12 Steps to Prevent Water Damage in Your Home
Expert Advice

Image: Deposit Photos, Andrew Lozovyi

Water is an essential resource, but when it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can instead cause extensive and costly damage to your home.  With winter storms in full force, and the possibility of frozen water pipes bursting, now is the time to take preventive measures.  In this guide from our friends at This Old House, we’ll identify areas of your home most vulnerable to water damage and offer tips for prevention.

Protect the Exterior of Your Home from Water Damage

No matter where you live, your home’s exterior must withstand various weather conditions. Water from rain, rivers, snow, and storms can lead to flooding, moisture accumulation, or exterior leaks.  Over time, these conditions can cause substantial damage to your home’s exterior and foundation. Use the following recommendations to control stormwater near your home and maintain your home’s structural integrity.

Ensure Proper Runoff and Drainage

When it rains, the water on your roof should travel to your gutter system and be sent away from your house. Ensure you have a complete gutter system installed and maintain it with annual cleanings. You may want to install gutter guards to reduce maintenance needs. Also, keep gutter downspouts clear of debris and extend them to direct water further away from the foundation if necessary.  You might need to create a French drain (a gravel, free-draining trench) around your home for better groundwater drainage. Without these measures, you risk water accumulating around your home’s foundation, which can cause erosion, house settling, and basement leaks over time.

Grade the Lot Correctly

Consider the slope of the ground near your home. Areas that slope inward toward your house or create a depression where water can accumulate increases your risk of water damage. You can re-grade or level the affected areas of your lot to keep water flowing away from your home. Grading is not an easy DIY task, especially for a larger area. In such cases, you may need to call in professionals with specialty equipment and expertise for proper grading.

Maintain Your Roof System

The roof is your home’s first defense against leaks from rain, sleet, and snow. Regularly inspect your roof for any damage that could allow water to enter, especially after high winds. Examine the roof structure and material—whether shingles, roof tiles, metal, slate, or any other type—and make sure it’s intact, and there are no torn, cracked, or missing pieces.  If you’re uncomfortable using a ladder or climbing onto your roof, contact a local roofing company for an annual inspection or a post-storm assessment. Regular roof inspections can prevent costly repairs down the line.

Seal Windows and Doors

Windows and doors are easy targets for water intrusion. Re-caulk around these openings every few years or when the caulk shows signs of cracking or wear. Redo worn-out weatherstripping around doorframes and replace any broken window glass. If a window appears past its prime, it is likely time for a window replacement.

Check Sprinklers and Irrigation Systems

The sprinklers and irrigation systems that keep your grass and plants alive could be the culprit of water damage. Check for leaks in your sprinkler system that could allow water to seep into your foundation or basement walls. Direct sprinkler water away from your home when possible, and only use the necessary amount of water to keep your lawn hydrated.

Repair Chimney Components

Chimneys can be susceptible to water intrusion due to aging materials or poor installation. Regularly inspect your chimney for holes or cracks that allow water to enter. You may need to do chimney maintenance, such as replace damaged flashing, repoint mortar, and repair cracks to ensure your chimney has a proper seal. Also, check that your chimney has a cap to prevent rain from getting inside the flue.

Protect the Interior of Your Home from Water Damage

Rainfall and flooding are not the only cause of water damage. Plumbing leaks, sewage backups, clogged drains, and faulty appliances can all cause water damage in your home. You can proactively reduce your risk of indoor water damage with routine home maintenance.

Keep Drains Free and Clear

Clogged drains and backed-up pipes are major causes of indoor plumbing problems. Check that your sink, tub, and shower drains are always clear and functioning properly. Regularly clean and remove debris from drains to maintain water flow and keep your plumbing system in good working order.

Check Water Supply Lines Regularly

It’s easy to forget about the water supply lines connected to faucets, toilets, appliances, and water heaters, as they hide in cabinets, behind walls, or in basements. Make it a regular habit to inspect these lines for any signs of leaks. It’s also important to regularly open and close the water valves to ensure they remain in proper working condition and do not seize up over time.

Prevent Basement Seepage

Watch for water in your basement after a heavy downpour. Seal any cracks or gaps in your basement walls to prevent further water seepage. In extreme cases, structural foundation repairs might be necessary—consult a structural engineer for guidance. Consider installing a sump pump to drain the excess water for consistent flooding issues.

Keep an Eye on Your Water Pressure

Low water pressure can indicate a leak in your pipes. Alternatively, monitor your water pressure by routinely checking the gauge on your water line where it enters your home. Standard residential water pressure should be between 30 and 80 pounds per square inch (PSI). You can also review your water bills—any fluctuation in usage can alert you to a potential leak. To further safeguard against leaks, consider installing a leak-detection device that monitors your water flow and automatically shuts off the flow when a leak is detected.

Prevent Sewer Backups

Sewer backups cause water damage and pose serious health risks due to contamination. You can install a backflow preventer valve on your sewer pipe, which stops wastewater from flowing back into your home’s plumbing system from the main line. For this prevention measure, hire a professional plumber capable of working on underground sewer lines.

Maintain Water-Connected Appliances

Water-connected appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and water heaters, can experience leaks that cause water damage. These leaks aren’t always visible, so routinely check water hoses and connections for leaks and replace worn-out parts. Tighten loose connections and consider installing an automatic shutoff valve for added protection. 

Our Conclusion

It’s essential to monitor your home’s interior and exterior for any leaks or damage that could allow water intrusion. Over time, water intrusion leads to expensive and inconvenient damage. Keep up with routine maintenance, such as cleaning gutters, re-caulking windows and doors, and replacing damaged windows and shingles. You can create a maintenance routine to stay on top of these tasks, timing it out for the spring and fall of each year.  Call a professional if these recommended water damage prevention methods feel a little out of your comfort zone. Even handy homeowners may wish to avoid climbing on ladders to inspect a roof, replace windows, or install a leak-detection device.