11 Tips to Prevent Water Damage to Your House While You’re Away

Water damage from frozen pipes, ruptured washer hoses, leaking supply lines and dripping water heaters costs billions every year. This checklist will help you avoid water leak problems in your house.

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How to Shut Off Main Water Valve

Before you head out of town for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to shut off the water main, i.e. the line to your house. That’s just about the surest way there is to prevent water damage while you’re away.

Many water meter setups have two valves, one on the street side of the meter and one on the house side. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll typically find the main shutoff in the basement near the front of the house. In warmer climates, it will be outside your home attached to an exterior wall or in an underground box with a removable lid.

If you’ve never shut off the main water valve before, test it before you leave on vacation. You’ll need an adjustable wrench, a bucket and slip joint pliers. Turn on a faucet somewhere in the house and shut off the main water valve. All water flow should stop. An old gate valve can break, so be gentle when you’re handling it. If the valve is stuck, leave it alone. If it leaks or doesn’t shut off all the way, have a licensed plumber replace the valve or replace it yourself if you’re comfortable with a straightforward plumbing project. You’ll need to call your water department (and possibly pay a small fee) to have the water to your house turned off at the curb stop while you make the repair.

If you have a well, shut off the electrical switch for the well when you leave for an extended period so it won’t pump any water while you’re gone.

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Types of Water Shut Off Valves

There are two types of main shutoff valves for a main water line. Gate valves are common in older homes. The valve closes when a wedge-shaped brass gate is lowered into a slot. These are designed to be fully open or fully closed. Water flowing through a partially open gate valve can wear away the metal and cause the valve to fail over time.

Ball valves, which contain a pivoting stainless steel ball with a hole drilled through the center, are less prone to wear. These have a lever handle that needs to be turned 90 degrees to turn the water on or off. You can immediately tell if it’s open or not: In the closed position, the lever is perpendicular to the pipes; in the open position it’s parallel.

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Shut Off Water Supply Valves

If you can’t shut off the main water supply because you have an automatic sprinkler system or someone watering the plants while you’re gone, shut off the valves to the most common sources of water damage such as dishwashers, icemakers and washing machines.

Individual shutoff valves or “stops” are installed on the supply lines leading to most appliances as well as to toilets and faucets. Typical supply stops have a small round or oval handle that you turn clockwise to shut off the flow of water.

The shutoff to your refrigerator’s icemaker supply line might be located under the sink or in the basement. If your shutoff valve looks like the one here, a saddle valve, consider replacing it with a standard shutoff valve. Saddle valves are notoriously leaky and prone to clogging, and they’re also against building codes in a lot of places.

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Check Water Supply Lines

Supply lines that lead from shutoff valves to appliances, faucets and toilets made from rubber or plastic eventually become brittle, which can lead to leaks. They can even break over time.

When you’re looking for the shutoff valve, take some time to inspect the supply lines too. If you find any leaks, cracks, bulges or signs of corrosion, it’s a good idea to replace the lines immediately. To replace the supply lines we recommend one braided stainless steel hoses, which you can find at any home center. They last longer than rubber or plastic versions and are less likely to leak. They even prevent mice from gnawing through the lines.

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Test Your Sump Pump

Sump pump systems help keep groundwater out of your basement. Before you leave town, test your sump pump by filling the sump pit with water and making sure the pump is actually pumping out the water.

If it doesn’t, be sure the sump pump is plugged in and check the breaker as well. Also, make sure the outlet pipe isn’t frozen or clogged and that it directs water away from your home. Clean the hole in the discharge line and check that the motor is running smoothly.

If you don’t already have one, it’s worth adding a backup battery to your sump pump so that it functions during power outages, which seem to go hand-in-hand with heavy rainstorms.

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Check Your Gutters

A 1,000-sq.-ft. roof will shed about 620 gallons of water during a rain storm that produces a measured inch of precipitation. If you have six downspouts on your house, that translates to around 103 gallons per downspout. During a bigger storm or prolonged periods of precipitation, that’s an awful lot of water around the foundation of your home.

Cleaning your gutters and making sure they’re functioning properly is one of the most essential tasks to do around the house. Downspouts should discharge water at least 10 ft. from the house. If yours don’t, consider adding extensions.

So before you leave for a vacation, take a walk around the house and check your gutters. Check to see if leaves, sticks or other debris are blocking the inlet of the downspout and preventing water from flowing down the spout. Also make sure your downspout extensions are discharging the water far enough from the foundation. If you remove them while you mow the yard, make sure to immediately reattach them.

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Exterior faucet

Shut Off Water to Exterior Faucets

Outdoor faucets are at high risk for freezing and bursting when the temperature drops outside. So always close the supply shutoff valve inside the house before you leave the house and even when you’re not using the faucet during the winter.

This is a good idea even if you have a frostproof faucet, since you’ll probably turn down the thermostat when you leave home. After turning off the supply shutoff, open the outside faucets to drain the remaining water out of the pipes. Never leave a hose connected to an outdoor faucet: It traps water in the faucet, which can freeze and crack open the faucet.

Another tip to avoid frozen plumbing is to turn the heat down to 60 degrees F when you leave, but not lower. You want to keep things warm enough inside the house so that water pipes running through exterior walls don’t freeze and burst.

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Install a Frost-Proof Faucet

A frost-proof faucet stops the water far inside the warm house to prevent freezing. If the handle on your faucet is level with the pipe, it’s a frost-proof model.

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Install a Temperature Sensor for

Temperature sensors can detect furnace breakdowns and can help prevent frozen pipes and resulting water damage when interior temperatures dip. Temperature sensors, which come in battery-operated models and wired versions, turn on or off any device plugged into them depending on the air temperature. A lamp plugged into the sensor will turn on when the temperature inside the house falls below a certain level, alerting a neighbor to call you or a service person.

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Install Water Flow Sensor

A water flow sensor helps protect your home from water damage by monitoring water flow and shutting off the water supply if the flow exceeds a specified amount. They can be attached to your home’s main water supply line or in other spots around the house to help prevent flooding and water damage. You’ll get an alert if the sensor detects a problem.

Models like this one from Moen can be monitored and controlled remotely with your phone, and they’ll even providing you with valuable information about your water usage patterns.

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Moen Flo Smart Water Leak Detector Ecomm Amazon.com
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Electronic Leak Detector

Electronic leak detectors use wireless water sensors to sound an alarm when they detect water or are wired to an automatic shutoff valve on your main water line or at individual shutoffs. When water touches the sensor, the valve closes. Some monitors can also be wired into a centrally monitored alarm system, and some versions provide options for calling you by phone when the alarm sounds.

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