Each year, one in 50 insured homes has a property damage claim related to water damage or freezing. While estimates vary, each American uses an average of 80-100 gallons of water per day—inside of their homes!
With these statistics, it’s no wonder that some of this water usage leads to home water damage.
To a homeowner, water damage is a nightmare they’re desperate to avoid. Water in pipes, sinks, and basins is appreciated, but it should never run unabated in basements, floors, walls, or crawlspaces.
Thankfully, simple precautions and repairs can help you avoid water damage—from minor damage to significant water damage that calls for expensive contractor repairs.
Keep reading to learn more about how water can damage your home and what to do to prevent costly water damage repairs.
Table of Contents
What Is the Result of Water Damage in a House?
It doesn’t take a hurricane or flood to cause significant water damage. Your home can become susceptible to water through poorly graded soil, small leaks in pipes, blocked gutters, or a faulty sump pump.
Most water damage is caused by curable flaws that homeowners can address well in advance of an issue.
If water damage is present, the effect on a home can be disastrous. Even the slowest of leaks can rot studs and drywall, create mold growth, and weaken major structural elements. Stopping leaks before they occur is the easiest way to limit water damage.
Let’s take a look at 12 steps you can take to prevent home water damage.
1. Maintain Downspouts
Downspouts carry water from your gutters down the side of your house—a simple concept that usually works well. If your downspouts end perpendicular to the ground, the water can flow alongside your foundation.
Rainwater can rapidly erode the soil around your house and leak into your home through the foundation, causing major water damage.
To be sure your downspouts are flowing as they should, run water through your gutters. If water isn’t flowing correctly, add a 90-degree downspout elbow and extension to carry the water at least two feet away from your house.
2. Clean Gutters
Gutters are essential in moving water off of your roof and away from your home’s foundation. For gutters to work correctly in tandem with your downspouts, they must be clean.
Cleaning your gutters out regularly—at least twice per year—will carry water safely away from your foundation. You can purchase an extension ladder to do the job yourself or hire a professional.
In the winter, check for ice dams. You can add ice dam protection to the boundary of your roof. This protection prevents water from backing up and leaking into your attic.
3. Re-Grade Exterior Soil
The ground adjacent to your house should incline as it nears and touches your foundation wall.
Any ground that declines toward your house will create pools of water, which can enter your foundation. Then, the water can seep down into your basement floor.
To prevent this from happening, re-grade the soil around your home so that it ramps away from the foundation wall. Continue the slope as far as you can away from your house, then pack it down so that water moves along the top instead of soaking into it.
4. Inspect Your Chimney
Any opening on the exterior of your home introduces the potential for leaks and water damage. The chimney is a giant hole in the outer envelope of your house, and it’s typically not as weather-sealed as doors or windows.
Water that comes through uncapped chimneys can cause significant water damage in the walls, attic, and floors.
Regularly inspect your chimney for cracked bricks or loose mortar by doing the following:
- Make sure your chimney cap is adequately attached or install a new one
- Hire a contractor to inspect the metal flashing around the chimney to check for water passing between the chimney and the flashing
- Repoint and seal the chimney mortar, or a hire a mason to do the job
- Immediately repair any cracks in the chimney mortar or brick
5. Make Sure Your Sump Pump Is Working
As your sump pump is typically located in the basement or crawl space, it’s the last line of defense in the event of interior flooding or rising groundwater.
As the water rises in the sump pit, the float triggers the motor, which signals it to start pumping water out of your house. Basically, it removes water that doesn’t belong.
Regularly check that your sump pump turns on and removes water when it should and that it’s connected to an electrical outlet that works.
Newer arc-fault protection circuit breakers can fail, so ensure that the breaker attached to the sump pimp GFCI is flipped on. Replace faulty breakers as needed.
Sometimes a sump pump will tip over by accident, so check on it to be sure it’s upright and that the float is working. You can pour water into the sump pit to ensure that it’s moving water correctly.
6. Check Your Drains and Pipes
Sink drains capture water and diverts it to the sewer through waste pipes. It’s vital that the system functions properly. If it doesn’t, wastewater will leak into your cabinets. Worse, lines leading to the drain-waste-vent can leak between floors or inside of your walls.
You should always inspect under your sinks to make sure that drains aren’t leaking. Take care to repair or replace P-traps as needed.
To keep your drains in top condition:
- Stick to a regular cleaning schedule
- Avoid pouring grease down drains
- Keep a strainer in place on all sink and shower drains
- Frequently clean out strainers, depositing debris in the trash and not down the drain
- Ensure that your tub’s overflow drain is operating correctly
- Check every drain trap when you perform your cleaning schedule
7. Investigate Your Roof
Every season, inspect your roof for loose, missing, broken, or cracked shingles.
If your roof isn’t weather-tight, your house will inevitably suffer water damage.
Even if you don’t have major water damage, roof systems can leak in several ways. Before the threat of inclement weather, use a ladder to get on your roof. Walk it to inspect it for any shingles that may allow water to flow into the house.
Overgrown moss can also pose a problem, as it can work under the singles. After bad weather, inspect your roof for damage from fallen limbs.
8. Fill in the Cracks
By purchasing exterior-grade caulking, you can reduce leaks around doors and windows well before they occur. Buy a tube or two and caulk the areas inside and outside of your house that are missing caulk or cracked.
When the weather allows, walk the perimeter of your home’s exterior and look for cracks, paying particular attention to the top of your window casings. Water can accumulate quickly there.
Any cracks must be filled in immediately—no crack is acceptable.
On the inside of your home, search for tell-tale signs of water damage such as bubbled paint, mold spots, crumbly plaster or drywall, and termite activity.
9. Monitor Your Water Pressure
Don’t simply pay your water bill every month without inspecting it first. Check your history for anything strange such as spikes in usage. Compare these demands in water supply with past bills to determine if they make sense.
You can also purchase an electronic water leak direction system and install it directly on the main water supply line to your home. The sensors will monitor water flow, temperature, and pressure.
With this system, you can catch leaks and burst pipes before they cause irreparable damage. Some systems will even shut off the water flow when leaks are identified.
10. Plant Vegetation Around Your Home
If your yard is sloped into your home and you can’t re-grade it, a reliable drainage system may not be enough to combat rainstorms and prevent water damage. Consider planting vegetation around your home to absorb excess water in your yard. This is also an excellent option if your yard is mostly flat.
Plants, bushes, and trees can improve your yard’s drainage system. These plants have complex root systems that can soak up rainwater. This slows the flow of water, which makes it less likely that water will make it into your home and cause flooding.
Not only can vegetation prevent water damage, but it adds to the curb appeal of your home.
11. Maintain Your Appliances
Several appliances in your home are water-based and can cause major water damage and flooding if they fail.
Water-based appliances include washing machines, kitchen sinks, showers and bathtubs, bathroom skinks, refrigerators, dishwaters, and toilets. Basically, we’re referring to any instrument that has a water supply connection.
Check all hoses for holes, cracks, and leaking water. Any worn-looking lines should be replaced as soon as possible.
Check the floors around showers, sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. If you see mold growing or apparent moisture accumulation, it might be time to investigate further. There could be cracks in the supply hoses or the appliance itself.
12. Perform Moisture-Level Checks
Another preventative step you can take to prevent water damage to your home is installing a moisture meter. A moisture meter allows you to take the moisture level of your home’s areas that are prone to water leaks.
You should install a moisture meter near your sump pump and water heater, if nowhere else.
When you’re alerted to rising moisture levels in these areas, you can inspect your appliances for leaks before any significant damage occurs. Also, the meter will detect low moisture levels. Lower water levels call for humidifiers in the winter and swamp coolers in the summer.
Does Your Homeowners Insurance Cover Water Damage?
If the cause of water damage is sudden and accidental, homeowners’ insurance policies will help cover the costs of water damage repairs.
Depending on where the damage occurs, there are two types of coverage where an insurance policy may apply.
Dwelling Coverage can help pay for water damage to the structure of your home, but only if the damage is sustained by a covered peril.
For example, if a pipe bursts and damages your cabinets, dwelling coverage may pay for the repairs.
Personal Property Coverage
If your belongings are damaged by a covered peril, personal property coverage may help. If a burst pipe damages your treadmill or computer, this coverage can help repair or replace your damaged items.
No matter the coverage you have, remember that a deductible will likely apply before any coverage kicks in. There are also coverage limits to consider, so it’s vital to be familiar with your homeowners’ policy before a catastrophe occurs.
What Is Not Covered by Homeowners Insurance?
Most insurance policies will not cover any damage sustained from poor maintenance, which is why preventative measures and regular maintenance are so necessary. If damage occurs after you repair a faulty sump pump, for example, your insurance policy likely won’t cover the repairs.
In addition, most policies will not pay to repair the source of water damage. While your insurance policy may cover the costs associated with replacing damaged cabinets, it likely won’t cover the cost of replacing a broken dishwasher.
Take These Steps to Prevent Home Water Damage
Now you’re aware of the many ways that water can damage your home. You’re prepared to take preventative steps to avoid having to file home water damage claims.
Along with these steps for prevention, know what your policy covers in the event you do have to file a water-damage claim.
7 Immediate Steps to Take After Water Damage In Your Home
Turn off the water main if you are able to.
- Call Your Insurance agent.
- Stay Safe When Looking Over Your Home.
- Quickly Start Water Damage Remediation and Repair Immediately.
- Begin Drying Out Your Home.
- Initiate Restoring Your Home.
- Move Back Into Your Home.
Top Tips for Water Damage Repair
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to prevent water damage. Emergencies happen when you least expect them, and more often than not, water comes in gallons instead of drips. When water damage occurs in your home, it’s important to act quickly and take protective measures to ensure everyone remains safe. Use these tips to avoid additional damage, clean and disinfect, and safely rebuild damaged areas.
Take Safety Precautions Against Water Damage
When water is flooding your home, all your impulses are likely screaming to remove the water as quickly as possible. While this is a good idea, you need to make sure the area is safe first. Begin by locating the main water supply to your home and shut it off. Before entering a flooded area in your home, turn off electricity to the area as well.
Now that you’ve addressed incoming water and the threat of electric shock, it’s time for one more potential safety concern. What type of water is flooding your home? There are three types of floodwater.
- Clean Water: This water comes from rain, condensation, or leaky pipes. It has no outside contamination which makes it safe to remove and clean yourself.
- Gray Water: Floodwater that can be described as slightly dirty comes from appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and even clean toilets. Gray water is also safe to clean as long as you use proper safety gear.
- Black Water: The worst type of floodwater is black water which can be contaminated with sewage, bacteria, or other dangerous substances. This water comes from sewage or serious flooding by nearby rivers or other bodies of water. However, it is not safe to remove and clean black water yourself. Thus, contact a professional service with a good reputation.
When safety hazards are removed from the situation, it’s important to begin documenting the severity of the damage to your home. If you have flood, renters’ or homeowner’s insurance, it’s a good idea to have as much information as possible when you file a claim. Take photos to document the damage before you begin clean up and when you discover additional damage during the process.
Look for Mold Caused by Water Damage
Mold can begin to grow on surfaces within 24 to 48 hours. Some types of mold are toxic to humans and all mold spores can trigger allergies and respiratory symptoms. If you’re facing water damage that has occurred over a long period of time (like a leaky roof or hidden pipe), mold growth is likely. Mold growth may look black, green, gray, or white, and can be dry, slimy, or fuzzy. If you find mold or mildew, take these steps for safe removal.
- Wear a mask, gloves, and safety goggles.
- If mold only covers a small area, cut out molded material, bag it, and dispose of it quickly.
- If mold covers large areas, seal off the affected area to avoid spreading spores, and call a professional.
Extract All Moisture
It’s important to remove all moisture as soon as possible to avoid continued damage to structural materials. No repairs should be completed before all moisture is extracted. Begin by removing all standing water. Use air fans to circulate dry air and speed drying time. For large areas or significant flooding, consider renting a large capacity dehumidifier.
Remove Damaged Porous Materials
Porous building materials can’t be repaired after exposure to moisture. These types of materials absorb water and warp, shrink, or swell. Even after drying, these materials are often subject to mold growth. Porous materials include:
- Unsealed Cement
Portions of these materials that have absorbed moisture will need to be cut out and thrown away.
Disinfect Remaining Surfaces
Disinfecting the entire area will help ensure any potential mold growth is eliminated. The most common disinfectant for this purpose is a bleach and water solution. Spray exposed surfaces thoroughly with disinfectant and wipe down the area before moving forward with repairs.
Inspect and Repair Damaged Ceilings
Water-damaged ceilings can be hazardous. Sagging or buckled ceiling materials are in danger of falling. These heavy materials can cause significant damage and injury. Before attempting repairs, assess your skills, equipment for repairs, and physical condition. If you’re not up to this level of construction work, contact a professional. To repair ceiling damage, take these steps.
- Remove ceiling panels.
- Find the source of the leak.
- Investigate beams and rafters for damage.
- If structural damage exists, contact a professional for repairs.
Examine and Replace Damaged Wood From Water Damage
Wood expands when it absorbs water. It can also warp, rot, or harbor mold. Inspect all wood exposed to moisture for swelling, warping, breakage, or signs of mold. Pry apart damaged boards, and disinfect the area behind them thoroughly before replacement. Always replace structural components with wood of the same thickness and strength as the original pieces.
Assess the Floors
It’s crucial to make sure floors haven’t sustained permanent damage. Signs of water damage to floors include:
- Wavy floors
- Soft spots
When facing water damage to floors, one needs to remove and/or replace underlayment and padding. Remove all damaged flooring. Examine the floor joists to ensure they’re structurally sound. Disinfect areas exposed to water or mildew before replacing flooring materials.
Begin by examining your drywall for damage. Drywall that bulges, sags, or droops more than 3/8ths of an inch must be removed and replaced. However, small areas of damaged or molded drywall can be cut out and repaired.
Inspect and Replace Siding
Inclement weather and roof damage can lead to flooding that damages siding. Most often, people discover this type of damage after the winter. Outdoor water damage is usually caused by ice dams or winter storms and can cause additional damage when left unchecked. Remove damaged siding and inspect the materials beneath for water damage. Ensure the area is completely dry before replacing the siding.
Caulk and Paint
After replacing all of the materials, take care of the finishing touches. Match products to your existing paint or stain colors and complete the necessary cosmetic repairs. When applying new materials, take the time to seal and caulk exposed edges to help minimize water damage in the future.
Learn More About Water Damage Repair
Repairing water damage is a significant task, but it’s crucial to perform the job correctly. If you don’t have the experience or tools necessary to complete major repairs, it’s best to contact a professional.
If you’re searching for home insurance that fits your budget and lifestyle, let LoPriore Insurance do the legwork for you. Click here for an instant online home quote, and we will contact you to discuss your coverage options.