Although frozen, bursting pipes aren’t the only ways you can experience water damage, they are one of the common ones during the cold season. Water damage can simply be the result of pipes being damaged accidently, the result of rust or years of use, or repairs not being done correctly or not using the best materials available.
Whatever the reason, water damage can easily be extensive, very expensive and potentially life-threatening, if it leads to moldy conditions. Fortunately, there are effective and affordable ways to prevent such occurrences because of cold weather.
Water Damage Prevention Home Winterization Suggestions
- Shut off the water supply if the property isn’t going to be lived in for a while. Idle water inside anything is a perfect candidate for ice in the winter.
- Drain hose bibs and outside sprinkler systems.
- Detach all outdoor-connected hoses; drain completely before putting these away neatly in a shed or elsewhere.
- Insulate snugly all pipes in parts of the home not completely heated (like attics, basements, garages, etc.), pipes under or near exterior walls, and pipes exposed to the elements outside.
- Properly and routinely clean your gutters; debris and leaves trapped therein can dam water, which, in turn, can freeze or end up seeping into the house; the water damage this creates can be as bad as that caused by frozen pipes, especially if the problem remains unresolved for a long time. Even small amounts of water over time can be very destructive.
- Consistently check out the roof and make repairs, as needed.
- Drain the water heater completely if you will be out of town for an extensive period of time. If someone can come around to check on the property, then leave the tank full; ask the caretaker to leave the hot water dripping on coldest nights.
- Unplug and empty out completely freezers and refrigerators; leave doors open to prevent mold from accumulating.
- Completely unplug all electrical appliances; this will prevent their being damaged during storms or triggering a short circuit if waters seeps over or into them.
- Discourage rodents and pests from coming in the house by not leaving any containers of water around and by taking care of dripping or leaky faucets and pipes.
- Especially for places where the heating may fail or won’t be on, introduce anti-freeze into toilet bowls, tanks and sink traps so that water damage is avoided.
- Keep at least a minimum amount of heating available for unoccupied property, if you can afford to do so; a heated property is less likely to lead to burst pipe(s).
- Rake debris and leaves away from the home’s foundation, especially near crawl space openings. This can invite rodents and pests to come for a visit and allow water to accumulate and then possibly freeze near pipes.
What to do if water damage does occur
Should your property experience water damage, especially because of burst, frozen pipes, do remember to:
- Put a stop to the source of water, otherwise the damage will persist and repairs cannot begin.
- If safely possible, unplug all electrical appliances and devices near the affected area.
- Turn off all circuit breakers to affected areas—to the whole house, if the whole house was affected.
- Immediately turn off your cooling/heating system if any sewage or leaking water got near it or into it; this system could end up contaminating your whole house if not turned off.
- Remove items, if possible, that got wet—you may have to discard these things if they were wet for a while or if mold is beginning to show or give off its familiar stench.
- Pin up curtains, draperies and other fabrics that didn’t get wet to prevent contamination and residual water damage.
- Minimize traffic around and over any wet surfaces; you don’t want to spread whatever is in the water.
- Wear breathing protection if the area smells bad, if enough time has elapsed for mold to form as you do not want to breath in mold spores.
- If possible, contact a restoration, water-damage management service immediately—they are trained in minimizing the damage, salvaging things (when possible), and restoring things to normal in the least amount of time while following much-needed precautions.
- Beware that some things may not be salvageable—especially if the items in question were immersed in the water for a long time, mold formed around them or sewage is involved.
- Know that removal of the water is only the beginning of the solution; a drying and cleaning/disinfecting process is also crucially important.
In general, hiring well-trained, bonded water damage management and strategic drying professionals is the most important way to off-set the repercussions of a major cold-weather-related accident involving water pipes.
While you may not be able to save everything in the property, prompt, efficient action can make it possible to salvage some things, while at the same time reducing the amount of time clean-up/drying off will take, opportunities for anyone to get hurt, related costs, and the chance that insurance will not cover the entire cost (or all the cost) because prompt action (as many policies now require) wasn’t taken by the homeowner after they discovered or were informed about the damage.