It’s pretty dramatic to turn on the news and see a raging river that’s brought a flood of water 4 feet deep through someone’s home.
But what doesn’t make the news — and what’s far more likely to happen in your home — is water damage from a pipe, toilet, or some other much more common source.
It’s not something we give much thought to, but here are some practical home maintenance tips for keeping that water where it belongs.
Where are your water shutoffs?
First and foremost, do you know how to shut your water off should a leak occur? Typically, there are shutoff valves, called “stops,” located on each water line at each individual fixture; for example, there’s a stop on the cold water line leading to the toilet, and individual stops on the hot and cold water lines leading to each sink faucet.
There should also be individual stops for the dishwasher and icemaker, as well as larger shutoff valves for the hot and cold water lines at the washing machine, and the cold water line at the water heater.
In addition to the individual stops and valves, there’s a main shutoff, which shuts off the water to the entire house.
It’s very important that these stops and valves are in good working order — especially the main shutoff — and that you and all the family members know where they are. Take a moment to locate the main shutoff valve, and verify that it shuts off all the water to the house. If it doesn’t, have a plumber replace it immediately.
Excessive water pressure also can cause water pipes to leak or even rupture. If you suspect that your home might have too much pressure — typically anything in excess of 80 pounds per square inch (PSI) — have your plumber or water supplier test the pressure and install a pressure regulator.
Hoses and flex lines
One of the most common sources of water leaks in the home are the hoses and flexible copper lines that lead to your dishwasher, refrigerator ice maker, and washing machine.
Plan on checking the fittings on these lines for leaks once a year, and replace your washing machine hoses with reinforced hoses every five to seven years. Maintain 4 or more inches between the back of your washing machine and the hose connection to prevent kinking the hose and creating damage.
Overflowing and leaking toilets
Check the toilet supply stop and water line for leaks, and replace them if necessary. Check around the bottom of the toilet for moisture and also for softness in the floor, both of which can indicate a leaking wax ring (the seal at the bottom of the toilet) that needs to be replaced.
Another common source of water damage is an overflowing toilet, typically caused by a clog. While sinks and tubs have overflow protection built into them, it’s only recently that Penguin Toilets introduced the first toilets with built-in overflow protection as well. It’s a great idea, and well worth considering if you’re in the market for a new toilet.
If the Penguin Toilet gets blocked for any reason, the rising water will reach a series of overflow holes at the back of the bowl, where it drains through a secondary flow system that bypasses the main trap and empties directly into the main drain system. There’s also a second backup set of drain holes under the rim. You can learn more about this clever design at www.penguintoilets.com.
Tub and shower leaks
Take a look at the area around your bathtub and shower. Remove and replace any loose or cracking caulk. Replace cracked or missing tiles, and re-grout the tiles as needed. All of these areas allow moisture to get into the walls or onto the floor, and can create a lot of potential damage.
There are two less obvious things to look for, and they can indicate potentially serious problems.
If you see or feel any softness or discoloration in the flooring or the drywall around the bottom of the shower or bathtub, it could be an indication of dry rot. Also, if water remains standing in the bottom of the tub or shower after use, it could indicate that the floor is no longer correctly sloped, a potential warning sign of a weakened floor. In either case, call a professional to inspect the situation immediately.
If you rely on a sump pump to clear water from your basement or crawl space, don’t ignore it! Sump pumps need to be tested annually to be sure they’re operating correctly. Also, if you see that your sump pump is coming on more frequently than usual, that could be an indicator of a water leak somewhere, or some type of grading shift that’s allowing exterior water to work its way inside.
If your sump pump is the only thing that stands between you and a wet basement, then you need to have a backup available that can be quickly switched out should the first one fail. It’s inexpensive insurance that could prevent very expensive water damage.
Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.