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How Natural Disasters Can Damage Your Plumbing, and What to Do

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Jeff Palady
Vice President
Master Plumber

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When Mother Nature strikes, there’s not much we can do to stop it. This is why so many contracts include shrewd disclaimer wording like “force majeure” and “acts of God” to excuse the parties from being responsible for damage from natural disasters. Obviously, your plumbing may be affected if your home takes a direct hit from a tornado or an earthquake, but natural disasters can also inflict damage to your plumbing in subtler ways, too—even if your home wasn’t in the direct path of damage. Let’s discuss some things to watch out for, and what you can do to protect your interests.

Ways Your Plumbing Could Be Vulnerable

If a natural disaster strikes your community or somewhere nearby, what are some ways your plumbing system could be affected? A few examples might include:

  • Water supply contamination. If a storm, flood or earthquake affects your local municipal water treatment plant, or causes ruptures in the pipes anywhere between the plant and your home, your water supply could become contaminated with all sorts of pollutants. Even when the problem is repaired, the contamination can leave residue on your water pipes long after the fact.
  • Backups and clogs. A natural disaster can also cause breaches or obstructions to the local sewer system, which may generate dangerous sewage backups affecting multiple homes.
  • Weakened infrastructure. Even if your home and plumbing seem to be unaffected by a local disaster, the impact can potentially weaken your plumbing system, causing problems down the road. For example, your home might not have taken a “direct hit” from a tornado or hurricane, but even modest shaking or rattling of pipes and joints that normally stay stationary could affect the integrity of those parts, shortening their life span.

What to Do If Disaster Strikes

If your community suffers a damage-inducing act of nature, even if your home appears untouched, you should take the following steps to minimize the risk to your home and family:

  • Shut off the water main. Familiarize yourself ahead of time with the main valve(s) that supply fresh water to your home. Shut off the water until the authorities confirm the water supply is safe. (BONUS TIP: Do the same for your natural gas supply.)
  • Boil water before using/drinking. Until you confirm your water isn’t contaminated, boil the water for at least 1-3 minutes to ensure it’s safe to drink. When in doubt, use bottled water.
  • Have your plumbing inspected/repaired as soon as possible. If you carry homeowner’s insurance, the repairs may be covered by your policy, so be sure to coordinate with your agent and insurance adjuster. Even if there are no visible signs of damage, have a plumbing professional do an inspection before undetected damage starts causing bigger problems.

We may not be able to prevent natural disasters (yet), but we can often minimize the effects it has on our lives. Being prepared and responding quickly to a natural disaster could save you thousands of dollars in costly repairs down the road.

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