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Preventing water damage

When pipe bursts or an appliance malfunctions, there is the potential for devastating damage. Some things are out of your control, but there are a lot of small things you can do to minimize your risk and rest a bit easier.

Before water strikes

  • Take a look at the hoses that attach to your washing machine, fridge icemaker, dishwasher, and toilets. If they are plastic, they will harden over time and burst. Invest in braided hoses that remain flexible and provide you with the maximum security. When you install them, you’ll need to turn off the water, which will reinforce what you need to do to stop the water from running in the case of a burst pipe. While you are checking the hoses, take a good look at the lint trap in your dryer and consider getting the dryer vent cleaned out – lint is a fire risk.
  • If you live in a home built before 1992, check for potentially faulty Crane toilets that were manufactured between 1980 and 1991. Remove the toilet tank lid and look for the eight-digit serial number stamped into the tank. If it starts with a “V” and the third and fourth digits are between 80 and 91, consider replacing your toilet. Crane brand toilets manufactured during this period could have a manufacturers defect which makes the tank more likely to shatter spontaneously, and this can cause significant water damage, especially if it occurs while you are not home.
  • If you store things in your basement that are important to you (photos, mementoes), put them in heavy duty plastic bins. The same goes for important papers like income tax records and any banking statements you don’t shred – see tips on preventing identity theft.
  • If you have a desktop computer, make sure the hard drive is not sitting on the floor – a stand that raises it 5 to 10 centimetres off the ground will protect it from the worst of water damage.
  • If you have renovated your apartment (like removed carpets and installed hardwood floors, or replaced contractor-grade with top-of-the-line appliances), make sure you have the right insurance coverage for these building improvements, so that if they are damaged in a loss, you will have coverage to have them replaced.
  • Check to see if your home insurance has any requirements related to water coverage that would apply when you are out of your home for a period of time, for example, if you went on a lengthy holiday. Some providers require your pipes be drained and that you have someone visit the home to confirm the heat is maintained.
  • If you have a plumber in for one reason, invest a few dollars in having him or her conduct a quick check on other appliances, drains, and pipes to ensure that everything is in proper working order.
  • Check your water heater periodically for signs of leakage – it may be possible to save an expensive repair (and a nasty experience with flooding) by paying attention to signs of age. Likewise, if there is any noticeable leak around your dishwasher or fridge (especially if you have a built-in water dispenser), take action before a small problem becomes big.
  • You may wish to consider installing a leak detection system in your home. These systems are designed to automatically shut off your main water supply if the detect the water running for longer than a predetermined amount of time, or if you have programmed them to indicate you are out of the home or on vacation. Your home insurance provider may also have discounts available if you have a system like this installed, so check with them!

If water strikes

  • Don’t panic. Shut off the main water supply first– then do a quick assessment of things.
  • Call your insurance provider as soon as you can – the faster you have help with the clean-up, the less damage there will be to your things and the faster you will be able to get back to a normal life. Generally, a water damage claim will be considered an emergency and you should hear back from your adjuster within a few hours. The claims adjuster will be able to help you determine the best options.
  • If there is a chance that grey or black water might be in the mix (black water is contaminated by sewage and is potentially hazardous to your health), don’t start moving wet things from the contaminated area to a dry area – you’ll risk contaminating more things and causing more damage. This is what the experts are for.
  • If the water is clear, do what you can to move items out of the path of water and dry up the area as best you can to prevent further damage.
  • If there is a chance that electrical appliances have been exposed to water, don’t touch them.
  • If the water damage is caused by an opening in your home, like a tree crashing through a window, be aware that there may also have been wires knocked down – again, these are the types of things your claims adjuster is trained to manage – just make sure you tell him or her in advance if you can, so they are more prepared to assist as fast as possible.
  • If the damage is so severe that you must move out of your home, make sure to take the essentials – if black water is involved, you may not be able to return to your home for a while. Remember that emergency bag you packed for the earthquake? Now is a good time to use it.

It is important to deal with water damage as soon as it occurs. Many home insurance policies require the loss to be sudden or accidental for coverage to apply, and also exclude damage resulting from mold, or continual leakage or seepage. If you have any issues with water entering your home, address them to avoid larger problems in the future.

Preventing water damage checklist

To help you prevent water damage, Square One has prepared a list of questions that you should be able to answer. To help find the questions, review the help text next to each question. If you’d like to print or save the checklist, feel free to download the checklist as a pdf.


QuestionAdvice
Whole house

Where is the main water shut-off located?

Usually in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house.

Often located “on grade,” so if in the basement, look about eye level. If on the main floor, look down near the floor. Or, look for an access panel, if the valve is behind drywall.

If there is a water leak, shut off the main water supply, and keep it off while repairs are being done. Remember that some insurance companies may ask that you shut off your water supply when away from home for a significant length of time, like a vacation.

Do you have a water leak detection system?

Usually in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house.

Various types are available. Many models can be set to shut off the water if it is running for an unusual period of time, which can prevent your entire house from being ruined, especially if you’re away from home.

Does your home have copper plumbing?

Copper plumbing is longer- lasting, and less fragile than other types of plumbing.

Is there any galvanized steel or Poly B plumbing in your home?

Both types tend to leak over time. You may want to consider replacing these types of plumbing, or getting a plumbing inspection, because they tend to deteriorate invisibly from the inside out.

Is your computer on a shelf (or desk), not on the floor?

Water can quickly ruin a computer. Make sure all components are above floor level.

Are important papers kept on shelves, not on the floor?

If you store important papers in the basement (or main floor if no basement), place them on a shelf above ground to prevent damage in the event of flood.

Kitchen

Where is the kitchen water shut-off located?

Look under the sink for 1 or 2 valves (1 for cold, 1 for hot) in older homes, or a single small lever in newer homes. If any appliances spring a leak, or if you are doing any plumbing repairs in the kitchen, turn off the water supply.

Are there braided steel hoses on the dishwasher and any other appliances holding water?

Regular rubber hoses are prone to break down over time, especially in the presence of hot water and household chemicals like bleach. Braided steel hoses are much longer lasting.

Bathroom

Where is the bathroom sink water shut-off located?

Look under the sink for 2 valves (1 for cold, 1 for hot) in older homes, or a single small lever in newer homes. If you notice dampness under your bathroom sink, you could have a leak.

Turn off the water supply when making repairs, or if there is a sudden large leak.

Where is the water shut-off for the toilet?

Look under the toilet, against the wall, for flexible metal tubing. Turn the handle clockwise until it stops. Don’t use excessive force.

Where is the water shut-off for the tub?

Often found in a wall or tub access panel. If you can’t locate this, you will need to shut off the main water supply.

Are there any leaks around the faucet?

This could indicate the O-ring needs replacing.

Are there any leaks around your toilet?

There could be seals that need replacing. Crane toilets manufactured between 1980 and 1991 tended to crack, and cause significant water damage.

Basement (or main floor)

When was the hot water tank replaced?

Hot water tanks generally have a life expectancy of approximately 15 years.

Do you check around the hot water tank, at least annually, for signs of leakage?

If you notice any leaks, you may want to pro-actively replace your tank before it bursts. Alternately, you may wish to consider a tankless system.

Where is the shut-off valve for the washing machine?

Usually the valves are exposed above and behind the washer. Turn both valves clockwise.

If you can’t see the valves, slide out the washer to see if they are behind the machine, lower down.

Are there braided steel hoses on the washing machine?

Regular rubber hoses are prone to break down over time, especially in the presence of hot water and household chemicals like bleach. Braided steel hoses are much longer lasting.

Do you check washing machine hoses annually for leaks or kinks?

Kinks can cause the rubber to crack. You may need to move the machine further away from the wall.

All hoses should be replaced periodically. If a rubber hose is beginning to feel rigid, it is becoming brittle and is in danger of cracking.

Are important papers kept on shelves, not on the floor?

If you store important papers in the basement (or main floor if no basement), placing them on a shelf above ground can prevent damage in a flood.

Do you have a backwater valve?

This will prevent water from backing up into your home, when municipal sewer systems become overloaded.

Does your home have a sump pump?

This is very important if you live in an area prone to sewer back-ups.

If your home has a basement, are there any signs of water damage on the wall?

If yes, check that downspouts are directed away from the home, and that there is no blockage in eavestroughs (gutters).Perimeter drains may need replacing. Walls may need to be waterproofed.

Exterior

Have you checked window wells to see if they are draining properly?

If the window wells are not draining properly, water can back up in a heavy rain, and enter the home through the basement windows.

Are eavestroughs (gutters) being cleaned annually?

Eavestroughs tend to clog up with leaves and debris. This can cause water to enter the house.

Are downspouts directed away from the home?

Consider adding an extension to the downspout to make sure water drains well away from the home.

Is your yard graded so that rain water runs away from the house?

If the yard slopes towards your house, any rainwater will run directly towards your house, putting pressure on your perimeter drains.

For any questions about your home insurance policy and the coverage you have for water damage, it is best to speak with an insurance agent and also review your policy wordings. For more information, or to get a quote on your home insurance, contact Square One at 1.855.331.6933.

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Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $15/month.

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