Two weeks ago, in our Getting Ready For Winter post, we have highlighted some essential steps you need to take before the onslaught of winter to minimize the likelihood of water leaking into your home. But leaks might (and do) happen, even with a brand new roof. Besides, not all water leaks would be rain or roof related: stucco or windows’ assemblies might be faulty and let rain water in, pipes might burst, toilets (or washing machines or dishwashers or ice maker lines) could leak – in short, there could be many reasons and sources for a water leak.
So, assuming you have a leak – what should you do?
1. Stop water from getting in: This, of course is common sense. If the leak is from the roof, have it covered and/or plugged temporarily so immediate leaking stops. Permanent repairs should not be attempted while its raining (please have licensed professionals address this. DO NOT climb your roof to plug a leak when its raining please). If the leak is from walls (from say, a bad lathing and stucco job), gutters, doors or windows have someone temporarily cover the area with plastic sheeting and address the issue when its no longer raining (again, please use licensed professionals to mount and fix plastic sheeting to the exterior when raining). If a water line broke, shut down the water and call for emergency plumbing repairs. And if a fixture (or an appliance) are the source of the leak – shut down the water to that fixture/appliance and call for repairs. Note that from a Homeowners’ Insurance standpoint it is your responsibility to take immediate and reasonable steps to mitigate the problem so as to minimize the loss.
2. Completely dry and vent the affected area: The issues here are long term damage to materials and mold. Wood materials are very sensitive to moisture. Large fluctuations in moisture levels will cause wood to swell. This in turn will irreversibly damage assemblies and finish products in your home; HDWD flooring would swell, warp and buckle, finish trim would separate and loose its shape, doors would swell and/or delaminate, cabinets would be ruined and so forth. Whenever any area gets wet from a leak take immediate steps to remove the water and dry the area. The other issue is mold. Mold spores float about everywhere. To become a problem though, mold requires a high-moisture surface to rapidly grow on. When surfaces are left moist on a regular basis, you will soon find mold (for example – the grout lines at the bottom of your shower walls). When you have a leak, water penetrates areas out of reach (such as inside wall cavities, under cabinets, etc.) The result? Mold growth within 24-48 hours. The longer moisture is allowed to remain, the bigger your mold problem becomes. At some point, not too much after the initial leak, mold will propagate to other areas of the home as well (aided by your home’s forced-air unit and duct system). It is therefore imperative that as soon as a leak occurs you not only notify your insurance company (regardless if you or they think it is a cover claim or not), but also take immediate steps to fully remediate the situation by drying and venting operations. Note that your homeowners’ policy might have strict caps on the amount associated with mold issues. As long as competent drying and venting operations are done within 24-48 hours of the loss, you should not have a mold problem. If, however, as is unfortunately so often the case, your insurance company ‘drags its feet’ in how they respond and moisture is allowed to fester, a mold will become a problem. You will certainly need competent representation in your dealings with the insurance company in this case. Either by a contractor well versed in insurance claims and/or by a competent Public Adjuster.
3. As relavant, file and pursue a claim with your insurance company: Not all water leaks are covered by your homeowners’ policy. Typically, accidental damage would be covered, while long term condition would not. Having said that, do not take your insurance company’s input with respect to denying a claim at face value. We’ve seen too many claim, initially rejected as ‘not covered’ by insurance companies, only later to be recognized and paid in full – once the homeowners got competent representation. But, as noted above, it is your burden and obligation to notify your insurance company of a loss as soon as practical. In preparing for the adjusting process and so that your interests are guarded, take a lot of pictures, keep a log of who you speak with and when and both submit and get everything ‘in writing’.
4. Get representation: It has been said that ‘he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client’. This has never been truer as when dealing with your insurance company on your own. The insurance company is not your friend. It is not on your side and it will not fairly and amicably represent your interests in the loss. As a matter of fact, the complete opposite is true. NEVER deal with an insurance company on a loss without representation. At the very least, engage the services of an insurance contractor. A contractor versed in insurance losses to represent you and deal with the insurance company on your behalf. Note that NONE of the insurance company’s recommended or referred contractors qualify. They are all indebted to the insurance company (the source of their jobs) and regard the insurance company their true clients, at least in the long-term sense. Depending on the loss’s size and complexity and depending on your insurance company’s level of reluctance/resistance to meet its obligations, you might also need to engage with a competent Public Adjuster.
5. Repairs: Regardless if the loss is covered by your policy or not, beyond the emergency measures noted above, permeant repairs will need to take place. While finish materials in most cases would need to be disposed of and replaced (no, the warping HDWD floor should not be sanded and refinished – your insurance company’s posture notwithstanding), latent and pervasive defects and deficiencies would need to be addressed as well, else a leak will repeat itself again. Your best bet in this case is a general contractor with know-how and expertise in all building assemblies and systems. A roofing contractor may not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water penetration issues from the stucco, much like a kitchen remodeling specialist might not be your best bet in assessing or addressing water issues in the subfloor area. Make sure to not only address and repair visible surfaces and materials. Have professionals resolve the causal issue(s) as well.
Paraphrasing numerous volumes about buildings and ‘why structures fail’ in a word, that word would have to be ‘water’. At some point most of us would experience a significant water loss in our home. Addressed swiftly and properly, short and long term damages caused by it could be minimized and repairs, properly done, could effectively restore the home to pre-loss condition or better. The above guidelines and recommendations are a good place to start with. Beyond that, things would greatly depend on your insurance company and on the team you choose to represent you and your interests to them.
Mega Builders has handled, with remarkable success, over a thousand claims, including water and fire damage, smoke and soot damage, earthquake damage and so forth. We are often hired as Experts by attorneys representing the homeowners as well. If you have any damage to your home, be it water damage, fire damage, etc.) please do not hesitate to give us a call. We will represent you, the homeowner solely – we never represent the insurance companies. You can reach Alon Toker (Mege’s President) directly at 818-535-5656 (or at firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or comments. We welcome you call.