Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Maybe hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year by Insurance companies and homeowners repairing damage caused from leaking water lines and appliances. Your home can be protected from water damage to a great extent by some basic plumbing safeguards and a little routine maintenance. Every home should have a plumbing shut off valve that can be easily used in an emergency to shut off the interior water supply for the home. Ideally the shut off valve should be a single ball style valve that shuts off the interior water supply and also an additional ball valve that shuts off the exterior or irrigation water supply. A ball valve is a simple plumbing valve that is easily operated and is opened and closed by a quick 90 degree rotation. The older style gate valves have a round handle that raises and lowers a gate of sorts in a vertical track, but this type of valve is quickly fouled by mineral build up and often becomes unreliable.
Plumbing shut off valves are usually found near the front entry of a home and often are located along with a hose bid that supplies water for a garden hose. It’s a good habit to shut off your interior water supply when out of town or especially if you have a vacation or second home that is vacant for extended periods. I shut off the interior water supply to my house when we leave for just the weekend after experiencing a flooded kitchen from a leaking ice maker line after just going out for dinner. We occasionally work at homes that don’t have a shut off valve and then the only way to turn off the water is at the meter valve which is not designed for frequent use and is frowned upon by the water company. Repeatedly turning water off and on at the meter may eventually damage the meter which may get you a nasty note and a big bill from the water company. If you don’t have water shut off valves that can easily be operated in an emergency you should put it on your home improvement list to get done sooner rather than later after a water leak episode.
High water pressure can often be the cause of frequent leaks and every home should have a pressure regulator installed in the main water line that controls the pressure in your water lines, appliances, and sprinklers. The interior water pressure of a home should be between 55 & 60 PSI (pounds per square inch) and a water pressure gauge can be purchased at most any hardware or plumbing store for about $10 for an easy pressure check. The water pressure valve threads onto either your hose bid (the valve for your garden hose) on the outside of your home or onto the water supply valves for your clothes washer. Water pressure should be checked periodically and if your pressure exceeds 60-65 PSI then your home is at an increased risk for a leak.
We received a call a few years back from a retired gentleman who had dealt with frequent water leaks in his sprinkler system over 20+ years he lived in this particular house and he had called us to repair the most recent leak. When we checked the pressure on his front yard hose bib it pegged our gauge at 110 PSI and the interior pressure in the home was just as high. His leak problem was solved by the installation of a pressure regulator on the main line of the house and he no longer needed to worry about leaking sprinkler lines and huge water bills. Also it is a good idea to check water pressure if your faucets suddenly start dripping or you unfortunately experience a leak.
Water leaks inside the home often occur in the flexible water supply lines that supply hot and cold water to sinks, toilets, dishwashers, clothes washers and ice makers. These are the hose like water lines you see in the cabinets under your sinks and hanging down the wall behind your clothes washer. Over time these lines can become brittle with age or can be damaged by mice or rats and even the smallest leak gone unnoticed can quickly create a flood damaging expensive flooring, base trim, walls and downstairs ceilings. It’s not uncommon for us to go on a service call to replace a sink or toilet in a 40 – 50 year old home and to find what appear to be the original water supply lines still in use. Always install new flexible water supply lines made from braided stainless steel when putting in a new faucet or sink, and it’s really a smart investment to replace any flexible supply lines in your home that are much older than 15 years. In just about all cases a new hose will cost less than $10 and it’s a cost effective way to protect your home.
Most refrigerators have an ice maker or chilled water dispenser that is usually connected to a reverse osmosis water filter under the kitchen sink via a small water line that can be concealed in the kitchen cabinets, attic or the crawlspace under the floor. Usually these water lines are a ¼” copper or plastic line and care needs to be taken not to damage then when moving the refrigerator. If the line is plastic and runs through a wall, floor or ceiling it should be protected by a blue flexible conduit often called a Smurf tube after the little blue characters in children’s TV shows.
Lint clogged clothes dryer vents can be a cause of a house fire if not regularly cleaned. The gas flame or electrical heating element in your dryer can overheat if the vent is not clear and most every Boy Scout knows that lint is great tinder for starting a camp fire. The air blowing out of your clothes dryer is hot and moist and lint accumulates quickly on the damp inside walls of the vent and the dryer. Not only is a clogged vent a potential fire hazard but it is a big waster of energy by reducing the efficiency of the clothes dryer. We clean the vent using a specialized brush that is designed for cleaning dryer vents which can be purchased at the hardware store for about $25 and when used along with a powerful shop vacuum it’s not unusual to fill a 5 gal bucket with lint removed from even a short run of vent. The flexible accordion style vent hose that you can see on the floor behind your clothes dryer should be made of a flexible metallic material and not made of plastic. Plastic dryer exhaust vent hoses used to be very common but are considered to be a fire hazard and should be replaced with a metallic hose vent. Avoid storing combustibles like paper bags or cardboard boxes around the sides of a water heater or clothes dryer.
Possibly the best investment for the protection of your home is the simple fire alarm. Can there be any adult who has not heard dozens of public service ads over the years for smoke detectors? Surprisingly we occasionally do work in a home that either has no smoke alarms, not enough smoke alarms, smoke alarms with dead or removed batteries, or smoke alarms that have been disabled. Smoke alarms can be purchased at any hardware store and are a simple life and property saving device that will cost you about $15 and should be properly placed throughout the house and one in the garage. At a minimum every bedroom in your home should have a smoke alarm mounted on the ceiling and also one in every hallway leading to bedrooms. But even the most expensive and best placed smoke alarm won’t protect anyone without a good 9 volt battery. Make it your habit to replace smoke alarm batteries annually on a day that you can easily remember like your birthday, New Years Day, Daylight Savings day, or any date that will jog your memory. Use a Sharpie pen to write the date on the battery that it was installed so that there is no confusion as to the age of the battery.
SEASONAL TIP: The media experts are now saying El Nino is a certainty (I hope) so make sure you home and yard are ready for heavy rain. The last El Nino year brought 40+ inches of rain and many people were caught off guard trying to deal with leaky roofs, broken rain gutters, clogged patio drains and sump pumps that stopped working. Take a little time to think about what your home needs to survive the coming Godzilla El Nino as named in a recent LA Times article and make needed repairs while the weather is still dry.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259