How to Minimize Water Damage in your Home

Updated July 17, 2014
The smallest plumbing leak can compound over time and lead to a costly repair.

If your house is flooded or damaged by a leak or overflow of water, the repairs can be extensive and expensive. Here’s what you can do to help fix the problem.

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It’s too late. The sump pump stopped working, and now the basement’s flooded. Or, you didn’t realize the upstairs toilet was overflowing until you noticed water seeping through the ceiling. Whatever the cause of the unexpected flood, there are certain steps to take (and ones to avoid!) that will help minimize the damage.

Shut off the water

It might seem obvious, but in a sodden moment of “Oh crap!” and a rush to soak it up, you might forget to locate the source of the leaking water and turn it off.

“For example, if you have a leaking appliance, a leaking water supply line, or fixture such as an overflowing toilet, look for the water shutoff valve to the appliance or fixture," says Mathew Farris, owner of highly rated Mammoth Restoration & Cleaning in Columbus, Ohio. "If you can’t find that shutoff valve, look for the water main shutoff valve to the home."

If the leak's related to the sump pump, Farris recommends homeowners first make sure it’s still plugged in and the electrical breaker hasn’t tripped. Also check to see if the drain is clogged or the float is stuck, before concluding the pump failed completely and will need to be replaced.

Protect the home

Once the water is shut off, your responsibility is to protect the home from further damage. Place buckets in rooms with active leaks, and move valuable and light furniture to a safe place. Use a tarp in the affected area if necessary.

“Quickly report the claim to the insurance company,” says Geoff Bowen, co-owner of highly rated Bowen Agency in Durham, North Carolina. “The insurance company needs to be given the opportunity to send a water remediation company out ASAP in order to prevent mold growth and further damage.”

Bowen adds that if it’s after hours or a claims representative isn’t available, homeowners should contact a water remediation company directly. “The insurance adjuster will thank you for this, and it’s something you’ll need to do even if the damage isn’t covered by insurance,” he says.

Although your insurer may recommend a remediation provider, homeowners have the right to select their own provider — take a few minutes to review remediation or water-damage professionals on Angie’s List.

Call in a pro

Water can be sneaky — even after you mop it up, the effects often linger. “Any amount of water damage, minor or catastrophic, has a high probability of becoming a mold problem if not addressed properly,” says Mike Belk, operations manager for highly rated Gold Coast Flood Restorations in Santee, California.

“If there’s any chance at all that walls, cabinets, ceilings or porous flooring materials have been exposed to water, it’s a good idea to call a specialist to perform a detailed moisture inspection," Belk says. "Even seemingly innocuous damage may be worse than you think. A small puddle of water in front of your dishwasher might seem minor, but it could be the tip of the iceberg.”

If in doubt, call a water remediation professional. “The amount of damage may not be apparent in every situation,” says Jason Renwick, owner of highly rated Flood-X in Lawrenceville, Georgia. “A small service charge to inspect for moisture now is better than a large mold remediation bill later.”

Don’t do this!

A pool of standing water in your house might cause you to panic — which is understandable — but whatever actions you take, avoid messing with anything electric.

“Do not use TVs, radios, computers, ceiling fans or any other electrical appliance while standing on wet carpets or floors, particularly concrete or tile floors,” says Michael Herzog, an insurance agent with highly rated James Zander & Associates in Dallas. “Do not plug or unplug any electrical appliances, and don’t use your regular household vacuum cleaner to remove water.”

Homeowners should also avoid irreversible actions such as carpet removal or drywall demolition until a professional assesses the situation, Belk says.

“All too often we see zealous homeowners destroying expensive carpet that probably could have been salvaged by a restoration expert. Also, in older homes, lead and asbestos may be present in building materials and improper removal by a DIY homeowner may lead to hazardous contamination problems,” Belk says.

Insurance coverage

Every homeowner wants to know the bottom line — what will insurance cover when it comes to water damage? According to the Insurance Information Institute, standard homeowner’s and renter’s insurance covers burst pipes, wind-driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof.

“Some policies cover sewer and drain backups, but many do not; however, you can purchase a sewer backup rider to your policy for around an extra $50 each year, with the policy limits varying depending upon the insurer,” says highly rated Allstate Insurance agent Joe Schneider, located in Chicago. “We highly recommend an annual insurance review with your agent, so you know what your policy covers and what it doesn’t before a loss.”

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