MISSISSIPPI Homeowner s Guide to Water Damage

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1 MISSISSIPPI Homeowner s Guide to Water Damage Photo: Sam Beebe

2 Did you know? Water damage is a real and immediate threat to Mississippi homeowners. MS Water Guide 2

3 Know the Dangers Flooding is Mississippi s number one natural disaster (2). Since we are bordered by the Mississippi River to the west and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, our state is very vulnerable to river and stream flooding, flash flooding, coastal flooding, and drainage floods. Major floods occur every two to three years (3). In fact, one in every six acres (that s 5.2 million acres) in Mississippi is found within a floodplain (3). The devastation from these floods is costly to recover from. Flood losses throughout the Gulf Region from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 totaled more than $160 billion (1), and flood losses as a whole in Mississippi have increased from $278 million in 2004 to $2.8 billion in 2010 (3). If you ve never experienced one of these disasters, it s easy to overlook that this devastation extends on a very personal level into homes, causing individuals thousands of dollars in water damage. Major natural disasters, though, are not the only causes of water damage to Mississippi homes. Common events like toilets and bathtubs overflowing, dishwashers and washing machines malfunctioning, and city water systems failing can all lead to water damage, and the unfortunate reality is that damage caused when ordinary household appliances fail can be just as destructive as extreme weather. We cannot know when and where incidents may occur, but we can be informed and take precautions. This guide will outline some steps you can take to protect your home from water damage and what to do should water damage occur, whether it is a major flood or a minor leak from a household appliance. MS Water Guide 3

4 Did you know? There is a 26% chance of experiencing a flood during the span of a 30-year mortgage compared to only a 9% chance of experiencing a fire (2). MS Water Guide 4

5 FLOOD INSURANCE Check your current homeowners insurance policy to see if it includes flooding protection. A flood insurance policy is the first line of defense against flooding. While a standard homeowners and renters insurance policy covers damages from incidents like burst pipes and wind driven rain, losses caused by flooding are typically not covered. Unfortunately, it is usually only after floods that people discover that their insurance policy was lacking. Call your insurance agent to inquire about your current homeowners policy, or call your mortgage lender if you have a federally backed mortgage. Your lender may have required you to purchase flood insurance if your property was in or near a high-risk flood zone. Flood insurance is provided through the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and can be purchased through private insurance agents and companies. Your insurance agent will be able to explain how flood insurance works and help you purchase a policy. You can also hire a licensed surveyor to complete an Elevation Certificate to ensure you get the best insurance rate. MS Water Guide 5 Purchase flood insurance if your current policy does not cover flooding.

6 Did you know? Approximately 30% of all flood damages occur in low risk zones (3). MS Water Guide 6

7 Educate Yourself Ensure you have the proper equipment to protect your family and your home. Identify your property s flood zone Every building in the state of Mississippi is located within a mapped flood zone (3). Some zones are low risk, some moderate, and some are designated as high risk. However, even if your property is in a low risk zone, don t consider yourself in the clear. Approximately 30% of all flood damages occur in low risk zones (3). You can find your property s flood zone by visiting FEMA s Flood Map Service Center ( to look up your local flood map or by contacting your city or county government. Additional information and the meaning of the flood zone designations are available at FloodSmart.gov. Find out your Base Flood Elevation (BFE) The BFE is the elevation at which your home has a one percent chance of flooding annually. You can find your property s BFE on by consulting flood maps, by contacting your city or county government, or by hiring a licensed surveyor. Determine whether your home lies above or below the BFE After identifying the BFE for your property, determine whether the elevation of your home s lowest floor is above or below your property s BFE. If your home lies below its BFE, you might consider elevating the house to reduce the chances it will flood. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety recommends that buildings be at least three feet above the BFE. MS Water Guide 7

8 Did you know? Flooding can cause sewage from sanitary sewer lines to back up into your home. MS Water Guide 8

9 Take Action Now Take these preventative measures recommended by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: Raise electrical system components Hire a licensed electrician to raise switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring at least 12 inches above the BFE for your area. This will help prevent damage to the electrical system and avoid the potential of a fire from short circuits. Raise or flood-proof HVAC equipment Have a contractor move heating, ventilation, and cooling equipment to an upper floor or build a flood-proof wall around the equipment. Anchor fuel tanks Unanchored fuel tanks outside your home can be swept up and cause damage not only to your home but other s properties as well, and in being swept away, the supply line to a tank in your basement can tear free and fuel can contaminate your basement. Install sewer backflow valves Flooding can cause sewage from sanitary sewer lines to back up through drain pipes. Install a backflow valve block drain pipes temporarily and prevent return flow into the house. Protect wells from contamination by flooding Hire a licensed well-drilling contractor to inspect your well and suggest improvements to prevent potential floodwater from contaminating the water. MS Water Guide 9 Make sure your yard s slope directs water away from the home.

10 Did you know? Proper home maintenance is one of the best ways to prevent water damage. MS Water Guide 10

11 Protect Your Home Inside the Home It s difficult to know there s a problem before the first instance you see water in places it shouldn t be. Fortunately, there are some signs that indicate a leak is imminent. For example, an increased monthly water bill, banging pipes, and rust stains are all potential indicators of a plumbing problem. Here are some additional signs of potential problems that cause water damage and some general maintenance tips specific to each area in the home water damage may occur. General Plumbing Maintenance and Safety Measures Inspect hoses and faucets. Check hoses leading to water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerator icemakers annually, and replace those with cracks or leaks. All hoses should be replaced every five to seven years regardless of visible damage. Know where your main water shut off valve is. By knowing where this valve is located and how to shut off the main water supply, you can save yourself time and money should a pipe burst or a hose come loose or leak. Prevent Backflow. If your home s sewer system is connected to the city s sewer system or if you are located downhill or below street level, contact a plumbing professional to install a backflow prevention assembly into your sewer system. Install a Sump Pump. Install a sump pump and periodically ensure that it is operational and that the battery is fully charged. Install a house leak detection system. Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting. MS Water Guide 11

12 Protect pipes from freezing in winter. Keep all exterior entry, exit and garage doors to unheated spaces closed as much as possible. Leave cabinet or closet doors open for pipes inside cabinets or closets. Use a fan to increase warm air circulation around pipes located near exterior walls. When extreme cold weather is predicted, drip your sink faucets and turn off and drain outside faucets to keep pipes from freezing. Shut off the water supply when the home is unoccupied for extended periods. If you suspect frozen pipes: Turn on each faucet individually to check for a steady stream of water. If water is flowing slowly or not at all, that indicates your pipe has frozen. Identify the blockage (most likely the area most exposed) and use a hair dryer to heat the supply line until there is a steady flow of water. In The Bathroom Check the seal and caulking around showers and tubs to make sure they are watertight. Repair or re-caulk any damaged areas. Repair toilet plumbing problems as soon as they occur. If an overflow looks imminent, remove the tank cover and lift the float to shut off water flow to the tank, and then turn off the supply valve. Twice a year, inspect the fill, supply valves, flush valves, and the supply line. MS Water Guide 12 Make sure that you can turn off the supply. Older screw type valves can be hard to turn and prone to leaking. If you have one of these, consider replacing it with a simpler ball valve.

13 In The Kitchen Once a year, check hoses leading to dishwashers and refrigerator ice-makers/water dispensers, and replace any that have cracks or leaks. Don t pour grease and oil down sink drains. The fats in grease and oil from your kitchen can mix with chemicals in sewers and block the pipes in your home, and more severely, entire sewage systems. Fat and oil buildups caused about 47% of sewer overflows that happen each year in the United States (13). Instead of pouring grease down the drain, let it solidify in the pan or in a jar, then throw it in the trash can, and wipe the greasy pan or dish with a paper towel to soak up the rest. Check Your Air Conditioner Check the overflow pan for damage. The overflow pan catches any condensation from the A/C unit. Check each corner of the pan, along the outside edges, and directly above the wettest spot if you already notice a leak. Small holes and cracks can be patched with epoxy glue, but it s usually best to replace a damaged overflow pan. Change the unit s air filter on a regular basis. Most filters are designed to be used for one or two months, but during the summer when the A/C is run the most, inspect the filter every month. Replace dirty filters immediately, since a dirty filter will cause ice to form and when that ice melts, it will drip water. Keep the condensate line clear. A clogged condensate line is the most common cause of A/C leaks (11). The condensate line drains condensation from the overflow pan to the outside or directly into a drainpipe. MS Water Guide 13 When the line is clogged, water backs up and floods the overflow pan. Most newer A/C units are equipped with a water-overflow cutoff switch, which shuts off the A/C if it detects a clogged condensate line to prevent leaks. So, if your air conditioner suddenly stops working, it s a good sign the condensate line is clogged.

14 Check Your Boiler & Water Heater Water heater failure is one of the top five sources of water damage in homes (7). Broken valves, loose or wet joints, and rust are signs that lead to bigger damage if not addressed. Check your water heater s age. When your water heater reaches its life expectancy, the risk of a slow leak or sudden burst increases, so inspect and maintain the water heater more frequently. Inspect the anode rod (this is installed to avoid tank corrosion) once every two years and then annually after the warranty has expired. Clean out your water heater regularly. Every six months, remove sediment by attaching a garden hose to the valve at the base of the water heater to flush out the tank. Be sure to turn off the power and run hot water until it cools before flushing the tank. Have a plumbing professional inspect your water heater s shut-off valve and all piping once a year. Check Your Washing Machine Washing machine water leaks are one of the top 10 sources of water damage to homes, and supply hose failures accounted for more than half of all washing machine-related losses (6). Signs the supply hose may be ready to fail: Blisters in the hose Worn tubing Stress cracks A loose connection Age: 78% of water supply hose failures resulting in water loss claims involved washing machines that were less than 11 years old, but of these failures, 54% occurred in washing machines between eight and ten years old (6). MS Water Guide 14 How to address the signs: Replace the supply hose with a reinforced steel braided hose if it shows any sign of wear. Always choose a reinforced steel braided hose over an un-reinforced rubber hose. These last longer and are

15 less likely to cause a major water leak. Tighten the connection if it feels loose. The most common site of failure is near the connection where the hose bends. Replace supply hoses every five years, even if there are no signs of wear. Deterioration may occur from the inside out and may not be visible immediately. Follow the manufacturer s instructions to reduce the risk of other types of washing machine-related water losses: Never overload a machine. Always use a detergent designed for your machine. Don t operate washing machines when no one is home. Shut off the water supply to the washing machine while away on vacation, and never leave the house while the washer or dishwasher is running. Protect Your Home Outside the Home Wet soil erosion near the foundation is a potential indicator of a plumbing problem. Caulk and seal windows to prevent water seepage before it can begin. Inspect your roof. Look for missing, damaged, and aging shingles. Check your downspouts. Remove debris that may have accumulated in downspouts and rain gutters and position downspouts so that they direct water away from the house. Install gutter guards to keep clogs from developing, which will allow water to pool and accumulate on the roof instead of being directed away from your home. MS Water Guide 15 Check sprinklers and irrigations systems. Be sure sprinklers and irrigation systems are not damaging the walls and foundations of your house. Plant your trees away from drain lines to prevent roots from damaging piping.

16 Did you know? A small water leak or a pipe bursting can lead to water damage that requires water mitigation service even if it s not a major flood. MS Water Guide 16

17 MS Water Guide 17

18 Laurel, Hattiesburg & Meridian 2320 Sandy Lane Laurel, MS Laurel Meridian Hattiesburg

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