Although hurricanes, earthquakes, and sinkholes get the majority of the attention in the news, the vast majority of insurance claims deal with water damage to property. These claims are generally broken into two categories – flood damage and water leak/seapage damage. Flood claims revolve around damage caused by “rising water”, as opposed to other types of water losses which could come from leaky pipes, water blown through windows as the result of a storm, or overflow from appliances.
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With regard to the avoidance of damage caused by a flood – well, that’s between you and Mother Nature. With regard to protecting your property from other types of water damage, you may find the following tips helpful:
1. Know the location of water valves. Make sure everyone knows where the main valve is located and how to turn the water off.
2. Monitor utility bills. An unusually high water bill could signal a water leak.
3. Turn off water before traveling. Turn the water off at the main valve or directly on major appliances. Consider leaving a house key and contact information with a neighbor or trusted friend and ask the person to check the inside and outside of your home periodically while you are away
4. Inspect your home regularly for signs and sources of moisture. After a storm or rain shower, check for water stains or odors inside your house. Create a maintenance schedule to check the following sources of water leaks on a regular basis:
Hot water heaters – Hot water heaters may rust or develop cracks over time. Check your water heater for rust and deterioration every year. Check the drain pan for water and ensure that the drain line for the overflow pan is not clogged. Drain and clean the water heater as recommended by the manufacturer.
Garbage disposal – Routinely check for cracks or other sources of leaks.
A/C drain lines – Damage can occur when the line that drains condensation from the evaporator coils becomes clogged and water overflows from the drip pan. Periodically check the drip pan for water and consider an annual service call to reduce the buildup of algae and mold in the drain line.
Indoor and outdoor pipes and faucets – Routinely check indoor pipes under cabinets and sinks for leaks, rust, and any signs of deterioration. Minimize the potential for water damage from frozen and broken outdoor pipes by insulating supply lines (in attics, crawlspaces, and exterior walls), protecting exposed outdoor faucets, sealing gaps in exterior walls, and maintaining adequate heat in your home.
Appliance hoses – Broken hoses are among the most common causes of water damage. Regularly inspect hoses and hose fittings on washing machines, icemakers, and dishwashers for kinks, cracks, bulges, or deterioration. Replace standard rubber washing machine hoses every two to five years or more often if they are showing signs of wear. Consider using steel-reinforced hoses for longer life.
Showers, tubs, sinks, toilets, windows, and doors – Water leaks around bathtubs, showers, sinks, and toilets can cause damage because the leak is often out of sight. To prevent leaks, make sure you have a watertight seal of caulk around tubs, sinks, toilets, tubs, shower stalls, windows, and doors. Cracks or mold on caulk or tile grout may indicate that you do not have a watertight seal. Remove all caulk or grout, clean and dry the surface thoroughly, and apply fresh caulk. Do not apply new caulk or grout on top of the old materials.
Attics and ceilings – Routinely check for wet insulation and water stains.
Wallpaper – Routinely check for bubbling, peeling, and stains.
Roofs – Keep roofs free of debris that can damage roofing and allow water to seep in. Trim tree branches to prevent them from rubbing and damaging the roof.
Repair missing or damaged shingles – Properly seal any cracks around chimneys, skylights, and vents. Check metal flashing for holes, cracks, or other damage. Replace flashing or use silicone caulk to seal any openings.
Rain gutters and downspouts – Direct rainwater away from your home. Keep gutters clear and make sure downspouts are long enough to carry water away from your foundation. Gutters that are filled with leaves and other debris allow water to back up on the roof, which can result in water damage to eaves and roofing material.
Sump pumps – Sump pumps are the first line of defense in preventing water from seeping into basements. Periodically check the sump and remove any debris that could clog the pump. Consider installing a battery-powered backup to protect your basement during power outages.
Landscape – Yards should slope away from the house to prevent puddling near the foundation or under pier and beam houses. Do not allow sprinklers or sprinkler heads to soak the exterior of your house.
Trust me – with regard to water damage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A few years ago, we had a water leak at our house that resulted in our being out of the home for over 77 nights! One tiny valve behind a toilet in my daughter’s bathroom broke free while we were on vacation and the resultant leak destroyed the hardwood flooring throughout our entire house and even seeped up the walls for approximately three feet! Even with the best preparations, accidents may be unavoidable. Therefore, it is vitally important that you verify that you have sufficient coverage on your homeowner’s insurance policy to protect you from water damage. If you have any questions regarding your insurance policy or what coverages it may provide, you should contact an insurance claim lawyer to examine your policy and explain what benefits your policy may provide for this type of loss.