Protect Your Home from Water Damage

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Did you know, water damage is more likely to occur in your home than fire damage? We protect our homes from catastrophes, but water damage could be just as dangerous.

Plumbing leaks are common anywhere there is running water, such as:

  • Toilets
  • Faucets/Sinks
  • Dishwashers
  • Ice makers
  • Water heaters
  • Tubs/showers
  • Washing machines
  • Internal pipes and hoses

Water damage isn’t only a problem financially; it can lead to serious health risks from chemicals, toxins and mold, such as rashes, asthma or other chronic health conditions. Additionally, recent studies have shown that children with prolonged exposure to water damaged rooms in their home are at a higher risk of developing eczema.

Whether from a slow leak or flooded basement, water damage can be devastating, but there are things that a homeowner can do to mitigate or minimize the extent of the damage.

  • Check for leaks or cracks in hoses that run to the washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator at least once a year and replace these hoses every five to seven years.
  • Be sure the caulking around tubs and showers is free of cracks.
  • Know where your water main is located and how to shut it off.
  • Install floor pans under appliances to prevent damage from slow, undetected leaks.
  • Use water leak alarms, which will alert you to a leak in basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and sump pumps.
  • Buy a water flow monitoring system, which attaches to your water main and, if flow that exceeds normal use is detected, will automatically shut off the flow of water into your home.

Investing in your aging infrastructure

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Aging infrastructure is a growing concern for homeowners in North America and many communities took note of the problems facing not only city infrastructure, but homeowners as well.

While Canada is home to only 0.5% of the worlds population, it contains approximately 7% of the worlds renewable water supply according to Environment Canada. For Canadians, water and sewer lines that bring fresh water and remove waste are essential as Environment Canada identified Canada as one of the highest water uses per capita in the world. A pinhole leak in a water pipe can release thousands of gallons of clean water into the ground. In areas prone to excessive heat and droughts, water is a precious resource few can afford to waste. Additionally, a leaking sewer system can release thousands of gallons of ground pollution into the environment if left broken. People rely on these lines daily to bring fresh water and remove waste from their homes. Their continued functionality is essential to everyday life and maintaining the health and environment of all communities. 

Environment Canada estimates up to 30% of the total water entering supply-line systems is lost to leaking pipes.

While we can’t completely prevent failures to service lines, homeowners can protect their infrastructure with programs like Service Line Warranties of Canada’s warranty program.

For more information, please visit:

Environment Canada
http://www.ec.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&

Water Use
http://ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=2AE761EC-1 

Water Wise
http://ec.gc.ca/eau-water/default.asp?lang=En&n=F25C70EC-1

Sewer backups could lead to health problems

Ill man with a feverRaw sewage left untreated contains a variety of pathogens, chemicals and nutrients – many of which pose a serious health risk. Additionally, research shows billions of gallons of raw sewage flow into waterways every day, putting the health of millions of people at risk.

When sewage backs up into the home, the overflow leaves behind germs on the surfaces with which it’s been in contact. The degree of danger depends on how long the sewage was in contact with a surface, the type of materials contaminated by sewage and how long the occupant was exposed to the sewage. Left untreated, exposure to sewage could leave you with gastrointestinal (GI) distress, hepatitis, skin rashes or infections. In extreme cases, sewage can also contain rat urine, which could lead to Weil Disease – which can result in liver and kidney damage if not treated and can be fatal.

While sewage germs are rarely airborne, in an emergency it’s important to seal off any backups until a professional can rectify the situation. If you must handle raw sewage to clean, always use protection, including rubber gloves, eyewear, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. If available, a breathing apparatus is highly recommended.

If you discover a backup, remember:

  • Contact your warranty service provider and/or a local professional about the situation.
  • If there is standing water near electrical appliances or outlets, turn off the power to that location.
  • Do not flush toilets or drain sinks. If you must continue using sinks, plug the drain or use a bucket until the drains have been cleared.
  • Keep children and pets away from the sewage.
  • Wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with raw sewage and never touch it without gloved hands.
  • If your home has a septic system, contact the local health department for advice on how to properly dispose of the water/sewage.
  • Contact a professional to clean up large jobs to ensure you eliminate the possibility of health risks.

Should you hire a professional cleaning company after a sewer backup?

woman mother cleaningSewer line breaks result in messes, which require cleanup. While many homeowners may roll up their sleeves to do the work themselves – you may consider hiring a professional cleaning agency that has the appropriate tools and necessary experience. The decision is one of personal choice that involves time, money and the extent to which a homeowner is willing to risk exposure to the health hazards.

While homeowner’s policies don’t cover repairs to a broken or leaking sewer pipe, some might cover the cleanup, so read your policy or call your insurance representative to determine coverage. If your homeowner’s policy provides coverage, it’s highly recommended that a professional restoration service be used. After assessing the extent of the damage, make a list of what you can do yourself and what you may want a professional to handle. This should include a minimum of replacing floor coverings and wallboards, checking the home’s foundation for cracks or splits and pitching any ruined materials or sending them out for professional cleaning. Sewage may have possibly contaminated your heating and air conditioning unit and duct work, so have it professionally serviced.

If you plan to do it yourself, experts suggest investing in professional cleaning gear to protect yourself from bacteria. This includes protective eyewear, gloves, boots, pants and long-sleeved shirts. Be sure to wear goggles and, if possible, a face mask when hosing off items to protect from back splashing. Remember to never touch contaminated materials with your bare hands and always wash your hands thoroughly after cleanup.

Here are a few tips for cleaning up sewage:

  • Dry the space out, removing all water with a sump pump, wet vac or bucket. Many of these items and more can be rented locally.
  • Control the temperature to improve the evaporation rate and ventilation.
  • Collect and discard properly of all solid waste. Contact your local Health Department for instructions on discarding.
  • Discard carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture. Wallboards or paneling with water stains should be cut above the water line and replaced. Generally, all porous materials contaminated by sewage should be discarded – such as cardboard boxes, paper items, books, magazines, mattresses, pillows, stuffed animals and anything else difficult to clean. Clothing may be salvageable if laundered professionally.
  • Wash all contaminated areas with a detergent solution and apply a disinfectant (anti-bacterial) or a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Disinfectants and/or bleach should be in contact with the items for 15 minutes or more to be effective and then allowed to air dry.

Whenever sewer backups happen, because of the health risks, it’s best to contact a professional restoration company for cleanup to ensure your home returns to its original state.

Myth Busted: I Can Pour Anything Down the Drain

iStock_000007110284XSmall US marketplace benefitsDrains are found in sinks, showers, garbage disposal, toilets and stationary tubs. What most frequently goes into your drain? The correct answer is water. Water leaves your home via the sewer or waste water line and fresh, clean water is supplied to your home via the water line. What many people don’t realize is that, besides water, what goes into your drain impacts the condition of your service lines.

Before pouring hot bacon grease down the drain, you might want to think twice. As grease cools it begins to solidify, which will accumulate along drain walls and start to trap food, hair and debris. Eventually, flow will be impacted because the lines become clogged.

Things you should not pour into a drain, grind in a garbage disposal or flush down the commode include:

  • Solid foods, such as fruit rinds or peels, cereal, etc.
  • Paper products, such as paper towels, disposable diapers and feminine products
  • Hair (human or otherwise) or lint
  • Dirt
  • Cigarette butts
  • Medications
  • Chemicals, such as antifreeze; insecticides; pesticides; cleaners and solvents; fertilizers; paint; batteries and more

Cooking oil, grease or greasy foods can be frozen or mixed with cat litter or coffee grounds in an empty can and put in the trash. Certain household chemicals can contaminate septic tanks and wastewater treatment systems, as well as harm sanitation workers if poured down drains or commodes. All medications should follow proper  disposal requirements, which can be found here. Many communities have “take back” programs that enable residents to drop off unused medication and special collection days for chemicals to ensure their proper disposal. Learn about the Environment Canada standards for chemical disposal here.

Do I need a water or sewer line warranty?

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It’s not uncommon to have homeowners tell us they don’t need a water or sewer line warranty because their lines haven’t broken and will never break. While we’ve uncovered this is far from the truth – many homeowners are unsure if they need a water or sewer line warranty. When evaluating whether or not to purchase a water or sewer line warranty, homeowners must first understand the coverage details. Warranties are not the same as insurance. While insurance typically covers damage to personal property as a result of service line failures, disasters and extreme circumstances (such as fire, flood, etc.), warranties focus on normal wear and tear – such as aging, ground shifting and tree root intrusion. Problems due to normal wear and tear with the sewer and water lines located outside the home are usually not covered under traditional homeowner’s insurance policies and could be very costly to replace or repair.

When considering whether or not to invest in a water or sewer line warranty, consider the following:

Age of the home
It’s common knowledge as products age, the failure rate increases. While newer homes with PVC pipes may be at lower risk than a 50-year-old home with clay pipes, the age of your home can help determine your need. As homes age, so does the infrastructure supplying water to and removing waste from them.

Types of pipes and length of lines
Do you know of what materials the water and sewer lines inside and outside of your home are made? Some materials are more prone to problems and have shorter life expectancies than others. Knowing what the lines are made of can help determine the level of risk. In addition, the longer the line, the greater the risk of failure and the higher the cost to replace them.

Weather
Weather conditions can affect a pipe’s life expectancy and conditions as they swell with changes in temperature and ground shifting. If the area in which you live is prone to heavy rainfall, droughts or extreme temperature changes – your infrastructure could be at risk.

Plants
The closer your water and sewer lines are to the ground’s surface and  plants and trees, the greater the chance of roots permeating the pipes. It only takes a small pinhole for a root to begin to infiltrate the line, which may result in a leak, clog or break.

Cost
What is the cost-benefit ratio? Should you pay a small monthly fee for the warranty or do you have enough in your emergency fund to pay for a repair that could cost from $1,300 to $3,500 or more?

Fine Print
Check out the Terms and Conditions of the warranty. Do they adequately cover your particular situation?

Company
Before buying any product, do your homework; research financial stability, outstanding consumer complaints, etc.

Time
One of the many benefits of participating in a maintenance or warranty program is the ability to make one call to solve the problem. If your service line breaks, consider the time invested in locating a qualified, local plumber and scheduling the visit, which may require taking time off from work and is disruptive to your daily routine.