The phrase “It’s just water” is fine for rainy days, but when it comes to the havoc a little H2O can wreak on your home, water becomes a serious matter.
Even “minor” basement floods can cost thousands of dollars after restoration work and time spent settling insurance claims. In fact, water damage insurance claims are the most frequently reported property insurance claims in the U.S. — causing insurance companies the greatest financial exposure.
If undetected for too long, water can permanently damage a home and even pose health risks, such as mold.
The kicker? If a property owner immediately finds a broken or burst pipe, water damage is 90 percent preventable.
Here are five of the most common causes of water damage — and a few pro tips on how to prevent it.
1. Rusty pipes
In the days of all-copper and galvanized steel piping, rust was a significant concern. Even small amounts of rust could spread quickly, compromising pipe integrity and causing tiny leaks. Over time, that excess moisture could cause mold and attract bugs, such as carpenter ants.
While newer homes typically use PEX or other flexible plastic piping, they still have metal joints and connections — especially in and around the water heater — and those are still susceptible to rust.
Pro tip: Have your heater and plumbing system inspected for rust every few years.
2. Uneven water pressure
If you live in the city, chances are your home is supplied by public water lines, while homeowners in the country are likely using septic systems. In both cases, blockage or cracking may cause pressure problems; the same can occur if you have any improperly installed plumbing. Consistent pressure is important because most fixtures — showerheads, faucets and even appliances like dishwashers — are rated to withstand only a certain amount of pressure. If too much water comes through the pipes too quickly, these fixtures can crack and leak.
Pro tip: If the amount of water coming out of your tap or tub faucet is inconsistent, call a plumber to address the issue as soon as possible.
3. Temperature changes
Large temperature changes also can cause your pipes to crack and leak. This is common in extremely cold climates, but it can also happen in warmer areas if there’s a sudden cold spell and pipes aren’t properly insulated. And homeowners can make things worse by continually using the hottest setting on the water heater, thus encouraging cracks to widen and eventually burst metal pipes.
Pro tip: In warmer weather, soil around your home can shift and cause problems for buried pipes, which connect to the municipal sewer system. If you find sunken ground near your home during the hot summer months along with decreased water pressure and slower drains, consider hiring a plumber to “video snake” your pipe system and uncover any issues.
4. Tree roots
Tree roots cause problems when water and sewage pipes connected to your home crack, releasing small amounts of water vapor into the surrounding soil. This attracts tree roots, which burrow their way into pipes and eventually cause blockages.
Pro tip: If you notice your tubs, sinks or toilets are draining very slowly or you smell sewer gas when you do laundry or run the dishwasher, a backed-up pipe may be to blame.
5. Degradation and movement
Water leaks may also be caused by your home’s natural movement over time. As its foundation shifts, so does everything above — including your pipes. Too much movement will cause pipes to detach from one another, causing water leaks inside your walls.
Pro tip: Inspect your walls for cracks more than one-sixteenth of an inch wide. Do a “wet spot” test on your walls after running the shower or tub, and take note of any spots that don’t dry within half an hour. Or hire an inspector who uses the latest in infrared technology, giving him the ability to spot leakage inside the walls, without the necessity of opening them up.
No matter how diligent you are about keeping your pipes in good working order, many of the issues that cause water leaks are hard to detect. Inspecting your pipes and getting regular visits from a professional can help prevent those issues from occurring, but if a pipe bursts while you’re not home, the damage can still be costly. So use smart home technology to prevent water damage. Not only can you use water sensors to detect leaks, but you can also cut your water supply off remotely using your mobile device if an issue does occur when no one is home to address it. Instead of discovering the problem when pipes burst or the basement floods, you’ll be alerted early via intelligent home automation, letting you skip big costs in favor of simple correction.