January 6, 2021

How to head off water damage before it destroys your home

Wardell Johnson

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How to head off water damage before it destroys your home

The news is filled with fierce storms and dramatic fires. But if your home is going to be damaged, odds are the cause will be far more pedestrian: a water leak. Wardell Johnson, a seasoned claims adjuster for Vault, says 70% of the cases he handles result from water damage.  And most of those, he adds, could have been prevented through relatively simple preventative maintenance and regular inspections.  Here’s his list of the three most common sources of water damage and how to avoid them.

1. Roof

Your roof won’t last forever. After 15 or 20 years, shingles will loosen and leaks can develop. Even before that, errors in installation, such as inadequate flashing, can lead to leakage.

What you can do:

  • Inspect the roof annually for any signs of damage or wear
  • Inspect the attic for leaks.
  • Regularly clean gutters. How often depends on the sort of trees you are near (the more leaves that can fall into gutters the more regularly you should clean them).
  • Replace your roof every 15 to 20 years, taking care to  inspect the newly installed roof carefully.


2. Pipes

Pipes and the fittings that connect them wear out and they burst open when clogged by sediment, rust, or household waste. Most vulnerable are the small, flexible hoses that connect the pipes in the wall to fixtures, like toilets and sinks, and appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators. 

What you can do: 

  • Install an automatic shut-off valve on the main line where water enters your home. These will cut off the water when they detect an increase in use that could indicate a leak. More sophisticated systems can be controlled through an app on your smartphone and can link to moisture sensors positioned in vulnerable spots, such as under water-using appliances.  
  • Replace rubber hoses connected to appliances or fixtures with braided metal lines. These only cost a few dollars more but they are much less likely to wear out.
  • Have a plumber check your home annually, inspecting all visible pipes. The plumber can also feed a small camera on a long wire down through your plumbing system and sewer lines to check for clogs and other problems. The iron pipes used in older homes are especially prone to backups from rust.


3. HVAC System

Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system has many ways of causing water damage.  A frequent problem is the air handler, a device usually hidden away in the closet, attic, or basement that has fans to move air around your house. These often leak when there are clogs in the lines meant to drain water that condenses when hot air meets cold. 

Condensation can also occur anywhere there is a hole between an air-conditioned area and an unairconditioned attic. This problem can be exacerbated by an AC unit that is larger than your house needs. Cooling too quickly doesn’t give the unit enough time to dehumidify the air. 

Finally, the radiators in older homes with steam heat are hissing clanking time bombs that will eventually spring leaks from worn-out valves or rusted pipes.

What you can do:

  • Put a tray under your air handler to collect water overflows, and install a sensor to alert you if the pan starts to fill. Check the sensors regularly as they have a tendency to fail.
  • Inspect your top floor ceilings for holes through which conditioned air can mix with attic hot air causing condensation and eventually mold.
  • Make sure every new AC unit is the right size to both cool and dehumidify your home.
  • Check around all radiators for signs of water leaks, once the heat starts in the fall then every few months through the spring.


Regardless of the source, water damage is deceptive. You might see just a small patch of discoloration on a wall, floor, or ceiling, while behind it is an expanding web of rotting wood and booking mold. I’ve seen  cases where a homeowner ignored a minor leak in a door or window frame, perhaps  figuring it was easy enough to wipe up the small puddle left after a heavy rainstorm. Over time, some of those puddles destroyed much of the support for the floor, causing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. 

That’s why it always pays to check regularly for signs of any water where it doesn’t belong and address the cause as soon as possible. 


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