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Tips for recognizing, fixing three primary sources of water damage

Woman dealing with kitchen leak
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Plumbing: This one seems obvious but sometimes it’s just not. For instance, when was the last time you emptied out the cabinet under your kitchen sink and checked for signs of moisture?

Slow leaks stemming from loose pipes and fittings, such as those associated with the sink trap, garbage disposal and dishwasher, may not result in puddles but they can cause damage over time. The most significant problem caused by slow leaks is the growth of mold. 

To detect water leaks, homeowners should visually and physically inspect the pipes under their sinks, around toilets and those leading to showers and tubs every 3 to 4 months. Pipe joints can become loose over time, especially if the pipe is made from PVC and the drain is routinely subjected to hot water. PVC pipe is able to withstand water temperatures of 140º Fahrenheit but hotter temperatures and long durations of high heat can make pipe joints susceptible to failure. 

To prevent leaks, it’s wise to use strainers on all drains to prevent clogged pipes as a result of hair or debris build-up. Never put grease down the drain and watch your water pressure. High pressure can cause weakened pipes to burst. Especially if you travel frequently during winter months, it’s a good idea to install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect against the increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting during your holiday.

Roofs and gutters: What is up will come down, so if your roof is not up to the task of repelling rainwater and snowmelt, you’re going to get wet. 

Don’t wait until you see the telltale signs of moisture – dark water stains on ceilings – be proactive and have your roof inspected at least once each year for missing or loose shingles and damage caused by falling limbs, moss and roof penetrations. 

Moss grows in the presence of moisture, so if moss is present it’s likely that the roof needs attention. Also, moss can work shingles loose, creating the opportunity for larger quantities of moisture to enter the home. 

Roof penetrations such as drains, vents, gas lines, chimneys and mounts for satellite dishes or solar panels are another source of potential water entry. Check that the caulking and flashing around each penetration and at roof joints is secure and in good shape. While up on the roof, have the technician inspect any chimneys for loose bricks or boards, and make sure that the chimney cap is working properly.

Having high-quality gutters that are sized correctly to handle water runoff is essential to good water management. Open gutters should be cleaned at least twice per year to remove fallen leaves, seedlings and other debris. The key to a healthy gutter system is good water flow, which includes having downspouts in several locations to carry water from the roof at least 2 feet from the home. An elbow with a 90º angle at ground level and downspout extensions and trays can help prevent soil from washing away at the foundation of the home and, in turn, can prevent foundation damage.

Foundations: Some movement, settling and sinking is normal. So are tiny cracks, especially in the first few years after a home’s construction. Hairline, vertical, diagonal and shrinkage cracks typically do not affect the home’s structural integrity and are easier and less costly to repair. 

However, horizontal, stair-step and foundation slab cracks can mean that the home’s foundation has structural issues. According to foundation experts, one or more cracks in this category should warrant concern even if the fissure is as small as a 1/4-inch and with or without the presence of moisture.

Horizontal cracks can be the result of excessive water pressure impacting the home’s foundation. Left untreated, foundation cracks can grow and allow both insects and water to enter the home. 

Sometimes the telltale sign that a house has foundation issues isn’t seen in the basement but rather in the movement of doors, or lack thereof. Doors that stick and  don’t open or close properly can be an indication of foundation settling. Likewise, gaps around window frames and exterior doors, and sagging floors can merit a call to a foundation specialist. 

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