June: How To Prevent Water Damage from Spring Storms & Other Common Problems

How To Prevent Water Damage from Spring Storms & Other Common Problems

They say April showers bring May flowers, but according to local weather statistics, June is the wettest month of the year with an average of 4.3 inches. The two stormiest months of the year are June and July. Remember 2014? We set a record with over 8 inches. Restoration companies were flooded (pun intended!) with wet basement calls. In recent years, Minnesota has also seen record-breaking rainfalls during June. Yes, June can be a busy month for water damage insurance claims. Learn how to prevent storm and water damage by reading on.

No one can control Mother Nature, but homeowners can reduce their risk by eliminating or reducing their exposure to water damage in and outside the house. Before tackling that, policyholders should first ensure they have adequate insurance coverage. Insurance pros tell us annual reviews are essential to make sure your structure and contents are adequately protected. In our May Blog, we talked about our experiences with property losses. We often discover that home and business owners either don’t have certain coverages or their limits are inadequate.

It’s always unsettling to see home and business owners reach into their pockets to cover the loss. Those conversations are never pleasant for agents or restoration contractors. Sometimes, insurance won’t solve your problem as in the case of surface water run-off (commonly called seepage, or flood). We are not insurance experts, but our experience is that many carriers will not cover that loss.

What is surface water run-off? This is outside water that is caused by heavy rains (or snowmelt) and enters the home or business through the floor, walls, or doors to the outside. People are often shocked to discover this is usually not a covered loss. Some might think, “Why do I have insurance if this isn’t covered?”

There are several reasons for this kind of water intrusion. The problem may be with the foundation. Cracks and settling can develop over time. It can also be a leaky door. Our recommendation is to call a reputable contractor who specializes in basement and foundation repairs. They will come out and investigate where the water is coming in and provide a root cause solution.

Sometimes the solution is simply better drainage and landscaping outside. Downspouts may be dumping water next to the foundation instead of diverting it elsewhere outside. Lindstrom also encounters situations where the landscaping is poorly sloped directing the water into the house instead of away. The solution here is regrading your land near the house to direct water away. Also, longer downspouts or drain tile can move water away from your house. Some houses do not have gutters and the rain comes right off the roof and drains into the foundation. Experts can troubleshoot an appropriate fix for you.

We also see issues with egress windows (commonly called window wells). Today many homeowners have deep egress windows so that lower-level bedrooms can be legal. These egress areas can often fill up like an aquarium resulting in surface water entry into the house. The solution here is to make sure the area below drains well. Covers can also divert rain away from the house.

Sometimes the problem is unavoidable. The soil around the house may be clay which doesn’t drain well. The excess rain has to go somewhere and in an extreme situation (many inches of rain in a short amount of time) there just may be nothing you can do. Fortunately, these types of rainstorms are rare.

We’ll talk more about this next winter, but the snowy season creates an added exposure, especially when we get heavy snowpacks. Snow can drift very high next to the house. In other cases, people rake snow off their roofs and it piles up next to the foundation. The solution here is arduous but effective. Remove the heavy snow away from the house and create a channel where melting water can drain away from the house. The problem here is frozen ground. The water has nothing to drain into. Often it finds its way into a homeowner’s basement.

Okay, that’s outside the building. What can owners do about inside water damage risks? Here are several proactive, preventative measures that can be taken to prevent water damage:

Replace your water heater at least every 10 years.
Yes, you can extend your water heater’s life with flushing and other maintenance, and you can probably squeeze a few more years out of it, but at what risk?  Lindstrom responds to failed water heaters every now and then.  Fifty gallons of water flooding into a surrounding finished basement is usually a covered loss from what we observe, but who needs the hassle and an expensive out-of-pocket deductible?

Prevent ice dams before they happen and if they do build up, remove them.
Again, we will cover this in more depth in the winter.  But be advised.  The warmer weather months are the only time you can troubleshoot and eliminate the root cause problem, so if you have had prior issues, now is the time to address them.

Turn off outside water in the late fall.
Again, a better topic for a winter month, but we’ll repeat it here.  The warm weather months are a great time to repair any outside valve issues.  We recommend putting in freeze-resistant plumbing.

Have a plumber check all interior water lines and pipes for any issues.
This is a proactive measure you can take all year.  Although leaking pipes are usually a covered loss from our experience, again who wants to file a claim?  If your home is older, it’s always a good idea to keep your eye on things.

Turn off the main water valve.
Turn off the main water valve when you leave for a few days, and when you are away, have someone check on the house. Otherwise, the water runs and runs and will be an unpleasant surprise when you get home. Your faucets can also be opened upstairs to ensure draining. Make sure your family members (and any neighbors or friends who check on the house) know how to identify the main water valve and turn it off. We recommend putting a “Main Water Valve” tag on the valve so it can be quickly spotted.

Repair toilets whose water will not shut off.
We’ve all lived with this one at one home or another.  You jiggle the lever to make it stop.  Unfortunately, we are called to homes where the water has run continuously for hours throughout the home.  The toilet gets plugged and has nowhere to drain.  A famous athlete in town had this happen to him.  His toilet overflowed for 2 weeks when he was out of town.  The house was an absolute mess when he returned.

Repair or replace all roof and outside window issues.
While roofs, windows, and doors can be replaced all year, repairs such as caulking can only be done in warmer weather. A Lindstrom employee had a water damage issue in the ceiling of his living room. Thinking his 20-year-old roof was to blame, he replaced it, only to find out the same water leak occurred just a month later. It turned out to be his upper bedroom window which was originally not flashed properly by the builder. The water intrusion only occurred when the rain was being driven by an east wind. This is a common occurrence in homes. Sometimes when rain falls in a different direction, it can expose an otherwise invisible issue.

Make sure all outside valves are turned off when watering is completed outside.
Seems simple doesn’t it?  But people put hoses by the foundation to water bushes and flowers and often forget about them.  They run for hours and sometimes days and the water drains to the basement.

Prevent child-caused water accidents.
These are more common than you’d think.  Some kids love to watch the water flow over the bathtub.  Or they plug the toilet up with toys or household items.  Many rubber duckies have clogged toilets over the years.  We know of one instance where a toddler took a water hose and put it in a heating oil underground tank after watching the worker fill it with oil.  The worker carelessly left the cover off when putting the hose back into his truck.

Run bathroom fans during baths and showers
Running bathroom fans during baths/showers and for at least 25 minutes after can prevent excess moisture. Many parents know that some teenagers take VERY long showers.  The failure to run the bathroom fan can cause excess moisture intrusion in walls and you know what that means eventually

Avoid running the dishwasher and the washing machine when not home or when going to bed.
Many of us are guilty of this.  We load the dishwasher and head up to bed.  Or we load the washing machine and run an errand.  Imagine a running garden hose in your kitchen or basement.  Some considerable damage can be done in just minutes.

Maintain and replace aging water pipes and valves.
Pipes don’t last forever, but a lot of us act as if they do.  When we take our cars to the mechanic, we usually ask them to check everything, but rarely do people do this in their homes.  Proactive inspections by plumbers are a good idea, especially in older homes.

Periodically unclog inside and outside drains and sewer lines.
This is also great proactive maintenance.  Lindstrom does many sewer back-ups and believe us, this is not a clean-up you want to handle or experience.  Making sure sewer lines and drains are clear can prevent a problem later.  Occasionally, a city or township’s sewer work or maintenance will cause a problem for one or more homeowners in an area.  In those instances, you and any neighbors will have to work with the local authorities to determine liability and who pays.  That’s another good reason for having your sewer line serviced.  You can provide documentation that the problem was not likely on your end.

Too much knowledge can sometimes be a bad thing.  Restoration contractors and insurance people share one thing:  We are all aware of what can go wrong in a house, and sometimes that keeps us up at night worrying.  Alternatively, knowledge can be very helpful when cutting one’s water damage risk.  If you’ve done everything feasible to reduce the chances of water damage, then maybe you can sleep like a baby.  You’ll have done your home maintenance due diligence, and if anything else happens…well that’s why you have excellent insurance coverage.