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How can I minimize water damage?

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With the advent of spring and the rainy season, many parts of the country are heading into the wettest part of the year. Water damage ó whether from rain, flooding or a plumbing leak ó can be swiftly damaging and quite expensive. The average water damage restoration job costs about $3,100. Two efforts can save serious amounts of money: preventative maintenance and fast cleanup. Hereís a rundown of how to protect yourself.

Prevent the leaks

Your most effective tool against a flood or leak is being ready ahead of time. Keep your gutters and downspouts clean, as they can often contribute to a leaky basement. Check your appliances regularly for leaks and fix any problems promptly. Even a very small leak can cause tremendous unforeseen damage.

When you replace appliances, make sure you replace the hoses as well. A shiny new washing machine wonít help you if a brittle old hose still connects it to the wall.

Consider installing water detection or floodstop devices near water heater, sump pumps, washing machines and other appliances at risk for leaks. These inexpensive devices shut off the water supply and sound an alarm when they get wet. If your basement starts to flood or a washing machine hose bursts, they could save you precious hours and hundreds in repairs.

Keep an eye on your water bill. Sometimes, a sudden jump in usage can give away a mystery leak.

Clean up fast

As bad as water damage can be up front, itís compounded by mold. When you leave standing water for any length of time, it allows mold to grow ó even in places that might not be visibly wet! ó and causes additional damage to surfaces. Water does its first round of damage within minutes, but after the first hour it can swell, add unpleasant odors and spread humidity all around the house. After several hours pass, wood and other surfaces can become unsalvageable.

The first thing to do in a leak emergency is shut off the water source. This is an easy one to miss in the course of a disaster! But obviously, if you have a water leak, you need to shut it down as quickly as possible. Find the shutoff valve for the fixture or pipe causing the leak and close it off. If you canít find or reach it, use the main shutoff valve, which is usually beneath your home or near the water meter.

Do whatever you can to mitigate damage right away. Use tarps and buckets to intercept water. Move furniture away from the water. As soon as the water stops flowing, start removing stagnant water with buckets and towels.

Once the immediate danger has passed, your first call should be to your insurance company. You want to begin documenting a claim, and they might have preferred contractors to help with the work. If itís after hours or you canít reach a claims rep, contact a water remediation company directly anyway. Those first minutes and hours count. These pros can assess and repair any damage caused by the flooding. They will know how to determine whether thereís any risk of long-term damage or mold growth below the surface Ė and how to stop it.

While youíre at it, stay away from electronics or appliances until youíve verified theyíre safe to use.

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