Image of a homeowner making repairs to plumbing under the sink.

How to Prevent Water Damage In Your Home

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Water damage to your home can often be prevented if you know what to look for. Review these tips and learn how to carefully inspect your home for small plumbing issues before they turn into major problems.

You may not realize it, but that leaky faucet is trying to tell you something, and it’s probably not what you think. Slow leaks can lead to corrosion issues, which can result in compromised plumbing and eventually hidden water damage. Prevent water leaks by staying on top of your plumbing, checking for warning signs and acting quickly when you find trouble.

Because your homeowners insurance only covers water damage in specific ways, you can best prevent water damage by knowing what to look for. And by performing routine maintenance on your water supply and plumbing systems, you’ll have a better idea of when an issue is big enough to justify hiring a contractor.

How to Spot Early Signs of Water Damage

It’s a great idea to get in the habit of exploring your plumbing on a regular basis. Burst pipes are easy to spot, but your nose can also help you sleuth out problems.

  • Moldy smells and musty odors near damp areas are a telltale sign that trouble is nearby
  • Discoloration and water stains may be indications that water is leaking inside your walls
  • The visible presence of mold and mildew speak loudly to humidity issues
  • Paint that’s peeling, cracking or blistering are indications that water is leaking behind the scenes
  • A higher than usual water bill may be the first indication that burst pipes are to blame for a water leak

How to find your water main

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. Usually located 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 or in the crawl space.

How to inspect your faucets for leaks

Leaking faucets and pipes can do a lot of damage so put on your detective hat, grab a flashlight and look at exposed pipes for clues of corrosion or leaks.

  • Check the condition of pipes, hoses and valves under each sink
  • Look for evidence of water marks, drips or corrosion
  • Feel for dampness or dripping at the bottom of the sink’s gooseneck
  • Safely remove plumbing access panels and look for leaks or corrosion when possible
  • Inspect the ceiling under your bathroom and look for leaks
  • Use your kitchen’s garbage disposal sparingly as materials can build-up and cause blockages

How to inspect toilets for plumbing issues

Toilets see a lot of daily use and if left uninspected, they can cause a lot of trouble over the years. Take a look at these tips to keep your toilet operating safely.

Look in the basement — underneath the toilet — for signs of leaks, water stains or corrosion.

  • Inspect the base of the toilet for leaks or discoloration
  • Check the toilet’s water-source valve for dampness, corrosion or condensation
  • Examine the water tank for leaks or cracks and use a hand mirror to get a look at the back

How to check your water heater

Lasting about 10 years or more, your water heater can potentially be a big source for water damage in the home, but other issues may emerge too. Here are a few ways to explore your water heater for signs of trouble.

Consider relocating your water heater if leaking or flooding may damage or destroy expensive nearby items.

  • Smell for gas leaks or have a home inspector check gas valves and unions for leaks
  • Be sure that no flammable items are stored nearby
  • Inspect the base for rust or sediment
  • Review the condition of the tank for signs of corrosion
  • Look at the cold-water supply valve for rust or leaks
  • Check in on the temperature/pressure relief (TPR) valve for corrosion near the elbow
  • Use the drain valve to annually drain off a gallon or so of water to keep in-tank sediment down

How to inspect appliances for plumbing issues

Your domestic appliances can quietly make trouble, slowly leaking and hiding the evidence. Look for the following water damage clues when reviewing their condition:

  • Inspect water feeder lines that “tap” into water pipes to make ice and filter water in refrigerators
  • Check in on the condition of water hoses of your dish washer and washing machine
  • Replace those hoses every two or three years since they can get brittle
  • Verify that water shut-off valves are operating well

How to find leaks in your plumbing stack

The stack is your home’s outbound waste pipe which connects your home to the outside world. It typically runs directly up and down and into the basement floor. Take a careful look at these tips to verify it’s not leaking.

  • Inspect each union, where one-piece nests into the next and, look for corrosion, mold or slow drips
  • Review the unions where pipes connect into the stack for trouble

How Do Smart Water Leak Sensors Work?

Another great preventative measure is to install a smart water sensor in the basement or other low lying areas. You’ll be alerted when the sensor detects water leaks. You’ll feel better knowing that you’ve got monitors to help you know about trouble when you’re away and a leak is detected.

How to Prevent Cold Weather Water Damage

It’s too late once your pipes freeze and burst. But there’s a lot you can do to help insulate yourself from winter weather plumbing issues.

  • Turn off exterior pipes before the first freeze of the season
  • Always keep your thermostat above 60 degrees
  • Set faucets to a slow drip to keep them from icing up on very cold days
  • Protect pipes with ethafoam or fiberglass insulation in areas that are exposed to cold temperatures
  • Clean your gutters before the cold weather sets in to prevent ice dams from forming

What Is Water Damage Cleanup Coverage?

Home insurance typically covers appliance or plumbing-related water damage — that occurs due to sudden and accidental events — and originates in your home. It’s additional coverage that helps to cover the costs to remediate water damage and rebuild your home after a covered loss.

Our emergency water removal program will work with the claims department to help get your life back on track in no time.

Get the Water Damage Coverage Your Home Needs

From flood emergencies to burst pipes, you’ll need an insurance company that can help you protect what matters most. If you’re worried about seasonal flooding, consider picking up added flood insurance protection, provided by the National Flood Insurance Program.

While you’re inspecting your plumbing, take a few minutes and review your homeowners policy with an American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab). You can customize a policy that helps to protect your finances from the unexpected. You’ll feel great knowing you have the right insurance coverage in place to help keep your home safe from plumbing troubles.

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    Choosing your new apartment isn’t an impulse decision. The choice you make will have an impact for a long time. There are many different things to consider as you tour one possible home after another. On top of that, landlords and management companies work hard to make them all seem perfect.

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    How Much is Rent & the Security Deposit?

    Any apartment hunter should ask themself this crucial question: “How much should I spend on rent?” Setting a budget ahead of the search helps narrow the possibilities. You’ll save time by eliminating options that are too expensive.

    Still, relying on online listings alone may not be enough. It’s better to personally ask the landlord, whether by calling, emailing, or visiting. Make sure to also bring up the security deposit, as well as any other upfront costs they may ask of you. This will save you from unpleasant surprises before you sign anything.

    How Much are Utilities and What Do I Cover?

    Every apartment complex handles utilities differently. Water, electricity, air conditioning, heating, gas, and more may be split between landlord and tenant. Then there is the matter of which ones you’ll need to get yourself. Your apartment may come with cable and wi-fi, but you may be responsible for them on your own.

    Only your landlord will know for sure, and they should be clear about what’s expected of you. Before leasing an apartment, you should ask what utilities are available and which ones are covered. Record the answers, factor the costs into your budget, and look for the place that offers the most for the least.

    How Does Parking Work?

    Some apartment complexes have their own parking lots, with many spaces reserved for tenants and a few set aside for guests. Others may give residents access to a dedicated structure, providing greater security — but possibly at a higher cost. Others still may only offer street parking, which can be expensive to maintain.

    In short, parking may be a complex situation involving specific locations and extra costs. If you have a car, don’t just ask if parking is available. Get the details. As you weigh your options, consider what’s best for your car as well.

    What’s the Pet Policy & Is There a Deposit or Fee?

    The pet policy won’t matter to every apartment hunter. If you have a furry friend or might want one someday, make this one of their first questions to ask when touring an apartment. A “no” answer is no deal, no matter how great the other perks may be.

    Some landlords may allow pets if you pay a one-time deposit or additional monthly fees. Make sure to keep that in mind during your search.

    What Amenities are Included?

    Utilities cover the most vital parts of a home — the things that make living there comfortable. Amenities are the complex’s welcome bonuses — the things that make living there enjoyable. Common examples include clubhouses, swimming pools, public kitchens, communal laundry machines, and fitness rooms.

    Amenities are great for those who use them, but their presence can justify higher rent. As your landlord takes you through each selling point on your tour, ask them whether these perks are included with your price. Also, make sure to consider if you’ll even use them.

    Do I Need Renters Insurance?

    Home insurance is for houses. If you live in an apartment, you look for renters insurance instead. In fact, some places make it mandatory for all residents. Be sure to ask your landlord in advance so you can make any arrangements you need.

    This practice is all about liability. Landlords have their own insurance, but it’s based on their duties and would only cover their share of the damages. Renters insurance offers protection for your living space and your belongings. Even if it’s not required, getting your own policy could bring you peace of mind.

    Can You Describe the Application Process?

    Applying for an apartment can be complicated and time-consuming. You might have to pay fees, undergo background checks and other screenings, and more just to see if you qualify. This may be preferable to the alternative: apartment listings that promise no credit check may be scams.

    You could always learn about each step of the application process as you go. Still, it never hurts to know ahead of time, especially if there are any fees and risks. If anything is unclear, the landlord should explain it to you.

    What Should I Know About Rent Increases?

    A variety of factors can change the value of an apartment. Examples include market shifts, new installations, repairs and replacements of fixtures. Your rent will likely not change for the duration of your lease. Once the time comes to sign again, though, your monthly payments may very well go up.

    This may not seem like a pertinent question when starting a lease. Still, making it one of your questions to ask when touring an apartment could be useful. How your potential future landlord approaches the matter can tell you what to expect. At the very least, it can help you choose whether to look for a new place well before your lease ends.

    What are the Lease Length Options?

    How long are you looking to stay at your next apartment? One year, two years, longer, less? Not everyone has a plan in mind, which means the apartment’s available options may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

    Landlords always inform apartment hunters about the duration of their lease. However, you might need to probe them for other available options. Be sure to make this one of your questions to ask before leasing an apartment, even if they only mention one length that sounds good. They might have something better.

    Can I Make Changes to the Rental Unit?

    Your apartment may come pre-furnished, but it’s unlikely to be pre-decorated. Few people are content with blank walls and sparse spaces. Most prefer to personalize and beautify their home with art, decorations and other belongings.

    Unlike houses, apartments usually only have temporary residents. The building’s owner may not allow certain kinds of changes, believing they may hurt the unit’s future value. Take the time to go over policies. That way, you can get a better idea of how you’ll make your space feel like a home.

    How Do Maintenance Requests Work?

    Besides rent, tenants might only interact with their landlord through maintenance requests. After all, it’s the complex owner’s duty to keep everything in their apartments running smoothly. If your shower stops pumping heated water or your lock gets sticky, maintenance will get it fixed.

    Asking about the process of filing maintenance requests can give insights to how landlords view this responsibility. Does the process seem straightforward or complicated? Are approvals easy, or do they require a great deal of evidence and demonstration? The answers may reveal how long this landlord will let you live with inconvenience. Few questions to ask about apartments are more revealing than this.

    What’s the Guest Policy?

    In most cases, a guest policy doesn’t apply to someone who’s just visiting for a few hours. It covers situations where someone might want to stay at a tenant’s apartment for a few days or longer. Depending on the terms of the policy, you might even need permission for someone to spend the night.

    Don’t just assume that any landlord would be okay with your best friend crashing on your couch for a while. Get the details on the guest policy before moving in. They’ll tell you what permissions they’d grant and how you can get them granted.

    What’s the Neighborhood Like?

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    How Soon are You Looking to Fill the Unit?

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    Do I Need a Cosigner?

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    What Payment Methods are Accepted?

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    What Furnishings & Appliances are Included?

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    How Much Notice Do You Give Before You or a Representative Shows Up at the Property?

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    What’s Your Late Fee Policy?

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    What’s Your Subletting Policy?

    Subletting is when a renter temporarily moves out and lets someone else cover their lease. A landlord may refuse to rent to your candidate if they don’t meet their requirements.

    Even if you don’t plan to leave during your lease, you may still want to know your apartment’s subletting policy. Life may surprise you. Being aware can save you some time and trouble in looking for someone to take over.

    Know the Best Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

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    Renters Insurance from American Family Insurance

    Even while you’re still apartment-hunting, it’s never too early to start thinking about renters insurance. If you have any questions about that, feel free to contact an American Family Insurance agent. Once you’ve learned what we have to offer, you can get a quote online and get protection for your next home.

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    Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
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    Your home is more than a roof over your head. It’s where your dreams grow, your family thrives and memories are made. But the possessions you keep inside are important, too.

    Whether you’re renting an apartment or own your home, you’ve most likely got an insurance policy designed to protect your dwelling and the things inside. Should the unthinkable happen and you have to use that insurance policy, it’s important to have a plan in place. And a home inventory list is a great way to get started!

    We’ll walk you through how to create a home inventory so — in the event of the unexpected — you’ll be more prepared and have a streamlined recovery.

    What Is a Home Inventory?

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    When your describing the items in your list, remember that the more information, the better. Here’s a quick reference list of the type of information you should include in your home inventory list:

    • An in-depth description of the items. For example, rather than writing down “diamond ring,” be more descriptive, such as: “an emerald cut diamond ring, with white gold shank, accent stones and initials inscribed below the bridge.”
    • Make, model, and/or serial number of the items.
    • Date of purchase, receipts and photos.
    • Estimated replacement cost if you bought it today. Do note that the value of the items might be different today than it was when you first bought them. This is especially true with jewelry, and other valuables.
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    Why Do I Need a Home Inventory?

    Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, everyone can benefit from a home inventory!

    If you ever have to make a claim, a home inventory is a great asset to have, especially after stressful events like theft, storm damage or a fire (take a look at how one renter used their home inventory after facing an apartment fire).

    When you make a claim, you typically submit information on everything that was lost — which can be difficult to do off the top of your head for all your possessions. Remembering to replace your TV or computer are no-brainers, but when it comes to remembering each piece of jewelry in your jewelry box, things tend to get overlooked. Having a personal property inventory will help, along with knowing how to properly insure your jewelry.

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