Vancouver is notorious for its heavy rain.
Sure, it gives us our beautiful coastal rainforest, but it also means that there’s a much higher chance of water damage in the region’s homes.
If you’ve ever seen those home restoration vehicles outside of a person’s home after it’s been damaged by water, you know how bad it can be. Walls, flooring, furniture — it all needs to come out, which means major expenses, inconveniences, and headaches.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Like with most of life’s problems, it all comes down to preparation and prevention.
How to recognize leaks
There are a few warning signs that indicate whether you may have a water leak in your house.
If you manage to identify them, you could save yourself time, money, and property damage. You don’t want to return home to a flooded basement or leaking roof, so here are the major signs of water leakage.
Mold can appear on both the interior and exterior of your home. It can be harmful to the interior of your home, affecting air quality and potentially causing respiratory problems. Mold is often the result of dampness and leaks. If you notice mold on the interior of your home, it could indicate a leak. Call a plumber to have the mold removed and address the underlying issue.
Changes in Wall Texture
Warped or wrinkled wallpaper, bubbled drywall, or changes in wall texture can indicate water damage. If you notice dampness when touching the affected area, it’s likely a sign of water damage. Leaky roofs can also cause “bubbles” in the ceiling or water dripping from light fixtures. If these signs are present, turn off the lights and electricity, and call a plumber immediately.
Stains on walls, ceilings, and floors can be a result of water damage. These stains are often darker in color and easier to recognize on lighter walls.
Unexplained Utility Bill Changes
If your water bills show an increase in usage even though you haven’t been using any more water than you usually do, it’s a good idea to check around for other signs of a leak. Even if you live in an area where your water bill is fixed, you may notice unusual changes on other bills, like your gas or electricity bill, if hot water is leaking and constantly needing to be replenished.
The Sound of Flowing Water
Leaks that aren’t immediately visible may go unnoticed for a long time, such as burst pipes in walls or basements. Listening for the sound of flowing water in the pipes when there’s no faucet or water-related appliance in use can help identify internal leaks.
If you notice the smell of sewage in or around your property, but you don’t see any obvious sources, that’s typically a sign of a sewage leak underground. While it may seem like an overreaction to call a plumber just because of a smell, it’s almost always better to be cautious – read the first of my two true stories below and you’ll see why.
Undiscovered leaks cause major problems
Most people are busy, so when they’re setting time aside to deal with home maintenance, checking for leaks typically doesn’t sit very high up on their priority lists.
That’s a big mistake.
While it’s easy to put checking for water leaks in the “I’ll do it later” pile of things to do, the downsides to that decision can, quite literally, be life changing.
A friend of mine had two catastrophic experiences with leaks when he was an investor and manager for two apartment complexes — he’s allowed me to share them here so that other people can avoid going through the same thing.
True Story #1
The first leak showed up and made itself known after we had replaced the carpet in one of the bottom units. The building was built on top of a slab, and the leak was a sewer leak three feet below the concrete where the sewer piping had deteriorated.
The two upper units also backed up from the toilets. This had managed to create a small pool. The water rose to the surface in one unit, soaking the carpet.
The result: all sewage was pooling under the floor and not to the sewer.
In this case, since this was a small, 12-unit building, it was easy to find but not repair. The fix was to completely tear out the carpet and cut out a channel of concrete through the kitchen and into the main hall to get to the plumbing water sewage pipes.
Naturally, with all this work being done, the tenant had to be moved and accommodated as well – adding on even more costs.
All of the plumbing below the grade was replaced; the concrete and the kitchen floor had to be repaired, as well as all the counters had to be replaced.
Later on, my friend mentioned that there had been a bad smell beforehand, but he figured that it would go away on its own. If he’d called a plumber to investigate, there’s a good chance that he could’ve saved thousands of dollars in repair and restoration work!
True Story #2
The second experience was in a slab foundation of a 36-unit apartment building. My friend was alerted to the fact that there was a gurgling sound below a stairwell…where there weren’t supposed to be any pipes.
With a little more investigation, he also noticed that the main water meter was spinning out of control even during the day when most tenants were working. Apparently, it had started between billing cycles and had been going on for about three weeks before it was noticed.
By turning off several splitter valves, he was able to determine that the leak was coming from one of six units within the building. That was all he knew. Now what was he supposed to do?
He had to call in a professional plumbing company (Hillcrest Plumbing, naturally) with a professional leak detection specialist to assess the building.
Using specialized equipment, we determined that the source was an underground leak below the kitchen of one of the units. It’d taken weeks for someone to hear the sound of water because the source of the leak was actually 30-40 feet from the stairwell.
Like the first case, tearing out the kitchen and concrete floor, and repairing the offending pipe came with huge costs.
There was also the added headache of contesting the enormous water bill that had been building up over several weeks. To get a rebate on the bill we needed to prove to the city that the water hadn’t gone through the sewage system. That was not an easy case to prove!
Even though this was a tougher leak to detect, there were still early signs – chiefly the unusual behaviour of the main water meter. A quick weekly check would’ve revealed that something wasn’t right, which goes to show just how important even “routine” checks can be when it comes to preventing major damage and expenses.
What was the cost?
Between the two buildings, it was over $30,000 — plus hours of time and stress. That certainly cut into my friend’s profits as a building manager, even accounting for insurance coverage with a deductible of $5,000 per incident.
How to prevent and prepare for leaks
Water leaks can occur above or below ground, with underground leaks being more challenging to detect. Regardless of where they happen, though, there are ways to be ready.
Preventing major water leaks is preferable to detecting them. You can do that by:
- Regularly reading the water meter
- Inspecting valves and pipe connections
- Replacing worn hoses on appliances
- Fixing slow-running toilets
- Checking for drips or stains under sinks
- Monitoring the condition of floors, walls, and ceilings
Installing automatic water shut-off valves and having plumbing systems serviced annually are additional steps to prevent water leaks.
So you’ve discovered signs of a leak – now what?
By knowing the answer to that question, you’ll be able to save yourself from added costs and a mountain of stress.
You can prepare to handle a leak by:
- Knowing how to shut off water to your entire home or specific appliances
- Knowing how to shut off electricity in your home
- Having a plan for moving and storing important items
- Having an emergency plumber you can call who will respond quickly and answer and questions you have before they arrive
Hopefully, you’ll never have to put those emergency plans into action. But, as the old saying goes, it’s better to have them and not need them than it is to need them and not have them.
Small effort, big difference
While all of those preparation and prevention efforts might sound like a lot, many of them are one-time things, while others aren’t hard to fit into your day-to-day routine. Those regular checks are especially important — they’re often enough for you to notice unusual signs and investigate further.
It’s a little bit of extra work, definitely, but these water leak prevention steps can significantly reduce the likelihood of damage, so that little bit of extra work can translate into a lot of extra savings.
Why risk thousands in damage?
If you notice signs of water damage in your home, call your plumber. At Hillcrest Plumbing and Heating, we have over 50 years of experience, servicing the lower mainland.
Our educated plumbers can assist you with any type of leak or water damage that you have in your home. Come on in or call us today!