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In deep water: Preventing water damage in your home

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When the Polar Vortex attacks without mercy, à la The Day After Tomorrow, a swift but harsh cold front can cause a drastic change in temperature and major problems for your home – icicles running down your walls, lumpy carpets, and mold, to name a few.

If your home's pipes burst, you will need to take immediate steps to stop the leakage and begin clean-up efforts. At vipHomeLink, we're all about "preventing the preventable", so we asked Don Joyner, owner of Great Lakes Waterproofing, how to prevent a river from running through your home.

The $50,000 problem 

"One inch of water can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 of damage in a basement," says Joyner.

Water damage can occur without warning. Broken pipes generally happen due to events, e.g. the Polar Vortex, but high water tables, sump pump failures, improper topsoil grade level, and blocked downspouts can also lead water right into your home.

According to Joyner, water is hard to tame. "When you can't patch it or seal it, all you can do is control it and redirect it."

Alleviating the pressure 

For homes suffering from hydrostatic pressure, or a concentration of water underneath the floor due to a high water table, Joyner suggests an interior drain tile system.

"This is designed to release pressure by giving the water somewhere to go, usually into a sump pump or a sewage ejector, and then out of the building."

An interior drain tile system requires excavating below the floor to install a tubing system that wraps around the basement perimeter and ends at the sump pump. Since the system can handle 5,500 gallons an hour, "it's like having a fire hydrant hose in your home," says Joyner.

Preventing water damage can be expensive but often not as expensive as the damage created by an interior flood.

The sump pump blues 

Sump pumps save your basement from utter destruction, and if you've ever experienced a power outage during a rainstorm, you know how quickly a sump pump failure can lead to disaster.

According to Joyner, most insurance companies won't cover sump pump failures unless there is a rider in the homeowners' policy. The industry recommends replacing sump pumps every three to six years, even if they're working properly. However, a well-maintained sump pump can last up to 25 years, depending upon the type and amount of wear-and-tear.

If your pump is more than three years old, it's imperative that you maintain them to manufacturer standards and check them every season to make sure they're working properly.

The blockage that can harm your home 

Owning a home requires a lot of routine maintenance, including the dreaded cleaning of your gutters.

Clogs in your downspouts can cause a backup in your gutters and result in water overflow, leading to damage inside your home. Joyner suggests checking your downspouts every spring and fall to make sure they extend eight to 10 feet out – that's code (and important for keeping your home dry). Then check that they're operational and maintained. Also, evaluate the grade level of the topsoil and downspout extension for proper drainage. Standing or pooling water near the home's foundation is a neon-flashing sign that something isn't right with your system.

Improperly installed or damaged eaves also can direct water into your home. When cleaning out of your gutters and downspouts, give these a quick evaluation, too.

Minding your mold and mildew 

You thought the worst part of a water damage was wet sneakers and pants, but mold and mildew can threaten your entire home.

"Once molds gets into the carpet and drywall, you can't get it out," says Joyner. "You have to cut it out, treat it, and control it."

Joyner stresses that mold and mildew can set within 24 hours of water damage, depending on the humidity. Mildew first forms, which when left untreated, can form mold. Mold can eventually form black mold, which is an entirely different horror blog. The best way to eliminate mold and mildew is to call a professional service such as Servpro or Stanley Steamer to handle water damage repair before calling a waterproofing company to prevent another event.

However, the biggest problem with mildew and mold is not its effects upon your house but on your body.

"A lot of times, people think they have the flu or the cold or allergies," says Joyner, "but water gets trapped behind plasterboard or in block walls, leading to the formation of mold. Breathing in these spores can cause symptoms that mimic colds, flus, and allergies, and lead to bigger health risks."

Stop a flood the moment after it begins with an auto water shut-off valve. Learn more about these imperative devices in our vipTIPS.

Engage a water whisperer

For some places, summer is the dry time of the year. Sure, the occasional rainstorm may pop up, but hurricane season hits the East Coast in the fall, and spring brings melting snow and April showers. According to Joyner, these are the seasons where homes suffer the most water damage.

While it's always a good idea to get a home inspector to survey a dwelling before closing, it's important to discover any water damage or the potential for it before fall rolls around and you suddenly have a pool inside your basement.

A professional home inspector may use an infrared camera or a moisture meter to find evidence of damage, leaks, or excess moisture. (Condensation on walls, floors, and windows can tip you off during your initial walk-through.) If the home inspector finds evidence, give your local waterproofing team a call. They'll help you discover the source of the problem and provide estimates for solutions, just in case you still want to make an offer on the home.

Joyner's advice: "There's things homeowners can do themselves – landscapes, eaves' repair, downspouts—but mostly you want to call a professional to make sure the job is done right."

Learn about homeowners insurance and if they cover water damage in our vipTIPS. Not a member? Subscribe today with a 90-day, risk-free trial. 


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