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:
- Ice makers
- Water heaters
- 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.
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.
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Raw 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.
Sewer 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.