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Plumbing fixture failures and faulty installations are a leading cause of interior water damage in homes and businesses. Even in the warmer months, when frozen pipes are not a threat, costly losses can arise from what would appear to be simple plumbing problems. Minor leaks and clogs should be taken care of properly as they may be signs of more serious issues.
If a pipe, appliance, hose, or fixture contains running water, it needs to be properly maintained to prevent any water related losses. The list below contains the places where failures are most likely going to happen if not kept in working order.
Clogs and overflowing toilets made up 33% of all toilet failures that led to water damage. The valves and flushing mechanism of every toilet in your building should be inspected every six months to ensure they are working and show no signs of wear. The shut off valve should be easy to turn and the supply line should be able to be turned off as well.
Drains & Pipes
Banging pipes, increased water bills, rust stains, and moisture on walls and floors are all signs of plumbing and drain problems. Keep drains and pipes clear of obstructions, and never pour grease down a drain. Have a backflow prevention system installed in your sewer connection if your home or business is located downhill or below street level. For an extra security measure, have a house leak detection system installed.
Failure of the hose which supplies water to a washing machine is a leading cause of water damage. The hose should be replaced if there are cracks or blisters, and/or if the tubing appears worn. This should be done every five years or when the situation merits. If you are planning on vacating the building for a long period of time, turn off the water supply valves. When doing the laundry, do not overload machines and only use detergents designed for this type of use.
Like any piece of equipment, age is an important factor in the odds of a mechanical failure. Even with proper maintenance, water heaters need to be replaced after they reach their life expectancy (typically around 10 years – check your manufacturer for model-specific information). In addition, water heaters should be inspected by a plumber every year for broken valves, loose joints, and rust.
You can learn more about how you can prevent plumbing systems from causing water damage to your building by accessing the IBHS’s website.
“Plumbing Archives – IBHS.” IBHS. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, 2016. Web. 13 Dec. 2016.
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During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.
Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:
- Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
- Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
- Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
- Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
- Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks
Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.
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Once all of the snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, it’s always a good idea to conduct a bit of spring cleaning. And while you and your family are dusting around the house and donating old clothes, it is also a good idea to review your current insurance policies and make sure their coverages are still adequate. If you have recently made improvements to your home, bought an expensive piece of jewelry, or plan on going somewhere for vacation this summer, now is a good time to talk to your agent to ensure you’re fully covered. The Insurance Information Institute has a quick spring cleaning insurance coverage checklist to help you decide if your policies need a bit of spring cleaning this year. You can view the list here.
It’s time to “spring forward” for daylight saving early this Sunday morning, March 13. Since it occurs twice a year, daylight saving is the perfect time to perform basic maintenance in and around your home:
- Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check to see if they have expiration dates, and change the batteries.
- After a winter of using your fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney cleaned and inspected.
- Clean out dryer vents and hoses to prevent lint buildup and potential fire hazard. Read more dryer safety tips here.
- Check your fire extinguishers’ gauges to make sure they are still charged sufficiently. If they’re low, contact your local fire department to find out where to recharge them. Extinguishers must always be recharged after use. Make sure one is always easily accessible throughout your home.
- Get ahead of the crowd. If your roof needs fixing or replacing start contacting contractors now. Read the 10 question to ask a roofing contractor.
- Check outside railings, stairs, and walkways if you have them for needed repair after the winter.
- Check trees for signs of damaged branches that might need to come down. Consider contacting a tree professional.
- Perform spring maintenance on appliances and home systems:
- Change filters in your HVAC systems as needed, or have them serviced.
- Clean your refrigerator—wipe down the inside and vacuum underneath and behind to ensure optimal operating efficiency.
- Drain the water heater to flush out sediment.
(Did you know that sudden damage to these home systems and appliances caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars. Read more on how to protect these systems.)
- Change your windshield wiper blades. If you have snow tires, plan to remove them as the weather gets warmer and snow and ice are no longer on the horizon.
- Contact your insurance agent to review your coverage to make sure it’s still adequate, especially if you’ve had any major purchases or life events in the last year.
Daylight saving is a helpful calendar reminder to do these routine maintenance tasks. We’ll make sure to publish one in the fall as well, which will be somewhat different due to seasonality.
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Did you know failure to properly clean and maintain a clothes dryer is the leading cause of a dryer fire? Here are some precautions to help prevent these fires:
- Have your dryer installed and serviced by a professional, and make sure it’s properly grounded
- Don’t use the dryer without a lint filter, and make sure to clean the lint filter before or after each load of laundry
- Remove lint that has collected around the drum and wash the filter screen to remove chemical residue every six months. Vacuum the motor area to remove dust and lint. (You may have to remove a panel.)
- Use rigid or flexible metal venting material to vent outside. Vacuum out accumulated lint twice a year.
- Make sure that the outdoor vent flap isn’t blocked or covered and will open when the dryer is operating, especially when snow starts to pile up.
- Clean commercial dryer vents regularly—they get a lot of use and have a common venting system.
- Don’t overload your dryer.
- Turn off the dryer if you’re going out and when you are going to bed.
These tips are courtesy of the Office of the State Fire Marshall, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Fire Protection Association. To find more detailed information, view these NFPA dryer-safety tips.
(Photo Credit: IBHS)
Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.
- For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
- Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
- Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
- Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
- Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).
During periods of severe cold:
- Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
- Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.
Before leaving for an extended period of time:
- Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
- Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
- Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
- Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.
My Pipes Froze. Now What?
Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.
For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.
If this coming winter’s temperatures are even half as cold as last year, we’ll once again be doing everything we can to stay warm. For this, many turn to alternative forms of heating such as fireplaces, space heaters, boilers, and traditional wood or pellet stoves.
Wood or pellet stoves are an increasingly popular form of alternative or supplemental heating during the cold season, but like every form of heating, they must be used with care. As the prevalence of these stoves has increased, so has the number of fires caused by their misuse or improper installation and maintenance. If you plan on heating your home with a wood or pellet stove, make sure you take the necessary precautions by following the tips below:
- Install the stove in a central room to maximize heating effectiveness.
- Make sure your stove and chimney are Underwriters Laboratories tested and approved.
- Hire a professional chimney sweep to keep the chimney’s flue and stove pipe clean and remove any blockages, oils, or creosote that may have built up.
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially in the room where the stove is located.
- Use only the fuel type (wood, corn, pellets, coal, etc.) the stove is specifically designed to burn.
- If you are using wood, make sure it is dry and well-seasoned.
- Non-flammable floor protection such as tile should extend out at least 18 inches on all sides of the stove.
- Always keep flammable materials away from any heating source.
- Never use liquid fuel such as kerosene in a stove.
- Prevent small children and pets from getting too close to the stove by putting up a non-flammable safety gate.
- Run the stove only when your home is occupied.
- Check the charge on your fire extinguisher to make sure it is full and ready to use in case of emergency.
Before installing a new stove in your home, check to make sure the installation will comply with your local fire and building codes and always hire a licensed and insured installer.
As you’re researching contractors for work on your home or business, it is important to remember the lowest bid may not be the best bid. Here are 10 questions to ask a potential contractor before you sign an agreement:
- Are you licensed and insured with liability insurance? (A qualified contractor should carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance to protect you and them in the event of a roofing accident.)
- Are all the workers who will be working on my roof covered under your liability insurance?
- What type of shingles and which ice and water shield manufacturer do you recommend and why?
- Are you licensed by the roofing manufacturer you are recommending? Is your license active and current? (This is important for warranties and to ensure that the materials will be properly installed.)
- What is your warranty on your work? (This is in addition to the manufacturer’s warranty.)
- Would you be pulling the necessary permit?
- Will you be onsite with your crew to ensure the work is being done properly?
- Can you provide me with at least three references?
- How will you prepare my house and the surrounding plantings to protect them?
- What is your clean-up and disposal procedure?
To understand some of the answers behind these questions and why they are important, read “Prepare Your Roof for Winter 2015.”
Last winter, many of us got an unwelcome introduction to the havoc ice dams can wreak. Even if you were able to avoid them, there are preventative measures you can take to prepare for Winter 2015. Damage from ice dams can be extensive and the repairs disruptive.
We’ve outlined some prevention tips relating to:
- Ventilation and insulation of your attic.
- Ice and snow shield installation.
- What questions to ask a contractor when installing a new roof.
- What steps to take once it starts snowing.
But first, what is an ice dam?
A line of ice that forms along the roof edge, an ice dam prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. As your attic warms up from the heat in your house the snow on your roof melts. If the temperature outside is warm enough, this water will harmlessly run down to your gutters (this is a good reminder to always make sure your gutters are clear). But when the temperature stays below freezing, this water backs up behind the ice dam and can seep under shingles and into your house.
What causes it?
Three factors create the “perfect storm” for ice dams:
- Heavy, consistent snowfall and below-freezing temperatures
- Inadequate ventilation and insulation
- Poorly installed roofing materials
The first you can’t control. But the last two you can, and should consider addressing before the flakes fly.
Prevention now — ventilation and insulation
To properly ventilate the attic and roof to permit warm air to escape, consider installing any one, or an appropriate combination, of the following:
- A ridge vent
- Soffit vents (or make sure the ones you have are not blocked)
- Roof vents or channels in the attic, from eaves to ridge
Proper insulation prevents heat loss into the attic that causes snow to melt. Consider:
- Insulating your attic floor and the underside of your roof, making sure not to cover soffit vents.
- Eliminating warm air leaking into your attic from around light fixtures, stair trap doors, pipe openings, and anything that cuts through the attic floor.
Prevention now – roofing / ice and water shield
When you are having a new roof installed consider having your roofer install an ice and water shield at least six feet up from the roof edge and two to three feet up the side walls of dormers. Work with your roofer to choose a good-quality material, one that’s substantial in thickness and self-seals around the roofing nails.
Confirm with your contractor that the shield will be installed over the fascia board and into your gutters, with the roof’s drip edge installed on top of the shield. This helps prevent water from finding a path behind your gutters and into your walls. Now is also a good time to have old flashing around any dormers or roof valleys replaced because older flashing becomes brittle and can let water enter.
But before you start any work, it’s important to use a qualified, licensed, professional contractor. There are several questions you should ask to help you choose the right roofer for you.
Once the snow starts – the roof rake
All property owners still need to keep on top of the snow when it starts to fall. A roof rake is an essential tool in this battle. Once you have one to two feet of snow on your roof, rake it off as high as you can safely reach and watch out for any wires. If you need to have your roof professionally cleared, make sure to use a qualified roofer as they understand the right way to clear your roof, mitigating any damage and subsequent repairs or leaks.
We hope these tips help you prepare as we head into winter.
If you own a home, you are very familiar with the systems that keep it comfortable and livable–HVAC, water heater, electrical–as well as the electronics and appliances you rely on every day. If you’re a renter, you might not own an HVAC system, but you still have your own electronics, appliances, and exercise equipment that you bring with you.
Did you know that sudden damage to these “home systems” caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars.
Similarly, if a gas, water, or any other type of service line coming into your home has a rupture on your property, you as the homeowner are responsible, not the utility company. That responsibility includes repair to the line as well as repair or replacement to disturbed landscaping. These costs can quickly escalate.
If you have homeowners insurance, there are coverage options available to fill the gap left by many warranties and service contracts. Check out N&D®’s options for homeowners, condo owners, and renters, providing protection for your home systems and utility service lines for less than $1 a week.