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4 Plumbing Maintenance Tips to Avoid Costly Water Damage

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4 Plumbing Maintenance Tips to Avoid Costly Water Damage
7 min. read

Image: kurhan / Shutterstock.com

The cost of repairing your home after water has damaged the walls, flooring or any other structure can be very high – often reaching thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, it’s estimated that water damage and mold alone cost insurance companies more than $2.5 billion every year.

So, how can you avoid water damage? While it’s not always possible to avoid damage caused by flooding, storms and hurricanes, there is one source of water damage that is almost always avoidable – damage caused by your plumbing.

Burst pipes, faulty plumbing fixtures and leaks can cause serious damage over time. But, fortunately, a few basic maintenance tips will ensure that you won’t have to worry about calling an “emergency plumber near me” or a water damage remediation service!

  1. The Main Water Shut-Off Valve: Where it is & How to Use it

Whether you have an overflowing toilet, a burst pipe or any other plumbing-related issue in your home, there’s one simple way to stop the flow: shut off the water. And, conveniently, you can turn off the supply of water to anywhere in your home with the main water shut-off valve.

If you notice a serious leak or water damage that you suspect is related to your plumbing, this is the first place you should go. It cuts off the water at the source, stopping water from flowing into your home. As a result, it will also stop the leak in your home, no matter where it is.

Usually, you’ll find this valve somewhere in the basement near the front foundation wall and within about three to five feet of where water enters your home. However, it could also be located in a crawlspace or another utility area.

Once you’ve found your main water shut-off valve, familiarize yourself with how to use it. In a standard design, turn the knob or lever clockwise to shut off the water to your home. Then, whenever you need to turn it back on, just rotate it in the opposite direction.

If you can’t find the main water shut-off valve on your own, ask your plumber the next time they come to your home. They’ll be able to identify it and tell you where it is, and how to use it. Then, make sure that everyone in your home knows about its location and use, so that they, too, can shut off the water in an emergency to prevent water damage.

  1. Prevent Pipes from Freezing in the Winter

Pipes in a crawlspace or poorly insulated basement could be prone to freezing in particularly cold weather. This is because water expands when it freezes, which can rupture the pipe and lead to a serious leak.

However, there are a few steps you can take to prevent pipes from freezing in the winter. For instance:

  • Use pipe insulation to keep warm any pipes that are near cold air (such as in crawlspaces or basements). This type of insulation looks similar to a pool noodle, and splits apart for easy installation onto your pipes. It’s simple to install on your own, and usually costs less than $.50 per foot.
  • Keep your thermostat above 55 degrees in the winter, even when you’re not home.
  • Maintain the same interior temperature during the day and at night.
  • Open up cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen to encourage the flow of warm air around the pipes in very cold temperatures.
  • Allow a trickle of water to drip through the faucet on extremely cold days.
  • Disconnect hoses and drain water from exterior taps.

For more information about how to keep pipes from freezing during cold snaps, consult with a qualified local plumber.

  1. Check Your Sump Pump at Least Once per Year

If you have a basement, you may have a sump pump, which pumps water away from the foundation and the basement, and also keeps it dry during heavy rainstorms. Yet, many homeowners don’t test their sump pumps regularly and may only think about them during heavy rainstorms. Unfortunately, if your pump fails during a storm, there’s probably nothing you can do about it; your basement will likely flood.

On the other hand, if you check your pump regularly, you can identify potential faults and issues early to avoid costly water damage. Plan to inspect the pump at least once per year or multiple times during heavy storm seasons; it could save you quite a bit of money.

Because the process for testing a sump pump may vary based on your unit, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, if possible. In most cases, you’ll just have to fill the sump pit with water. Then, you should see your sump pump’s float start to rise, which will activate the unit. Once your sump pump kicks on, you should notice the water level falling as the sump pit is emptied.

If your sump pump doesn’t turn on automatically when you test it, or if it doesn’t seem to be pumping water properly or quickly enough, you may have a problem. In that case, contact a local plumber to check it out and ensure that you’ll be prepared if there’s a big storm or rainfall in the near future. 

  1. Consider a Twice-Yearly DIY Plumbing Inspection

You don’t necessarily need to be a plumber to inspect your pipes and plumbing fixtures; you can check your home’s plumbing system yourself twice a year.

Start by taking a look at the pipes in your utility room or basement. Look for any visible signs of corrosion, cracks, leaks or other issues, such as loose fittings or anything else that looks like it could be a problem. Also, check the water heater and other related fixtures, as well.

Then, check all of your faucets, taps, showers and other fixtures for signs of leaks. For example, discolorations and stains near a tap, dark spots under pipes in cabinets, and discoloration in a wall or on a floor can indicate a leak. Wobbly or “rocking” toilets can also be a sign of a potential leak.

If you spot anything that looks suspicious or you think there is a problem, don’t hesitate to call a professional.

  1. Sniff Out Mold or Mildew to Uncover Hidden Leaks

Leaks that are hidden behind a wall could be nearly impossible to detect until they’ve already done severe damage. So, how can you recognize them? By using your nose!

Mold needs a relatively warm, dark and moist environment to grow, and water leaks provide the moisture that mold and mildew need to take hold inside of a wall. If you’ve started to notice a nasty, “old gym sock” smell in a particular room – such as a bathroom, kitchen or basement – chances are that you have an undetected leak.

In this situation, you’ll likely need to have the area tested by a specialist to identify the presence of mold, and you may need to work with them and a plumber to address the source of the leak and eliminate the mold from inside the wall. This is not always cheap; but, the sooner you get help, the less you’ll pay. Ignoring the issue will just make it worse.

Keep Your Home Safe from Water Damage

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That old adage is especially true of plumbing and water damage. While water damage can be extremely costly to repair, most minor plumbing issues are quick and affordable to fix – as long as they’re caught before they become too severe.

If you suspect that you have a hidden leak in your home, don’t wait. Get help from a qualified emergency plumber right away. Meanwhile, stay on top of your plumbing with these tips to prevent water damage before it becomes a problem.

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