Avoiding Water Damage in Your Home
You may not realize it, but that leaky faucet is trying to tell you something, and so are the rusty water heater’s pipes. Easy as it may be to dismiss these everyday findings, you may want to pay attention to these small issues. They can change from minor problems to major repairs in no time at all. Maybe that leaky faucet is only showing you 10% of the water that’s escaping a bad valve, while the rest of it is seeping into your walls causing rot, mold and will soon force an expensive repair. And those rusty pipes going into the water heater may be forecasting a burst pipe in your near future that can flood your home and damage furniture, floors and inevitably, your savings if you’re caught off guard. That’s where we come in, with this hands-on plumber’s guide to your home’s pipes and appliances.
Because they’re so slow to emerge, plumbing issues often catch homeowners off guard. But if you know what to look for and regularly check your plumbing, you might save yourself thousands of dollars in repair costs. Take a look at these informative tips on maintaining your plumbing lines so the next time you find a problem, you’ll know what to do.
Spotting Plumbing Problems Early
Excessive as it may seem, it’s a great idea to get in the habit of looking at your plumbing on a regular basis. Every day you’re using water, and eventually it makes its way out of your home and into a septic system or a shared sewer system. One helpful way to inspect your home’s plumbing is to follow the journey that water takes through the home, looking for issues along the way.
Get to know your water main. Usually in the basement, the water main will have a shut off valve close to it and your water meter. Sometimes, it’s found near the water heater or furnace, other times it’s just outside your home. The first thing you need to know is how to turn off the water in case there’s an emergency and you need to stop water flow quickly. In a nearby sink, turn the faucet on and attempt to shut off the water main. When the water stops flowing from the faucet, you’ll know the valve is working correctly.
Follow the water to your faucets. Leaking faucets and pipes can do a lot of damage behind the scenes, so to put on your detective hat, grab a flashlight and look at exposed pipes for clues of corrosion or leaks. Check out the condition of pipes, hoses and valves under each sink, looking for evidence of water marks, drips or corrosion and make a note of what’s happening in each area.
While you’re there, look at the gooseneck, or the question-mark-shaped pipe that sits near the bottom of the sink for leaks or corrosion. Also, near bathtubs, showers and indoor Jacuzzis you may find a plumbing access panel. Carefully remove the panel, if it can be done easily, and look around in there for any signs of trouble. If possible, get underneath the unit and look for leaks where waste water exits towards the main outbound plumbing line called “the stack.” Another best practice is to keep cooking grease and oils out of your plumbing system. After they’re at room temperature, store the used materials in a milk container and take it to a nearby cooking oil recycler or if allowed, throw it in the trash. This will keep your pipes cleaner longer.
One more important consideration is to use your kitchen’s garbage disposal sparingly. Although the food is ground up finely before entering the wastewater line, dense materials can build-up and cause slow-downs or blockages.
Inspect your toilet’s plumbing. If you have exposed beams in the basement, start by looking underneath the toilet for signs of leaks, water stains or corrosion. If you notice anything unusual, quickly contact a plumber to review the situation. Then, move to the bathroom and look at the base of the toilet for leaks, and check the water source that goes into the toilet. If the incoming water line is connected near the sink, remember to look carefully there for any concerns.
Another trouble area is the seal between the upper tank and the lower seat. Use a mirror if necessary, checking for leaks around the back of the tank — remember not to mistake condensation for actual issues. It’s helpful to wipe away any water on the bottom of the tank and check it again for drips a few minutes later.
Check in on the water heater. Next on our tour is a trip to the hot water line. Lasting about 10 years or more, your water heater can potentially be a big source for water damage in the home. First, consider the physical location of the hot water heater. If a pipe within the heater were to break and cause a major flood, would items near it be destroyed? Is there a better location for the heater that could help to reduce damage to your valuables, perhaps closer to a floor drain? If so, it sometimes pays to relocate or replace the heater to a better location where less stuff is at risk.
Older appliances can be plumbing trouble-makers. Here’s where that detective hat will come in handy, because clues from appliances can quietly make trouble. Dish washers, washing machines, whole home humidifiers and refrigerators all use water to do their job. Older copper water lines that tap into water pipes to make ice and filter water in refrigerators are often prone to leaking. Some appliances use a “puncture” fitting, and should be inspected as well. And remember to replace the hoses of your dish washer and washing machine every two or three years since they can get brittle — the added vibration can loosen connections and cause leaks too.
Find the stack. The stack is your home’s outbound waste pipe. Named for the older wrought iron pipes that were “stacked” on top of one another in small sections, the stack connects your home to the outside world. Newer PVC stacks operate the same way. It’s usually the thickest pipe in the house and will run directly up and down. In many homes, it runs right through the basement floor. Take a careful look at each union, where one piece nests into the next, look for corrosion, mold or slow drips. Other unions where pipes connect into the stack are also known hotbeds of trouble that should be inspected.
Rent a scope or hire a plumber with one. Don’t skip this step, it’s well worth the money. A powerful tool in your arsenal against plumbing problems, the scope consists of a camera and light attached to a long “snake” sending video to a monitor. You can sometimes get into the stack through the flushing hole of a toilet, feeding the snake through your stack and out into the plumbing that connects your home to the outside.
If you’re at all unsure about taking this on, you’re smart to outsource this job to a professional. It’s here where the payoff is greatest, if you’re lucky enough to catch a problem early. After the stack exits your home, Mother Nature can wreak havoc on your home’s plumbing. Tree roots will seek out any water source and naturally grow into it. Tree root tendrils will get into the pipe and turn a small leak into a big hole. Unchecked, this can lead to a complete blockage. But even if you find a root in your exiting water line, issues like these can be remedied, so take heart!
Companies that specialize in scoping and cutting roots out have saved the day more than once. They can attach a rotating blade to the front of a “snake” that will clear out smaller problems efficiently. It’s also a good idea to look with a scope at least once annually to check for new breaks or other issues.
You may find that an excavation team will be required to dig up and replace the effected pipe. As you can imagine, this can get costly. One note, when replacing these lines, you may want to consider installing a check valve, which prevents backflow from moving back up the pipe and into your home. These can be valuable for homes that have experienced backflow after storms, and sometimes excavation is required just to install the check valve if backflow is common. Pipes that connect to sewer lines at or below the flood level are at risk of backflow as well. Some municipalities require the installation of a check valve when work is done on the sewer line, so be sure to review codes with local authorities before work is contracted.
Owners of newly built homes should be careful not to plant trees near the main water line in order to prevent issues like these from occurring. Keep in mind that roots can travel far and wide in their search for water, even when none are located near plumbing lines.
Get a smart home detector to monitor for water. Another great preventative measure is to install a smart water sensor in the basement or other low lying areas. You’ll be alerted when leaks are detected and will feel better knowing that your home is always protected.
Cold Weather Water Damage
Remember to turn off exterior pipes before the first freeze of the season to prevent pipes from bursting, and always keep your thermostat above 60 degrees to ensure that interior pipes don’t freeze. On extremely cold days, set faucets to a slow drip to keep them from icing up. Insulate pipes with ethafoam or fiberglass in areas that are exposed to cold temperatures in your home.
The Plumbing Long Game
The key to maintaining healthy plumbing is to stay alert, frequently inspecting for small signs that something’s wrong. A leaking faucet or a toilet that doesn’t flush as quickly as it used to are important clues to pick up on. Staying proactive in your approach can help keep your home’s plumbing systems operating smoothly and running well for years to come. If something does happen, you should learn about American Family’s Emergency Water Removal Program vendors that focus on quickly drying flooded areas. The result can mean lower reconstruction costs and generally a shorter period of time necessary to get your home back up and running again. It’s a great resource for flooded homes.
While you’re inspecting your plumbing, take a few minutes and review your homeowners policy with an American Family Insurance agent. You can customize a policy that helps to protect your finances from the unexpected. You’ll feel great knowing you’re insured and that you’ve done all you can to keep your home safe from plumbing troubles.