Your home is your biggest asset.  Many things can destroy your asset – termites, a fallen tree, three wild rambunctious five-year-olds, you name it.

What would Dwight do (WWDD)?

If you are an Office fan, I’m sure you just saw the most recent episode of Jim and Pam having a baby!  On the way to the hospital, Pam asks Dwight Schrute to pick up an iPod from her home, but made it very clear to only touch the iPod.  While searching for the iPod, Dwight finds mold in their kitchen and feels he must eradicate the deathly mold from the premises.  He takes a sledge hammer (while no one is home, of course) to the counter tops heroically, and  tears apart the kitchen with the altruistic mission of getting rid of the black fungus.

What is Mold?

According to wiseGEEK, “Mold is a type of fungus that grows on plants and fibers and is most often associated with damp, musty locations such as bathrooms, basements and attics. Mold travels through the air as tiny spores which like to make their home in wet areas, where they will breed. If mold is spotted, it’s best to nip it in the bud immediately lest it spread to other areas. It’s also a good indication of a moisture problem, which should be dealt with as soon as possible.”

What are the Dangers of Mold?

While mold is very common in homes, it can cause serious health risks.  Mold can cause allergic reactions, asthma, skin rashes and other respiratory problems.  In extreme cases certain types of mold like Stachybotrys (“toxic black mold”) can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting and bleeding in the lungs and nose.

Where Does It Come From?

In vast majority of cases, mold starts with water damage.  However, sometimes constricted airflow in homes can cause mold as well.  This is more common of newer homes that are “air tight” which can prevent the home from breathing. However, water intrusion is the most common issues that lead to mold.

Many things can cause water damage.  A poorly insulated wall; incorrectly installed siding; missing shingles in a roof; busted water pipe; or a dishwasher gone mad.

For the most part water damage can fall into two categories: “sudden and accidental” or gradual. The sudden and accidental is when you drill into a wall and mistakenly hit a pipe in the wall.  And gradual is when  your window seals break and water accumulates on your window sill slowly.

Does My Insurance Cover It?

Whether it’s sudden or gradual can make all the difference when making an insurance claim.

Water damage is one of the most common home insurance claims.  Most people don’t realize what their insurance covers until they’re caught in a pickle.  Learn what your insurance covers BEFORE accidents happen.  That will teach you what to be prepared for.  Allstate has a cool site that lets you determine the most common claim types in your zip code.  After entering a hand full of zip codes in Washington it shows that water damage comes up consistently as the top three claims (the average claim is over $6000!).

Depending on what type of policy you have, water damage that is “sudden and accidental” is typically covered under the most common homeowners insurance known as Homeowners-3 (HO-3).

However, if the sudden accident is caused by your negligence, you might not be covered.   For example, you have a vacant vacation home out in Suncadia and you fail to keep the home heated when it’s 5 below zero.  Not covered.

What Do You Do When You Have Water Damage?

Experts say homes that are not dried out within 48 to 72 hours of the water damage will likely have mold growth.  I’ve helped manage over 30 rental properties and whenever I hear about flood, you get people out there IMMEDIATELY.  If it happens on a Friday, you don’t wait till Monday.  You get people out there Friday.

Whether it’s a flood, busted pipe, or a leaky roof, you get an experts to remedy the situation immediately.

How to Protect Your Home From Water Damage

If you’ve bought a home and hired an inspector before you know they cost $$$.  It can range from $250-400 for a general inspection.  Getting an inspector to come by semi-annually is impractical.  The good news is you don’t need to have a professional come by every six months.  You can do it yourself.

All it takes is a bit of effort and attention.  Go through the following list at home:

  1. The smell test. Sometimes you walk into a house and it has the musty/mildewy smell.  That is a likely indicator that you might have a problem on your hands.  This means you should dig further and see where the source is.
  2. Visual test. Walk around the outside and inside of your home for visual signs of water intrusion and mold.  Pay particular attention to rooms with lots of stuff where mold can grow behind objects unnoticed.
  3. Window seals. Do you see lots of condensation around the window and window sill?  If so, you might have a broken window seal.  This fix is usually more inexpensive than people think.  Call a local company or the manufacturer to see if you’re still under warranty.  If not, don’t worry, a couple hundred bucks should cover it.
  4. Plumbing under sinks. Look at all the plumbing under your sinks and around the toilet tank to see if there are leaks or mold growing.
  5. Caulking. It’s common for caulking to lose it’s seal from time-to-time.  Usually, you can tell just by looking that it if needs a new seal.  Make sure to replace it before water starts seeping into and behind the drywall.
  6. Check the crawl space. In cities like Seattle where it rains often, making sure the crawl space is dry is important.  I once listed a home where the crawl space would be filled to the brim and nearly touching the floor of the main living area after heavy rainfall.
  7. The attic. Check the attic to see if you see anything unusual.  If you see any area can be problematic, get a contractor to take a look at it.
  8. The roof. After heavy windstorms or just wear and tear, roof shingles can be missing and expose your to home to water intrusion.  If your roof is easily accessible and not too steep, it’ll be worth taking a look at.  Be careful!

Last, Know Where Your Shutoff Valves Are

Make sure you and everyone else in your home knows where the shutoff valves are for your main water line and fire sprinkler system (if you have one).  You can’t wait for a contractor or fireman to arrive to shut off the water.  When you have a busted pipe or waterline the difference between shutting off the water in 2 minutes versus 20 minutes makes ALL the difference.