flash floods, and broken pipes or appliances can cause thousands of dollars in
damages to your home.
While it doesn’t get top billing in the list of risks to homes, flooding has caused billions of dollars in property damage over the past decade. We all have plumbing. We splash and spill water around the house all the time with no major issues. And of course, most of our homes endure heavy rainstorms pretty frequently and come through them just fine.
The problem arises when plumbing starts leaking or breaks altogether, when a roof stops doing its job correctly, or when heavy rains or flooding simply overwhelm walls, floors, and foundations. A flooded basement can mean the destruction of major appliances like furnaces, washers, and driers. Of course, if your basement is finished, furnishings, carpets, televisions, and everything in the room could end up a total loss. And that’s just for starters. Water can also flood nearly anywhere in a home, damaging walls, flooring, wiring, and anything else it touches.
There are ways to avoid or mitigate this kind of catastrophic damage, however. And even if you can’t totally eliminate the threat of water damage, you can minimize its impact on your bank account. There are two general types of water threats—external and internal. Let’s examine each one:
flooding threats—what you can do
Dealing with water that comes in from outside your home may seem pretty daunting. After all, if a hurricane, flash flood, or another natural disaster suddenly washes feet of water into your house, there probably isn’t much you can do to stop it. Those events are statistically pretty rare, however. And you can do a lot to protect yourself from the slower, less dramatic water threats that are more likely to damage your home.
Here are some steps you can take:
Look at your landscaping
The set-up of your yard, including things like the slope of the land and the arrangement of trees and shrubs, affects your chances for flood damage. Here’s what to consider:
Watch for large puddles around your home after heavy rain. If water tends to pool near your home, you may have a strong potential for flooding.
Houses that sit at the bottom of a downhill slope also tend to collect floodwaters. A professional landscaper may be able to grade the land and create artificial slopes to guide water away. You’ll need a slope of at least 6 inches, covering a 10-foot span.
Try to plant most trees and large shrubs at least 20 feet from the house and any known utility pipes. Otherwise, their roots can invade your water lines or sewer pipes and cause blockages and backups.
If you have a lawn sprinkler or irrigation system, make sure water isn’t puddling up near your foundations.
Maintain your roof and gutters
Having “a roof over your head” can’t protect your home from the elements unless you give it basic attention. Here’s what you need to do to help your roof do its job:
Visually inspect the roof for missing or damaged shingles once or twice a year and after major weather events. This will probably require getting up on a ladder so you can see everything. If you don't feel comfortable doing that or don't think you're qualified to assess the roof, hire a professional. Beware of disreputable roofing contractors who may tell you that need a new roof, whether you do or not. Use references and reviews to find someone trustworthy. Consider asking them to snap pictures of any damage or problems, and make sure anyone you hire is bonded and insured.
Be sure to maintain gutters and downspouts properly. This essential hardware channels water away from your house and into appropriate drainage systems. If gutters or spouts are blocked with leaves or other debris, they back up quickly, and all that rainwater just pools up near your house. From there, it can damage your foundation and begin slowly making its way into your basement or crawlspace. Again, if you don’t want to clean your gutters yourself, hire someone. It’s an important job. And installing gutter guards can reduce the number of times you need to do maintenance per year.
You aren’t off the hook if you have a crawlspace
If your home has a crawlspace instead of a basement, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. It’s tempting to think that even a foot or so of water under the house is no big deal. As long as it doesn’t reach the floorboards, you’re probably OK, right? Wrong. Once water gets into your crawlspace, it can sit there for a long time. This can contribute to mold growth on your flooring and support beams that can seriously compromise the structural integrity of your house.
Here are some tips for protecting a crawlspace:
Pooled water an inch or so deep can sometimes be sluiced out of a crawlspace with a broom or similar implement. Anything deeper than that, and you'll most likely need to buy or rent a pump. If you do use a pump, make sure the hose drains far away from the house, preferably on a slope that draws water away from your foundation.
Remove all water-logged items, including insulation, from the crawlspace. They can continue to hold water and contribute to mold.
Clean wet surfaces and inspect for wiring damage. If any of your home’s wiring appears to have been submerged, don’t touch it. Call an electrician immediately.
If your crawlspace is prone to flooding, consider installing a sump pump and/or flood vents to move water out as soon as it comes in. You’ll likely need a professional for this.
flooding: preventing water damage from plumbing and appliances
Not everyone with a flooded house can blame mother nature. Quite a few domestic water disasters are man-made. Broken plumbing and malfunctioning appliances can pour gallons of water into your home in minutes or seconds. And hidden, slower-moving leaks can result in a considerable buildup over time. In either case, the resulting damage can be just as bad—and sometimes worse—than the problems caused by external flooding. Here’s what you can do about it.
Know your plumbing
Your home’s plumbing carries hundreds of gallons of water through your walls, floors, and ceilings every day, pushed along by pressure from a local pump or your municipal water system. You don’t need a weather event to end up with a flooded house.
Here are some tips for avoiding a flood or mitigating any damage:
Know where your main water shutoff valve is. This is the valve that stops water from your municipal system or well from flowing into your house. You must know where this is and how to use it in a hurry. These valves can sometimes be located in obscure, hard-to-find places. So, if you can’t find yours, consult a plumber or someone familiar with plumbing or construction.
Periodically inspect your water pipes. While you may not be able to access all of your plumbing easily, you can get to, or at least see, a lot of it. Most sink piping can be inspected by opening cabinet doors. Homeowners with basements can often visually inspect much of their first-floor plumbing just by looking up. Many pipe leaks will be easily visible or at least accrue wet spots in drywall or flooring. Even slow leaks usually cause a noticeable puddle or damp area. Swiping a visible pipe with your hand is also a good way to check for moisture.
Check your tubs, showers, and toilets. Specifically, keep an eye on the grout or caulking around these water sources. Old or cracked grout can let moisture seep steadily into your walls or floors. This type of damage can mount invisibly for months or even years. And so can the repair bill.
Inspect and maintain your
Periodically look over appliances that are attached to your plumbing system. This includes the clothes washer, dishwasher, the water heater, and the water line to your refrigerator. All of these are capable of springing leaks or developing other problems that could spill gallons of water into your home.
Inspect all water-connected appliances regularly for leaks. Keep in mind that leaks may be slow and hidden. Water may pool up behind a washer or refrigerator, for example. As it sits there unnoticed, it will gradually seep into the flooring and cause damage.
Replace hoses for washing machines and other appliances about every five years—and don't buy the cheapest replacements you can find. Old or poorly made appliance hoses don't usually develop small More commonly, they suddenly and catastrophically rupture, spraying water into the room. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen while you’re out of town.
Check an air conditioner’s condensation drainage. Make sure the moisture is being drained or channeled appropriately. A/C condensation seems like a small amount of moisture, but it can accrue and cause serious damage over time.
smart flood sensors adds an extra layer of protection
One of the most insidious things about water damage is that it often happens quietly. Most leaks make very little, if any, noise. Water can seep and accumulate in a hidden area for years without you knowing it. Leaks often happen in the areas of your home that you don't frequently visit—like the basement, the attic, or a back utility room. And while a broken pipe gushing water can certainly make noise, how likely are you to hear that if it’s down in the basement? And how can you know about any type of flood if you aren't home?
Fortunately, there is another line of defense. Flood sensors—like those offered by Frontpoint—will alert you when even a small amount of water begins to pool where it shouldn't. You simply place one of these devices in an area where water is likely to accumulate. This might be your basement floor, near the sliding glass door on the first floor, or close to major appliances like the water heater or washing machine. You certainly need one in any place where water seepage or leakage from the outside has been a problem before.
When even a small amount of water touches the battery-powered sensor’s titanium probes, it lets you know immediately that there’s a problem. Even better, this device doesn’t just sound an audible alarm. Frontpoint Flood Sensors work as part of a networked wireless smart home security system.
When the flood sensor activates, it sends a signal to your Frontpoint Hub using a wireless protocol called Z-Wave. The hub can then carry out a number of actions, including sending you a mobile notification. Whether you're upstairs in your favorite easy chair or out of state on vacation, you'll instantly know that you have a water issue.
Because the hub links your flood sensor with other Frontpoint smart devices, you can also combine their functions to give you even greater flexibility in protecting your home. For example, if you have Indoor Cameras or Premium Indoor Cameras, you may be able to check the situation visually. When the sensor raises an alert and sends you a notification, just use the Frontpoint App on your mobile device to pull up the real-time video feed.
Outdoor Cameras will reveal whether any flooding stems from a heavy rainstorm or another external threat. Just pull up the feed on your mobile app and check for standing water in your yard or other telltale signs of flooding
Small puddle of water in the basement near the water heater? You’ll need to take care of that, but it can probably wait until you get home from work. Burst pipe spewing water into your kitchen? Time to call a plumber and head straight home! Or, you may be able to shut off the water supply remotely.
Few things can depreciate the value of your house like water damage. Leaks, flooding, burst pipes, and other water threats can do just as much damage to your home and property as a fire. And many of the effects, such as long-term mold buildup, are incredibly costly and time-consuming to clean up.
Taking a few simple steps to guard against water damage can prevent massive repair bills and the headache of dealing with a flooded basement—or worse—a flooded house. Basic maintenance of plumbing, roofing, and appliances, and installing a flood sensor are crucial components of a flood damage prevention plan.