Keep Water at Bay

Here are 5 tips for protecting a home from water hazards.

March 19, 2014

There’s no need yet to acquire an ark, but water certainly has become a bigger menace in many parts of the country. Even storms that don’t escalate into the next Katrina or Sandy can still destroy basements, foundations, roofs, and interiors that once seemed immune to heavy rains.

To prevent damage and avoid large out-of-pocket expenses, home owners should stay on top of maintenance and repair needs. The average water damage insurance claim between 2008 and 2012 for a worst-case flood totaled more than $38,000, according to National Flood Insurance Program data.

These are key steps home owners should consider to protect their property from the ravages of water.

  1. Block Water From Entry Points:
    • Roof shingles that are missing or damaged need to be replaced. Curling shingles can allow water to leak in, and rusty nails or cupping shingles may indicate damage.
    • Gutters and downspouts that are too narrow, aren’t cleaned periodically, or aren’t pitched properly may permit water to come too close to a house, seep in, and damage the foundation, according to Wayne Owczarzak, owner of Mr. Handyman in Wheaton, Ill.
    • Windows and doors with broken glazing will likely allow in water and should be repaired or replaced.
    • Foundations, basement floors, and walls with cracks are additional sources of water entering from the ground, says Owczarzak. White haze, baseboard warping, and paint cracking are all warning signs.
  2. Put in a Second Line of Defense:
    • Sump pumps collect water and send it away. Because they operate electrically, a home owner may want to consider purchasing a generator in case power goes out during a storm. Pumps need to be cleaned periodically so silt from yard waste doesn’t settle, says Randon Gregory with Ram Jack, a foundation repair company in Ada, Okla.
    • French drains collect water along the perimeter of a home and direct it to a sump pump. Exterior waterproofing offers even more protection.
    • Interior drain tiles direct water that gets in to a drainage system under the floor, which pumps it out.
    • Boilers and furnaces should be elevated to keep from being flooded, says builder Jeffrey Collé of East Hampton, N.Y.
    • Window wells should drain properly and be accessible for debris removal. Precut plywood to cover window glazing is useful for hurricane-prone areas.
    • Alarm systems in your home can connect to a computer, the Internet, or a mobile device to warn you of impending disaster. ConnectSense, for example, makes sensors that monitor water and temperature extremes.
  3. Buy the Right Insurance:
    • While home owners in high-risk zones must carry flood insurance, it might be wise for others who live near water, whether a creek or an ocean, to do so as well. “Many claims come from low-risk areas,” says Lisa S. Jones, owner of Carolina Flood Solutions LLC. Advise your clients to buy a policy that covers all possibilities, including “sudden water damage.” Condo owners also need coverage. Take inventory, photograph valuables, and save receipts of significant purchases for possible insurance claims.
  4. Act Fast if Water Pours in:
    • Water damage should be dealt with immediately to avoid more costly problems, says Will Southcombe with PuroClean, a property damage restoration franchise. “Time is your greatest enemy. Bacteria can become activated, resulting in sour smells and contamination. The cost [of waiting] can be five times greater,” he says.
    • Turn off pipes once water starts flowing.
    • Call in a damage restoration company—it can determine where water has gone and where it’s headed. Pros will help stop the flow, remove damaged property, dry the interior, decontaminate to avoid mold, and demolish unsalvageable materials.
    • Prioritize people and pets. If water comes in fast and furiously, get everyone out, says Southcombe. Never touch wires that could shock you. Lives matter more than a house and its contents.
  5. Protect Your Pipes:
    • Insulated pipes won’t freeze and burst in cold weather. Master water valves should be turned off in vacant homes, or if home owners in a cold climate leave for a while.
    • Open cabinet doors to allow in warmer air and let faucets drip, both help avoid freezing when temperatures plummet.
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).


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