Construction Design-Flood Prevention

Last summer I was working on a remodeling project when a water line connected to a water treatment system under a kitchen sink decided to come loose. I had just completed 3 weeks of work in the basement area directly under the kitchen, the resulting water damage erased 2 of the 3 weeks. All this happened over the July 4 week, as a matter of fact, I was enjoying the day fishing when I found out about the damage, holiday ruined.

Water damage from broken water line under kitchen sink.

Some of you might know, I have a part-time gig conducting residential inspections for a couple local mutual insurance companies.  I’ve attended several meetings and trainings on this type of inspecting over the past 5 years and I’ve been told water damage is one of the leading losses for these companies.  In researching for this blog, I found a recent report which indicates non-weather related water damage accounts for 19% of all insurance claims and 11% of all claim payments.  Water damage accounts for 1 in every 5 insurance claims.  It’s a problem for both a homeowner and insurance provider.  What can we do as homeowners and contractors to prevent water damage caused by non-weather related flooding?

Let’s start with appliances within the home.  The typical water heater will hold 50 gallons of water.  Though it’s uncommon for one to burst flooding a home with that much water, I’ve seen many with small leaks, which can turn into big ones.  If it’s dripping, get it fixed.  If your building new or replacing an existing water heater, consider using a drain pan under the heater.  These pans will collect water during a leak and drain the water into he waste plumbing system before any damage can occur.  These pans work best if the heater is located out of a basement or concrete floor.  A floor drain nearby will help reduce damage when the heater is located on a concrete floor.

The washing machine can also be a source of water damage.  It’s recommended that the hot and cold supply hoses be replaced every 5 years.  If the washer is located outside a concrete floor or basement, a drain pan manufactured for a washing machine would be a good idea.  These are similar to the water heater pan in that they contain a water leak by diverting the water to the waste plumbing before it can cause damage.

I’ve seen the effects of a broken water line supplying water to a refrigerator.  These leaks can go unnoticed for a while, especially the small leaks.  How often do you pull your refrigerator away from the wall?  If your diligent, once per year to clean the refrigerator coils and dust bunnies that accumulate under the fridge.  Replacing that small plastic water supply line with a braided metal line will add durability to the system.

Refrigerator supply line and shut-off valve.

If you have an older home, chances are you have a waste plumbing system that is made from clay tiles or cast-iron piping.  These piping systems tend to allow roots to grow into the joints and connection points of the pipes.  These roots will eventually clog the pipes, causing a waste water back-up.  My mother just had a back-up on a Sunday morning right before Christmas.  I’m sure the crew working on her plumbing system charged accordingly.  Periodic maintenance, such as Roto-Rooter, is the best defense against this type of water damage.

A cast iron clean out in the home I recently purchased (1952 Cape).  I'm planning on yearly professional drain cleaning.
A cast iron clean out in the home I recently purchased (1952 Cape). I’m planning on yearly professional drain clearing and cleaning.

When I was building full time, many of the homes I built were second or vacation homes or homes that the customer eventually planned to retire to.  All these homes were built in rural areas with their own wells and sewer systems.  I always recommended that the well pump be turned off at the breaker or a dedicated switch to prevent catastrophic water damage from a broken water line when the home or cabin is unoccupied.  I have a friend that was fishing on an area lake early in the fishing season one year.  As he passed by a home built on the remote lake, he noticed water flowing out the basement walk-out door.  That homeowner was in for a surprise when they returned to their cabin.

In my area, frozen pipes can be a problem and cause water damage.  Simply leaving a garden hose hooked up to an outdoor faucet can flood a home.  The water in the garden hose often will hold water in the faucet.  This water freezes and bursts the line feeding the faucet, this can happen even with frost free faucets.  Removing and draining garden hoses will prevent damage.

I am really interested in using technology to prevent water damage.  Many of the projects I am currently work on are second or vacation properties.  That flooded home over the 4th of July was a vacation home.  (By the way, the water pump is now turned off at the breaker when the home is unoccupied!)  There are water detection devices and automatic water shut off valves that can both notify or turn off the water if a leak is detected.  There are also systems that are monitors by security companies.  Many of these systems are cheaper to purchase and install than the typical deductible for an insurance claim.  I am also a fan of communicating thermostats.  Not only can these thermostats be programed to reduce heating costs by setting back the temperature of the home during the night or when it is unoccupied, they can also communicate with your phone or other device to alert you if the temperature has fallen below a set point.  Allowing an un-winterized home or cabin to freeze will most likely burst water lines and cause the need for expensive repairs.

If you are building new or remodeling your home, consider upgrading copper and CPVC water lines to PEX.  I am a fan of this product, the piping can come in 300-foot rolls, whereas copper and CPVC mostly come in 10-foot lengths, couplings are needed, a potential leak point.  PEX also tends to take a freeze better than copper or CPVC.  I’m not saying it won’t fail, just that it is slightly less likely to.  I’ve been using it in all new homes I’ve been involved with since the early 2000’s, nearly 20 years of experience with almost no failures. The one failure I did have was with a brass elbow designed to be used with PEX, not with the PEX itself.

The nice thing about water is it’s predictable.  It flows downhill, seeks its own level and will accumulate if contained (think basement).  Maintaining a plumbing system isn’t hard.  If you have a leak, fix it right away.  If you have an old waste piping system, maintain it.  And don’t let it freeze without proper draining and winterization.  That simple advice will prevent almost all water damage.  � 

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