barriers, etc. Make repairs as needed.
- Check your appliances. Refrigerators and dishwashers are common culprits and should be regularly checked for leaks, as per manufacturer instructions. Inspect and replace old, crumbling or leaky washing machine hoses to avoid a mess in the laundry room.
How to minimize water damage
Here’s practical advice to minimize the damage to your home should it ever occur:
- Turn off your water. Shut off your water main to stop water supply to your entire home.
- Protect your home from further damage. Move furniture and valuables to a safe place and use buckets to catch active leaks.
- File an insurance claim right away. Your insurance company will send out a water remediation professional in an effort to prevent additional damage.
- Don’t touch electronics. Resist using all electrical devices: appliances, televisions, ceiling fans, computers, etc. Don’t even unplug one. And never use your vacuum to remove water.
As a homeowner, you are very likely to experience some level of water damage over the years. Whether or not you incur significant costs depends on how prepared and vigilant you are in identifying potential issues. To better understand your homeowners insurance policy coverage or for immediate steps you should take following a water event, reach out to your insurance broker.