Are you getting ready to head out for the Columbus Day Weekend? Perhaps getting in your last “summer” trip to a beach house? Or heading north to prepare a get-a-way home for your winter visits? As any homeowner knows, when you leave a home, there is always the concern something will happen to while you’re not there.

Most commonly people think of someone burglarizing your home. A fairly costly approach is to install a burglar alarm system with a monitoring service. It is beneficial whenever the system is used. When someone breaks in, the alarm company notifies police who will hopefully catch the perpetrator before he or she leaves. One short fall–Burglar alarms tell us when someone has entered a home; they do not prevent the break in. You still have the damage resulting from their forced entry and the sensation of personal violation.  To protect against that, one technique is to have someone stay at your home while you are away. If no one is to be home, most will leave lights on a timer and suspend paper and mail deliveries. While burglaries do happen, I want to point out that it is by far not the most common homeowner loss.

How about a fire in your home? Alarm systems help with early detection of fires as well. Good practices to prevent fires include maintenance of your heating and electrical systems, unplugging or disconnecting appliances, checking to be sure your stove is not left on when you leave and proper maintenance of wood and pellet stoves. But again, fire is not the most common culprit to damage your home.

So what is the biggest loss cause for homeowners when they are away? According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2015 Water Damage claims accounted for 49% of all homeowner property claims. It comes commonly from faulty water lines for washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators. When did you last inspect the connections for your appliances? Most commonly these problems stem from corrosion or pinched lines.

Commonly in our area we find water leaks from corroded copper water pipes and this will continue since most homes still have copper water supply lines. The high acid content of the well water throughout this region causes the deterioration of the copper pipes from the inside out. The corrosion allows a weakness to develop. In the same way water seeks its own level; pressurized water lines seek the weakest spot for release. Usually pressure in your system fluctuates with each opening of a faucet or flush of a toilet. With the vacancy of your home there are no faucets being opened, the pressures remain high, and water may just find that weak spot to spring a leak.

Hopefully when it occurs it will be in the basement near a drain. But “Murphy’s Law” tells us it will be in a wall on the second floor of your home. It will start as a staining on the copper pipe, followed by a consistent drip, expanding to a pin hole mist and growing to a steady flow. It may collect for a while. As it makes contact with plaster or wallboard, those surfaces will begin to absorb the water. As more water is released it will begin running down between the walls and traveling across ceilings in search of new areas to damage. Ceilings may collapse or just become stained. Hardwood floors may warp.

Water damage insurance claims are usually very costly. The water source must be identified and repaired. Damaged walls must be removed. Everything that remains must be dried out. Then everything must be restored to its original condition. A small section of ceiling or wall damage results in the entire ceiling or all of a room’s wall surfaces needing to be painted to assure uniformity. Floors may dry out, may need refinishing, or may need full replacement. Your carpets and padding can usually be dried. A bigger concern is the long term development of mold and fungi when you fail to dry out and clean everything properly.

In older homes the plaster and wood can usually be dried out with minimal structural wall deterioration. However, when many of the building materials used in homes built in the last 25 years come in contact with water, they will likely promote the growth of mold when not dried properly or removed. Some molds are as common as the mold on a loaf of bread aging on a kitchen shelf. These are upsetting to look at and not something you want to eat, but easily cleaned and eliminated. Most molds will stimulate allergies in degrees that correspond to your sensitivity to the mold before you. Some however can be very toxic and difficult to remove. The home handyman can actually cause these to spread throughout a home. When you find evidence of mold, bringing in a professional mold remediation service is a must.

To protect themselves against the damages from a water leak, some have installed water sensing alarms. The reality is how many sensors will it take to protect your entire home? In Florida it is legally required that if you leave a home, including condos and apartments, for more than one week, you must shut off the water supply to the home. It is easy to do. Locate where the water line enters your home. There should be a valve in that area which you can close to prevent water from continuing to supply your home should a leak develop. Once shut off, lower the pressure in the system by opening a faucet momentarily. This is not a major time consuming task but one that can save you a lot of aggravation. One caution though, if you have a steam or forced hot water heating system, check with your furnace servicing company to see if it is safe to utilize this technique as your furnace may need a constant water supply to keep heating your home.