According to the American Insurance Association, water damage claims are increasing in the United States and has become the second most commonly filed insurance claim. Property damage due to water caused $11 billion in annual homeowner policy property losses from 2010 to 2013. These figures do not include homeowner deductibles or unreported losses so the actual dollar amount of damage is most likely far greater.
Most water damage losses are caused by plumbing or appliance failures.
Any appliance in your home that uses water is susceptible to leakage. It is not a matter of “if”, but “when.”
The Risk Factors
1. Water heaters. The average water heater will last for 9-14 years. That is the average. Some will fail at 4-5 years. If your water heater is located inside your home, here are some tips to help protect you from water damage:
- Drain and flush your water heater every year or as recommended by the manufacturer. This will help prevent the buildup of damaging minerals and will extend the useful life of the appliance.
- Replace your water heater before it leaks. This sounds simple, but no one knows when your water heater will fail and most of us wait as long as possible to avoid the expense.
- You can place your water heater in a special water heater drain pan designed to catch the water as it leaks from the tank. Be sure to plumb this pan into an outside drain line to prevent water damage. Here is an example of a pan that you can pick up at Lowe’s in Bothell: http://www.lowes.com/pd_317903-11713-QP-24_0__?productId=3126575. Mclendon Hardware in Kent, WA also carries leak detection devices.
- You can also turn off the water supply to your water heater when you are away from home for an extended period. This is the cold water inlet located near the top of the water heater. You can view this diagram for an example: http://energy.gov/eere/energybasics/articles/conventional-storage-water-heater-basics
2. Washing Machines. Most washing machines are connected to your plumbing system by 2 rubber hoses. Over time, these hoses lose flexibility and harden, then crack or develop pinhole leaks. These water lines are always under pressure and can fail anytime, day or night. Here are a few tips to help avoid water damage.
- You can replace these rubber hoses with stronger, longer lasting woven steel hoses. These are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a water loss.
- You can also turn off the water at the wall when you are not using the machine, and especially when you are away from home for an extended period.
- During the washing cycle, your washing machine pumps out dirty water into a drain pipe in the wall. This pipe is usually located near the hot and cold water lines. Be sure that the dirty water exhaust line is securely attached to this pipe. It can become loose and dump dirty water on the floor in your laundry room. Like you water heater, you can place a pan under the washing machine like this one http://tweetys.com/drainawaypan22.aspx?gclid=CKKb2LOC-70CFe5aMgodpQcAuw and plumb it to drain outside your home. You can also pick these drain pans up at McLendon hardware.
- Another great tip is to utilize a washing machine valve shut off, which you can pick up at Lowe’s or Home Depot. These are a great investment because they will detect a water leak and automatically shut off the water supply to the washing machine. Here is a great video on how to install one of these: http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/video/0,,20555339,00.html
3. Toilets. Toilets receive water from a line in the wall usually near the floor behind the toilet. This line can fail and flood your home and is an area that many people don’t pay attention to.
- Make sure to check this area for drips or leaks.
- You can replace this water line with a braided or woven steel reinforced line that will last longer and be safer.
- Also familiarize yourself and your family with the operation of the toilet. Learn how to close the water valve at the wall the stop water from filling the tank in the toilet. If you notice the toilet is plugged and not draining properly, remove the lid from the tank and reach into the toilet and push down on the flapper valve. This will stop the toilet bowl from overfilling and overflowing.
4. Refrigerator Ice Maker Water Line. This water line is usually made of inexpensive plastic or nylon and can easily be damaged or knocked loose from the rear of the refrigerator. Many kitchens have hardwood or laminate floors and are especially susceptible to water damage.
- Replace this line also with a braided or woven steel reinforced line that will be safer and last longer.
m. Consider purchasing a leak detection alarm for the water line. The valve in ice maker lines is constantly opening and closing and sometimes during the closing of the value it can send pressure back up the line, creating vibration, which over time can cause older piping to rupture. Small water-line cracks can also occur from accidental bumping of the line. If a small leak develops and is undetected it can lead to flooding and water damage. Here is an example of one of these alarms: http://www.plumbingsupply.com/floodstop-refrigerator-ice-maker.html
5. All other water lines. Dishwashers, sinks, faucets and wet bars, all are connected to water lines and are usually under pressure.
- Check frequently for drips and leaks and repair as necessary.
- Protect outdoor hose faucets from freezing during the winter by with faucet covers. The Styrofoam covers are cheap and do a great job.
- Learn where and how to turn off the main water supply for your entire home.
Paying attention to these 5 areas and putting some of these tips into practice could make all the difference. Indoor flooding and water damage is far more common than you would think and when it comes to flooding in your home applying an ounce of prevention is worth even more than a pound of cure!