A resource for folks living in or moving to Los Gatos, by Mary Pope-Handy

Flood

Heavy rains, sump pump failures, flooding and insurance

Beware!Our much needed heavy rains have come at last.  A bucket in my backyard has collected more than 6 inches of water in just a few days.

Rain is collecting in other places, too.  Sump pumps are common in Los Gatos – particularly if your home is on or near a hill.  Most are run on electricity only.  Some have battery backups so that they keep working when the power fails.

But what if the sump pump malfunctions and stops working?  It may result in water accumulating in a crawl space.  Or if the sump pump aims to keep a basement dry, it could end up flooded.

What I’m learning this week is that sump pump failures are not covered by home owner’s insurance unless there’s a special rider or endorsement attached.  (And a home warranty won’t cover the sump pump failure if they determine that it was installed incorrectly.)

If you have a sump pump, it’s important to keep it clear of debris and perform maintenance so that it doesn’t give up the ghost when you need it most.  If that sump pump is protecting living space especially, please talk to your insurance agent about adding a rider and whether that makes sense for you and your specific property.    Lastly, please consider upgrading the sump pump to one with a battery backup, too.

Here are a couple of related articles fyi:

Beware of These Common Holes in Homeowners Insurance Coverage (US News article)

Will Homeowner’s Insurance Cover Sump Pump Failure? (Article on Zack’s)

Interior floods in the home

January 02, 2013

Flood damage in Dining Room from refrigerator leak in the kitchenHappy New Year, Los Gatos!  The last 2-3 weeks there haven’t been many posts on this blog.  It wasn’t due to Christmas and family events alone, but rather exceptional efforts required around my house due to a small interior flood.

Most of the time, when we think of floods it’s a natural disaster, and that the people impacted live in a 100 year flood plain.  On the east coast, basements are the part of the home usually impacted by floods.

Our house isn’t in a flood plain, there’s no basement, and the water didn’t get into the house from heavy rains, a flash flood or any other external cause.  Instead, it was an inside job: a broken water line in the house, in this case from a refrigerator’s water line.

I first discovered the water on December 9th when I noticed that our dining room’s carpeting didn’t look quite right – and found it damp.  My initial thought was that our elderly dog had had an accident, but there was far too much liquid and it all seemed to be up against the wall backing to the kitchen, so it didn’t take long to realize that the pooch was not to blame.  Needless to say, that same water was under the kitchen floor and other places nearby, all in all impacting about 25-30% of the floorcovering in the home since much of it is contiguous.

Haz Mat crew removing original flooring with asbestos on Dec 15The next two weeks following this discovery were not a lot of fun and involved a parade of tradespeople to find and stop the leak, then remediation work to remove and dry out impacted areas, then reinstalling what was removed (still ongoing, but down to just sheetrock repairs, installing new baseboard to cover up the holes put into the walls, and some touch up paint) and of course an insurance adjustor, who was quite pleasant to work with and told us upfront what to expect.  Our insurance did cover much of the work, including surprises such as asbestos in the vinyl flooring under the floor we installed over it in 2000. But naturally it doesn’t cover everything, and we upgraded items which had been on the “to do list” but we hadn’t planned to do just yet.

In the case of our water line flood, the moisture appeared quickly and suddenly a lot of things got turned upside down.  But leaks can also begin slowly, sight unseen until there’s significant damage such as dry rot.  Our insurance adjustor (from Allstate) told us that he’d had claims come in where toilets literally fell through the floor.  In those cases, the dry rot would have been present for many years, though it appeared out of nowhere to the home owners.  They had no idea that a leak was at work.

Interior, non weather related floods can be caused by a number of things.  Here’s a short list of some of the main culprits that start within the house or home:

  • frozen water pipes in the attic (perhaps most commonly found with slab foundations)
  • burst hoses at the washing machine
  • washing machine overflow that’s not found quickly
  • water heater leakage
  • dishwasher, icemaker, refrigerator lines that break
  • dishwasher overflow – if you’re in a condo with an upstairs neighbor, you may know about the leak before they do
  • water pipes hit by a nail
  • toilet leakage – sometimes from a wax ring that stops working or was installed improperly, sometimes from a blockage in the toilet or sewer line
  • broken aquariums
  • shower enclosures which leak or poorly fitting shower curtains (they seem to always leak!)
  • radiator leaks (older homes)
  • threshholds on exterior doors that do not seal well
  • air conditioning drain lines
  • any other corrosion in pipes and drains

I wouldn’t wish the last few weeks on anyone.  What can be done to prevent an interior leak from happening?  Here are some suggestions I found while researching this question online:

  • run the washing machine only while home – if you turn it on and leave, you may be unaware if the hoses break and spew water everywhere!
  • change the washing machine hoses every 3 – 5 years, and inspect them annually for any signs of cracking
  • inspect water lines to your fridge periodically and make sure that you have an easy to reach shutoff valve for it (usually installed under the kitchen sink) so that you can turn it off quickly if needed
  •  check for signs of leakage anywhere there’s water: toilets, sinks, shower enclosure, dishwasher, ice makers, refrigerators, wet bars etc. 
  • shower and tub enclosures, especially shower curtains, often do not contain the water well, so keep an eye out for water escaping
  • caulk around sinks, showers, tile as needed – I have seen expensive problems from kitchen sinks, especially, where the grout was neglected
  • consider placing appliances with water in areas where there’s drainage available or place a drain pan underneath them

Fans and dehumidifier at work to dry out the kitchen floor and walls (holes drilled in sheetrock too)There are certainly many other areas to check, and this is not an exhaustive list by any means.  We didn’t even touch on the roof, downspouts, grading, or external conditions than can cause flooding.  These are all important too, but they are probably better known and appreciated than the interior causes of flooding which we just experienced.

We were lucky as our leak involved clear, pure water.  If a toilet or sewer backs up it’s considered black or gray water, and it gets far more complicated since then you’ve also got a biohazard.  We were also lucky in that we caught it early and began the repairs quicky, before mold became an issue.

Is there anything else that can be done to minimize water damage?  After this experience, and watching the flood remediation people at work, I wanted to add one more thing to our arsenal for prevention: I asked Jim to give me a pinless moisture meter for Christmas.  He very kindly complied and I’m happy to have it and intend to spot check for leaks on a regular basis. (The one we have is made by Ryobi and costs about $50.)

Prevention is a lot easier, and more affordable, than remediation.  When creating your annual home maintenance “to do list”, be sure to include checking for signs of leaks around the home.

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Mary Pope-Handy

Realtor
ABR, CIPS, CRS, SRES
Sereno Group Real Estate
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408 204-7673
Mary (at) PopeHandy.com
License# 01153805

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