The third most common home insurance claim, behind hail and fire damage, is water damage. While large scale flooding accounts for some of those claims, the majority are related to plumbing issues in your home. Add to this, recent changes in the Alberta insurance industry resulting in many claims being denied and you have a recipe for financial stress. A failed water heater or hose bibb can leave you on the hook for thousands of dollars in repair costs. The fact is, you have the power to prevent or at least mitigate this risk. Below are seven common plumbing failures and the actions every homeowner should take to prevent them.
1. Water Heater Failure Flooding Your Basement
Traditional tank water heaters are designed to last only 8-12 years. While they may continue to work beyond this, the risk of failure increases considerably. This doesn’t mean that you need to have your tank replaced as soon as you celebrate it’s 8th birthday, but you should prepare for failure and mitigate the risk of collateral damage.
Taking some action from the start will lower your risk of an expensive problem later. Give your tank the best chance of a long life by having it drained and serviced every year. Ensure that should failure occur, water will not flow into finished areas nearby; consider installing a leak pan for example. Finally, consider finishings nearby the water heater that are not harmed by water: vinyl plank rather than laminate flooring for example.
2. Dishwasher or Washing Machine leak Causing Damage to the Ceiling Below
If your washing machine isn’t in the basement near the floor drain, you need a way for water to flow so that it doesn’t cause damage. New homes today with second or main floor laundry typically have a slightly sloped floor and a drain and discharges into the basement near the floor drain. If you have an older home install a drain and pipe or install a leak pan below the washing machine.
All appliances that use a water supply have a risk of failure and consequent water damage. Regular inspection and repair will mitigate most of that risk, and installing a leak detection device nearby each water source will give you an early warning of failures.
3. Hose Bibb Breaking in Cold Weather
As the weather drops below freezing, any plumbing fixtures not protected from the cold are at risk of bursting. Water in the pipe or fixture freezes and expands. With nowhere to go, it tears the material apart. Depending on the type of hose bib you have, there are two types of hose bibbs: standard and frost-free.
4. Sump Pump Failure Resulting in a Flooded Basement
Ignore your sump pump at your peril! This device is easy to forget about, until it fails. Regularly test your sump pump by filling it with water until the float rises and the pump activates. If it doesn’t, you need to get a professional in to have a look.
5. Humidifier Blockage Leading to a Flooded Basement
Your humidifier is probably the most neglected device in your home, and when it fails it can cause a lot of damage! Water carries minerals which are deposited on plumbing fixtures leading to blockage over time. A blocked valve on the end of the water supply line or a blocked drain line in the humidifier can result in a continuous flow of water overflowing. It’s amazing how much water can flow out of the little supply tube, and how much water damage you could be on the hook for.
Your humidifier should be cleaned and serviced twice per year. The filter inside should be checked more frequently and cleaned or replaced if it becomes clogged. You might also consider installing a water softener to reduce mineral content in water supplied to your mechanical devices (humidifier, water heater, etc.)
6. Loose Toilets Leaking and Damaging Surrounding Structure
A loose toilet is so common that you likely have one right now. It may have caused no problems in your home, but there’s a risk it will make a mess if you don’t fix it. Most often the problem is simply a matter of the flange bolts not being properly tightened, but it could also be because of a faulty or missing seal. The best way to deal with this problem is to completely remove the toilet and replace the seal to be sure.
7. Leak in Old Water Supply Pipes
Water supply lines can fail due to risky materials, age, poor installation, and exposure to harsh conditions like high or low temperatures. Replacing risky or damaged materials and considering the location and installation of supply lines will reduce your risk.
Your plumbing supply lines could be made of plastic like PEX or Poly-B, copper, or even galvanized steel. It’s not uncommon to find a mixture of some of these materials due to repairs or home improvements. If you find either Poly-B or galvanized steel, you may need to consider replacement. These materials are no longer used in residential plumbing systems due to risk of failure. Check with your home insurance company regarding coverage for these types of pipes
The most common location for a leak is at a connection link a junction, split or terminal connection to a fixture. If you are installing plumbing supply lines in your home (for example during a renovation or basement development) try to reduce the number of connection points and keep the connections accessible to inspection.