How to Minimize Damage from a House Water Leak

A few years ago when my daughter entered college, she arranged for a friend to stay with us who needed a place to live. Emily took over Cassie’s bedroom and earned her keep by cleaning the house. Emily was a great boarder and became a friend. However, I had no idea how valuable she’d prove to be.

My husband and I left Emily behind as we headed for a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in Colorado for my husband’s brother and wife. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the drive from Nebraska. We arrived with the expectations of a fun, relaxing weekend.

But as soon as we entered the house, filled with family, someone told us we’d had a call from home. Something about a leak. Keith and I glanced at each other. A water leak? In the house? That couldn’t be good.

For the last week before we left, both Emily and I had heard gurgling sounds, but could not pin down anyplace water appeared to be leaking. Our house has no basement and sits on a concrete slab, so it isn’t hard to check things out-or so we thought. We finally figured the sound was coming from the pipes and left it at that. That was a foolish thing to do.

In Colorado and with some trepidation, we called home. The news was disheartening to say the least. Emily told us she went into the bathroom only to find water rising out of the floor vent and spilling out across the floor. She wanted to know what to do.

That question was easy. When water is leaking the first thing to do is to shut off the main water valve.

With the water off, Emily would not be able to stay in the house and she had to find other accommodations. Meanwhile, she wanted to know what else she needed to do. We instructed her to call my brother Paul, a contractor, who’d built the house. Since we were not in town, we trusted Paul to know whom to contact to find and fix the water leak.

Had we been home, we could have contacted a plumber on our own, though we might still have asked Paul for a recommendation. One of the things we needed to discover was the source of the water leak. Was it under our house or further out toward the street. It meant the difference between knowing whether it was our or the city’s responsibility. If it was their responsibility we wouldn’t have to pay for the usage of the water continually spreading throughout our house. Turned out not to be the city’s problem.

It wasn’t easy to find a water leak under a concrete floor. Those called in to find and fix the problem ended up breaking through walls to trace the path of the water pipes and breaking up concrete in order to reach pipe beneath the floor. Eventually they followed the water leak to its source. Turned out a pipe under the house had been laid over a rock that, over the years, wore a hole in it. Once punctured, water began to seep into the bedrock of sand, building up until the house literally settled on the water-logged sand bed. The water found its way into the house through the vent in the main bathroom. Before the water leak was found and fixed, water saturated several rooms.

The damaged meant Keith and I also could not return to our house, but had to spend a night in a motel after the weekend in Colorado. Of course, we contacted our insurance as soon as possible. The agent assessed the damage and we got new flooring and carpeting in the hall, bathroom, one bedroom and in the dining and living rooms.

Had Emily not been living in our house, who knows how much more damage would have been done to our house before we returned, not to mention the bill for all that water!

Because of Emily and insurance, our situation was not nearly as bad as it could have been. It is important to make sure you have enough insurance to handle problems that may arise and keep it updated. It is also important to notify your insurance company as soon as possible once there is a problem.

Know where the water shut off valve is located and make sure everyone (outside of very young children) know where it is located. We could have minimized our damage further had Emily known where that valve was located (it is not easy to find) since she had to wait several hours for us to arrive in Colorado. (We had no cell phone at the time and she only had the Colorado number to call.)

Water seems innocuous, but leaving water standing will cause all sorts of damage if not taken care of as soon as possible. Thanks to my brother, we were able to get someone to our house fairly quickly. We had to replace dry wall, concrete, flooring and carpet. Thankfully, we did not have to worry about electrical damages or fried wires since the flooding water did not rise to that level.

Before you have a water leak in your house.
Make sure you have adequate insurance and know how to contact your agent quickly.
Make sure those in the house, old enough to be of help, know where the water shut off valve may be located.

If you hear strange gurgling sounds or your water bill seems unusually high, don’t wait for a water leak-check it out.

If you have a water leak in your house.
As soon as possible, shut off the water.
Contact a plumber.
Contact your insurance.
As much and as soon as possible, move anything of value out of the water’s path.
If there might be electrical damage remove yourself from a possibly dangerous situation until the wiring can be checked.

With foresight and quick action, much water leak damage can be held to a minimum.

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