Don't let a small water leak become a huge expense

One Drop at a Time

by Debra L. Karplus, MS

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Don't underestimate the potential damage from water problems at home. What begins unexpectedly as a few drops can quickly grow into buckets. Your roof, gutters, bathrooms, kitchen and basement are some of the main trouble areas when it comes to pricey water problems at home; you need to watch, listen, and be proactive when you detect drips or leaks. Never ignore water problems because they don't go away by themselves and usually worsen over time. Procrastination can ultimately cost you big bucks.

Avoid water problems outside your home.

Water from outside needs to stay outside. Protect the outside of your home by maintaining your gutters. That means cleaning them from fallen leaves and from fallen seeds and buds and "helicopters," as the kids call them, from maple trees, at least once yearly. Clogged gutters can ultimately cause parts of your roof to rot from the standing water. Also, clear areas around downspouts and use gutter splash blocks, which cost less than $10 each to direct rainwater away from your house. Never keep standing water, including uncovered containers, outside as it can attract mosquitoes, which carry disease and can cause serious illness.

In the past few years, many households have been using rain barrels attached to the downspout of their gutters to store and use rain water for the lawn and garden. These specially designed barrels are an innovative way to save on water usage while being respectful of natural resources and of the environment, and can be purchased for less than $100 at many home improvement stores, or you can make your own for even less.

Divert water away from the house foundation. One way to reduce basement flooding is to build up the soil around your house, each spring and fall, making sure the soil slopes downward away from the house. This also may eliminate rodents from sneaking into your house. You probably can get the soil from your garden or yard without spending a penny.

Maintain your indoor plumbing and stop the drop in every inside spot.

Leaky faucets need to be fixed. That subtle rhythmical dripping sound coming from the bathroom may lull you into a blissful sleep each night, but your next water bill will be a wake-up call to fix running toilets and leaky sinks in your bathroom or kitchen. Your toilet should be silent within approximately two minutes after you flush. If not, fix or replace whatever part in the tank that isn't working properly; all of those parts wear out eventually.

Inspect for leaks in drains. The pipe under the sink, especially the elbow, should be completely dry, not damp, and the cupboard it's in should show no signs of water stains or leakage. Tighten any loose pipes with a pipe wrench.

Watch for drips where caulking has failed. Doing some simple preventive maintenance in the bathroom and kitchen can save you money. Caulk around the tub and sinks as needed. Caulked areas that become wet need re-caulking periodically.

In the bathroom sink and tub, use a strainer over the drain to keep hair from getting into the plumbing; buy one from the plumbing department in any home improvement center or discount store for less than $10. To clear out stubborn little food scraps, coffee grounds, and nasty smells from kitchen drains, pour boiling water with a bit of bleach down stainless steel sinks.

Watch for hydrostatic pressure leaks in walls that result from clogged exterior drains. Walls become saturated and water seeps into the basement through cracks and joints. This can cause serious permanent water damage in the basement.

Preventative maintenance is the key to keeping your basement dry and your pipes intact. Purchase a good sump pump to do its magic after rains when the grass and soil are saturated. Make sure it's working when you go away on vacation. Sump pumps last several years, but not forever.

Remember to perform seasonal weather-related tasks.

Prevent burst water pipes. Drain pipes when needed. Before the first frost each year, turn off outside spigots from the source and drain the pipes to prevent them from freezing and bursting. Additionally, when you'll be away for a long time, especially in winter, turn off main water source and drain pipes when away.

Perform a regular roof inspection. After a rain or snowfall, especially a heavy one, check your attic and ceilings for standing water or stains. Roofs don't last forever and improperly installed roof flashing can cause little or big leaks. On very windy days, shingles can blow off your roof. Check your yard for shingles; they may have blown off your roof.

Water is a natural resource we often take for granted. We are lucky to have water and benefit from its many uses, but unwanted water can wreak havoc on your house and your property. Preventative maintenance can help keep dry things stay dry and save you dollars.

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