Smart ways to avoid water damage

Add a little TLC (Time for a Leak Check) to plumbing service contracts or simply as a value-added service your company provides. These days, anything that helps you stand out among the crowd will enhance your company's image and the bottom line.

Add a little TLC (Time for a Leak Check) to plumbing service contracts or simply as a value-added service your company provides. These days, anything that helps you stand out among the crowd will enhance your company's image and the bottom line. In this case, we're dealing with the most common of all plumbing leaks: one that is the most easily avoided, yet most often overlooked and ignored — washing machine hoses.

Insurance giant State Farm reports that washing machine hoses should be replaced every three years to five years! That's not very likely to happen and the laundry room is often remote and only visited briefly to toss in or remove a load of laundry — out of sight equals out of mind. That is, until disaster strikes.

We've evolved as an industry to where new laundry water connections include ball-valve easy-to-turn on/off and hot/cold outlets with miniature shock absorbers (hydraulic shock can rupture hoses) that, let's be honest, are often left in the on position. That same homeowner isn't likely to allow the outdoor garden hose to remain under full pressure 24/7 because they have experienced blow-outs in garden-variety hoses.

My dad had at least a dozen crimp-on hose repair kits in his home workshop! Customers living in homes more than 10-years-old are likely to have boiler drains that require multiple turns from on to off with a strong likelihood of leaking at the stem's packing gland once the handle is turned — if the owner of the clothes washer even has the strength to reach over the ACW and twist that long-ago frozen stem. Slow steady dripping often goes undetected with the leak disappearing into the wall cavity (recessed laundry box) or following the hoses, silently damaging the flooring and/or washing machine.

The hoses are where? Out of sight. No doubt you've seen the aftermath of a bursted ACW hose. A standard 3/8-in. ACW hose can allow more than 650 gallons of water to spew forth each hour the burst goes undetected. My wife and I learned that lesson the hard way shortly after we were married. Aside from the flooded basement, there was the electrocution hazard to negotiate because the ACW was saturated and the breaker panel was — you guessed it — wall-mounted nearby and it too was being sprayed by the deluge. The rubber hose looked like it had spawned a balloon where the rubber had separated from the embedded nylon fibers.

Laundry rooms are often on upper floors in newer homes and having seen the type of damages that occur when ACW hoses crack, split or rupture, it strikes me as odd that anyone sees drain pans as offering much in the way of protection. Not that they aren't a good idea — they are for slow drips or minor leaks. But if real peace of mind and a reasoned well thought out approach are to be seriously considered, more protection is required. That renders adequate protection, a value-added offering.

In addition to providing a bit of TLC during the preventative maintenance or routine visit, why not up-sell by offering a range of protection your competitors may not be providing. It's human nature to ignore the warnings about turning off those ACW valves and easy to forget even if dedicated to the long awkward reach to do so. Watts makes a device that senses current draw from the ACW to turn on/off the hot/cold water valves automatically, www.watts.com/pages/learnAbout/intelliflow.asp. You can also incorporate a remote sensor to place on the floor, so that any pooling water (overflowing drain and/or water leak) will trigger closing of the valves.

Condos and apartments with private laundry set-ups would be smart to add smart valves, www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2010/aug/17/burst-hose-floods-kwcc-beauty-salon/. They'd be even smarter to contact their insurance carrier to request a premium reduction.

Speaking of smart, why not combine conserving energy, remote monitoring of the home's HVAC systems and e-mail messages that can include flood-sensor alerts by offering programmable thermostats like the ecobee, www.ecobee.com. Several auxiliary contacts can be tagged with a label and message if triggered, such as "Flood sensor valve has been activated — call company for service (include name and phone number of company)." Your company can be on the e-mail alert list too.

Offering an automatic main waterline shut-off device for customers after a leak is often an easy sale, www.getfloodstop.com/category_s/5.htm. They can have their burglar alarm company tie in its relay to alert the homeowners, no matter where they might be, if the remote sensors trigger an emergency shut down. Wireless remote sensors can be placed in strategic spots, such as the water heater, ACW, beside the sump-pump pit, sink-base cabinets and storage areas.

ACW leaks account for more than $150-million dollars in claims each year. Plumbing leaks add up to more than half-a-billion dollars in claims annually! Then there's the "M" (mold) word to consider. Costs for automatic shut-off devices range from less than $100 to more than $1,000. Find a product or products you can trust, plug in your installation costs, and add this to your list of things you offer your customers.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].

All Dave Yates material in print and on Contractor's Web site is protected by Copyright 2010. Any reuse of this material (print or electronic) must first have the expressed written permission of Dave Yates and Contractor magazine. Please contact via email at: [email protected].

TAGS: Plumbing