Winters in the Northwoods can be long. Ground covering snow may come as early as November, so by early April we are ready for the snow to melt. But is your home ready for the snow melt and spring rains. Here are some tips to make sure you are fully prepared to keep your home dry and get help if water finds it's way into your home.
You will hate me for this, but let's start with your insurance policy. First, make a full pot of coffee. Then read through your insurance policy. Look for any language related to the following: water, unoccupied home, ice damming, ground water, surface water, fixtures, pipes, sump pump, ice maker supply lines, mold and flood. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Read any language you can find about ice, snow, water and mold. As best as you can, determine inclusions and exclusions. If you are at all uncertain about your coverage, call your insurance agent.
Second, look for any caps on claims. Even a basic water intrusion can cost several thousand dollars to fix. If you have a cap of $3,000.00 and the restoration contractor hands you a bill for $5,000.00, you will have to make up the difference. Third, know your deductible. If you selected a high deductible to save on your monthly premium, make sure you have at least your deductible amount in the bank. Your restoration contractor is likely to ask you for some means of payment that will cover the deductible before they begin work. Finally, your insurance company will only reimburse you for the total bill, minus the deductible. The insurance company is not obligated to the the restoration contractor. The home or business owner pays the restoration contractor.
Now let's talk about your home. Walk around the outside or your home. Look at the roof edges. From the top down do you see snow, then ice, then the edge of your roof? If so, you may have an ice dam on your roof. Water can pool behind ice dams, backing up under your shingles, soaking your roof decking under the shingles, rafters, insulation, ceiling structures and finally intruding into your attic and living space. A drip in the living room usually means everything above that spot is soaked and needs to be professionally dried. If you see that drip, do not poke it to assess the damage. Poking it may release a large volume of water and structural materials on to your head. Call a building contractor and a water restoration professional to inspect what is going on.
Also, don't just wait for it to dry. The stage is now perfectly set for mold growth in and above your ceiling.
If you find ice dams it's important to get the water out from behind the ice dam. Some DIY types will spend time on the internet, find what they think is a solution, and have success. Some DIY types will spend time on the internet, find what they think is a solution, and fall off the roof. Be extremely careful if you choose to treat ice dams yourself.
Next, test and service your sump pump. Your sump pump is one of those things that is easy to forget about......until it stops working. It's critical that you test it's operation periodically because, unfortunately, failed sump pumps often result in water pooling in your basement. Also, failed sump pumps may not be included in your insurance policy. (Check your policy.) Here is a link to a web site that describes some simple steps to service your sump pump.
Another culprit for water damage is the outdoor water bibs for garden hose attachment. If you have an interior shut off valve for the outdoor spigot, open the interior valve. Stay close to the valve and turn it off immediately if you see or hear water flowing where you do not want it. Listen carefully. It could be that the pipe is cracked inside the exterior wall. Even in a warm home, cold can travel along metal pipes and into your home, freezing any water that was left in the pipe near the exterior wall. If you see and hear that the pipe is is not leaking, go outside and open the spigot. If it wont open, the spigot itself may be frozen. Assuming its a metal spigot, carefully thaw it with a heat gun. Once you can turn the valve and see a trickle of water coming out, let the water do the rest of the work of thawing the spigot.
Perhaps your home was unoccupied during the winter. Assume nothing when you open it up in the spring. Even with the best winterizing plan, there are many things that can cause a water damage. Toilet floats that haven't been used all winter can stick and cause an overflow. Faucet gaskets may have deteriorated over the winter. Rodents may have decided to nibble on plastic piping. So, the first time you pressurize your water system for the warm season stay in the home for a few hours. Operate all fixtures several times. Stick your head above drop ceilings and under all sinks. Get a visual on all plumbing that you possibly can. Most important, listen. Water running where you don't want it to run can often be heard. If you have a well and your well pump is cycling on and off while all fixtures are closed, you are losing water pressure somewhere or your pump is broken. Turn off the main water valve. Call a plumber.
Next, give surface water a way to move away from your home. Make sure all gutters and down spouts are clear as soon as you can after the snow melts and before heavy rains begin. This year we had a ton of snow and it's melting late. This means, most likely, that when it does melt it will melt fast and be followed by rain. The first warm spring rains might even melt the snow. In this case, you may have water pooling close to your home in places it never has before. Find a way to move that water away from your home.
Finally, if water has invaded your home, call a professional restoration company immediately. Don't delay. The longer you wait the worse it gets. What you can see is often only part of the problem. With fiber-optic scopes, penetrating and non-penetrating moisture meters, and thermal imaging cameras a professional restorer can find water where you can't. This is important because any excess water left in your home will cause further damage, including the possibility of mold growth.
I'm happy spring is arriving even as I write this blog. Let's all stay happy about this annual event by keeping the water only where we want it to be.
Eric Nei, Owner/CEO