Faulty pipes and other plumbing fixtures can often cause leaks, and the resulting water damage can be serious. The good news is that most such problems are preventable, which can save you plenty of headaches and avoid a serious, er... drain on your wallet!

According to the specialist consulted for this article, the number one cause of water damage is neglect, and it can take a variety of forms both inside and outside homes.

Identifying sources of potential problems

Here is a list of the top five sources of water damage that any homeowner should be aware of:

1.    A known leak that goes unrepaired: It all starts with a sweaty pipe or a drip-drip-drippy faucet… The problem may be an old cast-iron pipe, a faulty kitchen or bathroom faucet, the toilet tank, the inlet tube leading to a toilet or accessory (e.g., a washbasin), etc. You keep putting off the repair job… and eventually forget that it needs to be done. Then all of a sudden, you find water has seeped in under the kitchen counter, at the bottom of a cupboard, under floorboards or inside a wall…

If the situation isn’t addressed, rot and mould will set in, and connected plumbing components will deteriorate as well. The worst-case scenario is a collapsed ceiling or section of flooring. Plumbing work can be expensive sometimes, but there’s truly nothing to be gained by postponing it!

2.    Frozen pipes that burst: This occurs most often in unoccupied apartments that are left unheated, or in poorly insulated areas of a home. To learn how to remedy this specific type of problem, see our Tips and Tricks segment on the subject.

3.    A water heater past its prime: Why wait until you see a water heater leaking before replacing it? As Clément Bouclin, owner of Plomberie F. Dussault, reminds us, the device’s date of manufacture is listed on a label on its side. After a while, he says, problems are inevitable: “People keep them for 19, 20 years. In my experience, the average lifespan of a water heater is 12 years. So after 10 or 11 years, it’s time to think about changing it—especially if you live in a condo or above another housing unit!”

4.    Faulty washing machine inlet hoses: Periodically inspect your washer’s inlet hoses to make sure they are in good shape. Replace them if you see any cracking, or after 10 years. A caveat about stainless steel braided hoses: avoid the cheaper models!

5.    A dry sump: If you have a sump pump in a basement or crawl space, but the sump that it sits in isn’t constantly filled with water, chances are it won’t work when you need it most, because some of its parts may get stuck. The smart thing to do if your sump tends to go dry is to pour a few litres of water in, every three months or so, and activate the pump.

6.    Unemptied outside taps: Always remember to drain water from outside taps (unless they’re impervious to freezing) before winter comes. Otherwise, it will only take two or three days of subzero temperatures for them to burst—and then, once a thaw occurs, a leak will as well.

7.    A blocked drain on a flat roof: Make sure there is no debris clogging the roof drain’s strainer basket that could keep water from flowing into it.

In an emergency

What to do if, in spite of your precautions, something breaks and you’ve got water all over the place:

Shut off the valve on the water pipe leading to whatever element is leaking. That valve will usually be located close to the leaking element (e.g., underneath a kitchen sink or bathroom washbasin, behind the bathtub plumbing access panel, above the water heater, on a radiator).

If you can’t access that valve, find your home’s main water shutoff valve; it is most often in the basement or crawl space, on the inside foundation wall facing the street. This valve controls the water supply to the entire house; simply turn the handle to shut it off.

When it comes to plumbing, an unlucky break is always possible, but the key to avoiding unpleasant surprises is not to neglect maintenance. Any specialist will tell you, that’s a watertight argument!

Our thanks to Clément Bouclin, owner of Plomberie F. Dussault, a CAA-Quebec Approved Supplier, for his contribution to this instalment of Tips & Tricks.