Northern Wisconsin Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling

3 Tips to Avoid Water Damage During the Winter Months

This is the time of year when we begin to receive panicked calls from our snowmobile & ice fishing vacationers…

AFTER A LONG DRIVE UP HERE, THEY’VE ARRIVED AT THEIR CABIN OR LODGE TO DISCOVER WATER.

WATER EVERYWHERE.

To add to the misery, these discoveries are typically late at night and end up turning the vacation into something more akin to a service trip to a flood zone in a third-world country. A frozen third-world country.

This discomfort and loss can be avoided – and more often than not, by doing three simple things.

When our technicians arrive at a flooded home, after cutting the power to the affected rooms, they check for the culprit of the leak in three different places:

  • The Thermostat
  • The Furnace or Boiler
  • The Power Supply/Breakers

Typically, one of these is where the real problem behind the leak originated.

Thankfully, avoiding water damage from these “problem areas” is simple – and you can do it yourself before we ever need to be called.

1. CHECK THE THERMOSTAT BATTERIES.

This is the problem we most often find. In fact, dead thermostat batteries are the cause of water leaks in over 90% of the flooded cottages we visit. Though nothing is immune to the laws of thermodynamics, wifi connected thermostats (like the Nest, Lyric, & Prestige) are specifically designed to avoid this problem. More on that below.

Do this: If your thermostat runs on batteries, put brand new ones in before you leave town – every time. Also, avoid using rechargeable batteries as those lose a small percentage of their charge capacity every time they are recharged.

2. GET YOUR FURNACE INSPECTED & CHANGE THE FILTER.

Though failure of a furnace or boiler is a rare cause of flooding, we still seem to have a few homes a month where this ends up being the cause. Generally, it is a furnace that has not been cleaned or tuned-up in years. And why would you? “We only use our heat when we come up here…so…” is something we often hear. However, just like a car’s engine, sporadic use can be just as hard on the system as constant use. The risk is compounded when the filters are old, the blower has not been cleaned, and the heat exchanger has not been inspected for stress cracks (very common when the system has been suddenly turned on at cold temps).

Do this: Change your air filter at least twice a year, and avoid thin ones (<2″) as they put more stress on the furnace because they are denser and clog more quickly than thicker ones. Additionally, for the mechanical parts of the system, we recommend a regular maintenance plan to keep the furnace or boiler running for its full life expectancy.

3. GET A SENSAPHONE OR HIRE THAT PESKY NEIGHBOR KID

We recommend this, even for residents just leaving the area for a short weekend, as the ultimate “leak protection.” Unless you are using a smart/connected thermostat that notifies you when the power goes out (they send you an alert that contact was lost with the t-stat), you have no way to know that your home is without power. A Sensaphone works the same way, but over the phone line, and can be installed by one of our trained technicians.

Do this: Leave a front porch light on, as well as a visible lamp inside the home for a friend or neighbor to see. A simple drive-by will let them know the home at least has power. If your garage is plumbed, do the same for it as well. To take it a step further, leave them a key to make sure the house hasn’t dropped below your set temp (we recommend 55°F…that’s 13°C for you Canucks). While they’re at it, make them water the plants and feed the fish. :)

Obviously, these are simple preventative measures and are not all-inclusive. Problems like hard-water rot, poor insulation, and general flooding are areas typically outside the skills of even the more robust DIY enthusiasts. But if you do these three simple things to protect your home, you will avoid the most likely causes of water damage – this and every winter.

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