By  Updated on Thu Aug 21, 2014

How to Keep Water Damage from Springing a Leak in Your Home Budget

Ah, kids, you gotta love ‘em.

Right before pushing off on your family vacation, your daughter Samantha bolts out of the family SUV to run to the bathroom. You’ve waited the whole year for your precious two weeks of me-time, so what’s a couple more minutes’ delay.

Your vacation races by. It couldn’t have gone better, but upon pulling back into your driveway, you spy a suspicious pool of water near the front door. Upon closer inspection, you see water seeping and oozing under the door.

How to Keep Water Damage from Springing a Leak in Your Home Budget

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Your alarm turns to horror as you squish and splash your way over the threshold, tracing the flow of water to the hall bathroom. The toilet is running. Samantha forgot to jiggle the toilet’s handle that sometimes would stick. Ankle deep in water, you’re kicking yourself (if not the walls and everything else in sight) for not fixing or replacing it before you left.

This and similar scenarios play out thousands of times each year in homes across America. You’re 10 times more likely to have your house damaged by water than by fire. And the water devastation can be swift. A three-quarter-inch hose, connected to a washer, sink, water heater or other home fixture or appliance can release about 10 gallons a minute. Over a two-week vacation, you could be drowning in regrets and huge bills.

Insurance to the rescue?

Thank goodness for insurance, right? After all, that’s why you’ve been paying all those insurance premiums all these years.

Not so fast, my procrastinating homeowner.

If your insurance adjuster determines that your catastrophe was due to your negligence or  irresponsibility — a lack of maintenance on your part — your catastrophic event might not be covered. Insurance companies are conditioned to pay when the water damage is “sudden, specific and accidental.” For example, if a big snowstorm caves in your roof, you will likely be covered. But if your roof leaks because you failed to replace some tiles that blew off your roof last spring, you’re likely out of luck.

The same goes for other areas of your home. For example, if you fail to clean out overfilled gutters, neglect to check hoses for cracking, corrosion or other signs of wear, or delay insulating pipes in winter to keep them from bursting — all as part of your routine maintenance and promise to your insurance and mortgage companies to keep up your home — you might not be reimbursed for your loss.

Manage the immediate problem

If you experience water damage, you can sort out later who’s going to pay for it. Your immediate job is to stop the source of the water as best you can. If you don’t know the immediate source of the problem, turn off your home’s water main. That goes for your gas and electricity as well. Shutting off the utilities could help reduce home repair costs. However, if you know the offending source, like a stuck toilet handle, you can spare shutting off the utilities.

Next, even before calling your insurance company, document the damage with lots of photos or videos. When you do call your insurance company, its adjuster will also take lots of photos. At the appropriate time, you can compare images, especially if your claim is disputed.

Common sense also tells you to try to minimize any further damage. Think of this as a minor mop-up or holding operation. If you’re physically able, and it’s safe to proceed, lift drapes off the floor, remove wet area rugs, move valuable paintings, art objects and photos to a safe, dry place and hang furs and leather goods to dry separately at room temperature. Don’t try to remove wall-to-wall carpet. It will probably shrink after it dries out, and you’ll be left with an expensive throw rug.

Now it’s time to call your insurance company, which usually has staff available 24/7 to take your call, begin work on your claim and set an appointment with an adjuster to assess your home’s damage.

Whatever you do, don’t undertake any major repairs until you know exactly what your insurance company will cover and pay for. A contractor, appraiser or adjuster does not have the authority to determine coverage, approve payments or begin repairs.

Even if you begin receiving reimbursements at either replacement or depreciated value (what an item is worth at the time of damage), be careful not to sign anything that says this is your final payment. You might still have outstanding unresolved claims.

Prevention is still the best medicine

As you know, water damage, whether or not your claim is accepted, can be a huge pain and inconvenience. Preventing it isn’t just the best way to reduce home repair costs, it’s also the best way to avoid stress and frustration. Many insurance companies regard water damage claims as red flags. Your claim will likely be entered into a central database accessed by most insurers, who could use your claim to inflate future premiums or even deny you insurance. A home that is uninsurable is hard to sell.

So, prevention should always be your top priority. For starters, check for the usual suspects for leaks. Routinely inspect the area around the refrigerator (ice maker), washer, dishwasher, water heater, sinks, and toilets for drips, puddles and floorings that’s discolored, warped, or moist.

Check your water bill. If you haven’t significantly changed your bathing, tooth-brushing, laundry, food preparation, dishwashing, gardening and recreational activities, and your water bill continues to rise, you could have an undetected leak. In fact, it’s estimated that 14 percent of a home’s water usage is lost to leaks, or about 22 gallons a day, which is equal to the amount of drinking water a family of three consumes for two weeks.

Water loss also can occur if your water pressure is too high. To check if your home’s pressure is in the normal range, between 45 and 65 psi, pick up an inexpensive water pressure gauge at your hardware store and hook it up to a hose bib. If you’re over the limit, install a water pressure regulator.

You can also attach inexpensive, battery-operated water detection devices and sensors that will detect water loss. More sophisticated systems, normally installed by a plumber or electrician, can shut down your home’s entire water supply, if needed.

Finally, if you’re headed out of town for an extended period, consider shutting off the water supply to all your home fixtures. Also, after you’re positive everyone is out of the house, it wouldn’t hurt to make one last sweep of your home to make sure you don’t see or hear any running water.

Otherwise, you might come home to a big surprise.

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