The time to prevent plumbing emergencies is now, before they happen. By definition, when a simple plumbing malfunction crosses the line into a plumbing emergency, it usually means water’s flowing in places it shouldn’t be. When things reach that point, personal possessions and even the structure of the house may be damaged. Keeping events in the non-emergency category means proactive maintenance and inspection by a qualified professional plumber as well as becoming acquainted with the early warning signs of problems and knowing what to do if they happen. Because when they do, you can be sure of just one thing: It will be at the worst possible time.
How Bad Can It Be?
Water damage represented over $9 billion in homeowner insurance property damage claims between 2007 and 2009. That’s nearly one-quarter of property losses from all causes. Plumbing emergencies such as ruptured pipes, fixtures and water heaters account for over 75 percent of these claims and, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, the average claim was over $5000 after deductible. That statistic doesn’t even include damage from sewage backups into the home, because those events are not covered by most homeowner’s insurance. The average dollar value of damage caused by leaking water during a plumbing emergency is more than three times the amount from events such as a leaky roof.
Supply Water vs. Drain Water
Most plumbing emergencies are associated with either the water supply system or the water drain system. Because supply water enters the house under pressure from the municipal water line, supply emergencies are usually more acute and pose the potential for the greatest damage in the least amount of time unless corrective action is taken promptly. General steps to prevent plumbing emergencies in water supply systems have been itemized by the insurance industry.
- Pay attention to water bills and take note of unexplained increases that may indicate hidden leaks.
- Listen for the sound of water hammer—pipes that rattle or bang as the tap is opened or closed. This is often a sign of pipes that are no longer properly secured and may rupture. An inspection by a plumber can identify and repair the problem.
- Watch for rust-colored water or sinks that show signs of rust stains. Call a plumber if you see any.
- Look for the presence of moisture seeping up through floor slabs or out of walls.
- Inspect the soil around the foundation of the house for water erosion or the continuous presence of unexplained moisture.
- Make sure all occupants of the home know the location of the main water supply valve and how to shut it off.
Waste water spilled from defective or blocked drains carries its own set of complications. It may be sewage that presents a toxic bio-hazard or simply contaminated with detergents and other substances that can be difficult to clear from the interior environment. Here are some guidelines to prevent plumbing emergencies that originate in the drain system.
- If the home is over 40 years old and still has its original sewer pipe there’s a higher risk of obstruction causing raw sewage to back up into the home.
- Homes situated at the bottom of hilly street or on a lot that slopes downward from street level are much more likely to incur problems with sewage backups. Ask a plumber about installing a backflow prevention device into your drain system to prevent blocked sewage from infiltrating the home.
- Know the location of your underground sewer line and don’t plant fast-growing tree species close to it. Tree root invasions are a major cause of sewage blockages.
- Don’t dispose of grease or other oils in your drains.
- In the basement, keep possessions on shelves raised above the floor and located away from floor drains. Don’t store precious family heirlooms or other irreplaceable items in the basement, period.
Specific measures to prevent plumbing emergencies can also be applied to the many individual fixtures throughout your home that dispense or drain water.
Studies show that toilets produce the highest average water damage per year. Prevent plumbing emergencies due to toilet malfunctions by taking these steps:
- Remain in the bathroom until the flush/refill sequence is completed.
- Know where and how to turn off the supply water to the toilet if it begins to overflow and check the valve a couple of times a year to make sure it operates freely.
- Inspect the toilet components including the fill valve, flapper, handle and chain annually. Verify that the fill valve shuts off water when the level reaches the capacity mark on the tank.
- If you hear the toilet fill valve running continuously or turning on and off by itself, contact a plumber.
A typical residential water heater contains 40 to 60 gallons of water in the storage tank. 75 percent of water heaters will leak or burst by the end of their expected service life. Here’s what you can do to prevent plumbing emergencies that originate from a water heater leak.
- Drain sediment from the tank twice a year, particularly in areas with high mineral content in the water.
- Have a qualified plumber inspect the heater every two years, including the internal anode rod that slows the corrosion process which causes leaks.
- Manually actuate the pressure relief valve on the tank once a year to verify proper operation.
Flexible water supply hoses that connect household plumbing to a washing machine are the primary source of washing machine leaks. These suggestions from the insurance industry will help safeguard your home from a washing machine water leak.
- Turn off the water supply valve to the washing machine when it’s not in use. You can make this easier by installing a lever-style valve at the water supply connection.
- Don’t start the washing machine and then leave the home while it is running. Severe damage may result if a leak or overflow occurs while the house is unoccupied.
- Leave enough clearance between the wall and the washing machine so supply and drain hoses can connect without kinking.
- Inspect the hoses for cracks, blisters or kinks every six months. Make sure the connections to the faucet and the washing machine are hand-tight but do not over-tighten.
- Replace the water supply and drain hoses every six months. Consider purchasing braided stainless steel hoses when replacement is due.
The connection between the water supply line and the sink, usually located out of sight beneath the sink, can be a frequent source of expensive water damage. Take a minute to prevent plumbing emergencies at household sinks by checking these items:
- Visually examine the water supply line and its connections under each sink every six months. Look for corrosion on the pipes and make sure the connections are secure and not leaking.
- Check for kinks in copper or plastic water supply lines.
- Note the location of the water supply line in case of a leak and operate the valve twice a year to make sure it turns freely. If it’s locked in the open position, call a plumber and have it replaced.
Water supplied to the icemaker in a refrigerator utilizes a supply line and connections similar to sinks and other fixtures. Because of their location behind a large refrigerator, these can be a source of unseen leaks.
- Refrigerators usually aren’t installed by plumbers so check a new refrigerator as soon as it’s in use to verify that the water supply connection isn’t leaking.
- Inspect the supply hose twice a year for kinks and verify that the connections are tight. Make sure there’s enough clearance between the refrigerator and the wall to prevent crimping of the supply hose.
- When moving the refrigerator away from the wall for cleaning, take care not to damage or over-extend the water supply line.
- Note the location of the water supply valve in case of a leak and operate the valve twice a year to make sure it turns freely. If it’s locked in the open position, call a plumber and have it replaced.
Because they are typically the lowest point in a home, basements are a magnet for water damage from various sources. A basement sump pump is the front line of defense against these disasters. Prevent plumbing emergencies by following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance including these steps.
- Remove the sump basin lid and look for any debris in the sump that may clog the pump inlet.
- Pour 5 gallons of water into the basin. Verify that the float switch rises and the pump energizes, removes water from the basin, then turns off.
- Outside, inspect the end of the discharge pipe and make sure its not clogged.
- Considering installing a sump pump with an emergency battery backup. Electricity interruption often accompanies the same scenarios that cause flooding.
- Contact a qualified plumber if any sump pump malfunctions are noted.
For more advice and qualified, experienced service to prevent plumbing emergencies in the Bradenton area, contact Aqua Plumbing & Air.
Written by John Miller