Preventing water damage

Written by the Square One team

Updated June 12, 2024 | Published July 16, 2011

Water damage accounts for more home insurance claims than fire and theft combined, with the average cost of a claim for a flooded basement now reaching $43,000. A recent study highlighted 10 measures homeowners can take to reduce the risk of water damage. And the best part? Most can be completed for less than $250. So, here’s everything you need to know about preventing water damage on a budget.

Woman looking at leaking dishwasher

Preventative maintenance

Review appliance hoses

Check the condition of the hoses attached to your washing machine, fridge, dishwasher, and toilets. If they’re plastic, they will harden over time, increasing the risk that they will crack and burst. Invest in braided hoses that remain flexible throughout their lifespan. When you install them, you’ll need to disable the water supply first. Treat this as practice; you’ll need to do the same thing if you experience a burst pipe. While you’re checking the hoses, inspect the lint trap in your dryer and consider cleaning the vent to reduce the risk of fire.

Are there faulty Crane toilets installed?

If you live in a home built before 1992, check for potentially faulty Crane toilets that were manufactured between 1980 and 1991. Remove the toilet tank lid and look for the eight-digit serial number stamped into the tank. If it starts with “V” and the third and fourth digits are between 80 and 91, consider replacing your toilet. Crane brand toilets manufactured during this period could have a defect which makes the tank more susceptible to shattering. This can cause significant water damage, especially if it occurs while you are not home.

Pack up the basement

If your basement is used for storage, be sure to place those items most important to you in waterproof containers. The same goes for important papers like income tax records or bank statements.

Pick up your electronics

If you have a desktop computer, make sure the hard drive is not sitting on the floor. Raising your electronics just 5 to 10 centimetres off the ground will help protect them from the worst any water damage has to offer.

Make sure you have the right insurance coverage

If you, or previous owners, have renovated your apartment, make sure you have the right insurance coverage. While your condo corporation’s insurance will usually rebuild your unit in the event of a complete loss, coverage for improvements (such as upgraded countertops, floors, or renovated bathrooms) is usually excluded. To ensure you don’t pay for your renovations twice, consider additional protection, such as Square One’s Condo Owner’s Protection.

Check your policy wordings to determine whether your home insurance has any requirements related to water coverage that may apply if you’re away from home. For example, some providers require your pipes to be drained and that a friend or relative visits the property to confirm the heat is maintained.

Check your hot water heater

Check your hot water heater periodically for signs of leakage. It may be possible to avoid water damage by replacing your unit when signs of age and deterioration begin to appear. Likewise, if there are leaks around your dishwasher or fridge, take action before the problem grows in size.

Install leak detection systems in your home

You may wish to consider installing a leak detection system in your home. These systems are designed to automatically shut off your main water supply if they detect water running for longer than usual, or if you have programmed them to indicate you’re out of the home or on vacation. Your home insurance provider may also provide a discount for installing such systems as it shows you’re proactive about managing the risks of home ownership.

Clear your drains

Remove any debris from your nearest storm drain. In the event of a flood or heavy rainfall, this will help the municipal system function at its maximum capacity, thereby reducing the likelihood of water backing up into your home. Also, make sure your possessions aren’t covering any drains in your basement that could prevent water from dissipating.

Damage limitation

Shut off the water supply

First, it’s important not to panic. Shut off the main water supply, then quickly assess the damage. Take any action possible to prevent further damage from occurring. In the event your toilet overflows, locate and turn off the toilet’s water supply. The toilet’s water supply line and shut-off valve is usually located directly behind the toilet seat.

Contact your insurance provider

Call your insurance provider as soon as possible. Generally, water damage claims are considered emergencies and you should hear back from your adjuster within a few hours. The claims adjuster will be able to help you determine the best course of action.

Wait for experts if the water is not clear

If there’s a chance that grey or black water might be in the mix (black water is contaminated by sewage and is potentially hazardous to your health), resist the temptation to salvage your possessions. You’ll risk contaminating more of your home and may cause even more damage. Leave this job to the experts.

If the water is clear, remove as many belongings as possible from area to avoid more damage to your personal property.

Avoid electrical shock

If there’s a chance that electrical appliances have been exposed to water, be sure not to touch them.

If the water damage is caused by an opening in your home, like a tree crashing through a window, be aware that there may also have been wires knocked down – again, these are the types of things your claims adjuster is trained to manage.

Evacuate if needed

If the damage is so severe that you’re forced to move out of your home, be sure to take the essentials. Remember, if black water is involved, you may not be able to return to your home for a while.

It’s important to deal with water damage as quickly as possible. Many home insurance providers require the loss to be sudden or accidental for coverage to apply, and exclude damage resulting from mould, or continual leakage or seepage.

ready for an online quote? Your time matters, and so does your stuff. Get a personalized home insurance quote in 5 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to wait in line for coffee.

It only takes 5 minutes

Before you start, please review our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Preventing water damage checklist

To help you prevent water damage, ask yourself the following questions. If you’re unsure of the answers, check the advice column. If you’d like to print or save the checklist, simply download the checklist as a pdf.

Your house

  1. Where is the main water shut-off located? Usually located in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house. Often placed “on grade”. So, if in the basement, look around eye level. If on the main floor, look down near the floor. Or, look for an access panel if the valve is behind drywall.

    If there is a water leak, shut off the main water supply, and keep it off while repairs are being done. Remember that some insurance providers may ask that you shut off your water supply when away from home for a significant length of time, like a vacation.

  2. Do you have a water leak detection system? Usually located in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house. Various types are available. Many models can be set to shut off the water if it’s running for an unusual amount of time, which can prevent your entire property from being flooded, especially if you’re away from home.

  3. Does your home have copper plumbing? Copper plumbing is considered the gold-standard. It’s longer-lasting and less fragile than other systems.

  4. Is there any galvanized steel or Poly B plumbing in your home? Both systems are prone to leaking over time. Consider upgrading to copper for peace of mind. You may also receive a discount on your home insurance policy.

  5. Is your computer on a shelf (or desk), not on the floor? Water can quickly ruin a computer. Make sure all components are above floor level.

  6. Are important papers kept on shelves, not on the floor? If you store important papers in the basement, place them in water-tight containers to prevent damage in the event of flood.

Your kitchen

  1. Where is the kitchen water shut-off located? Look under the sink for 1 or 2 valves (1 for cold, 1 for hot) in older homes, or a single small lever in newer homes. If any appliances spring a leak, or if you’re doing any plumbing repairs in the kitchen, be sure to turn off the water supply.

  2. Are there braided steel hoses on the dishwasher and any other appliances holding water? Regular rubber hoses are prone to break down over time, especially in the presence of hot water and household chemicals like bleach. Braided steel hoses are much longer lasting.

Your bathroom

  1. Where is the bathroom sink water shut-off located? Look under the sink for 2 valves (1 for cold, 1 for hot) in older homes, or a single small lever in newer homes. If you notice dampness under your bathroom sink, you may have a leak. Turn off the water supply when making repairs, or if there is a sudden large leak.

  2. Where is the water shut-off for the toilet? Look under the toilet or against the wall for flexible metal tubing. Turn the handle clockwise until it stops. (Just don’t use excessive force.)

  3. Where is the water shut-off for the bath tub? This is often found in a wall or tub access panel. If you can’t locate this, you will need to shut off the main water supply.

  4. Are there any leaks around the faucet? This could indicate the O-ring needs replacing.

  5. Are there any leaks around your toilet? There could be seals that need replacing. Crane toilets manufactured between 1980 and 1991 tend to crack and can cause significant water damage.

Your basement

  1. When was the hot water tank replaced? Hot water tanks generally have a life expectancy of 15 years.

  2. When did you last check your hot water tanks for signs of leaking? Aim to do this at least annually. If you notice any leaks, you may want to replace your tank before it fails. Alternatively, consider a tankless system to save on energy bills.

  3. Where is the shut-off valve for the washing machine? Usually the valves are exposed above and behind the unit. Turn both valves clockwise. If you can’t see the valves, slide out the machine to see if they are located on the base at the rear.

  4. Are there braided steel hoses on the washing machine? Regular rubber hoses are prone to deterioration over time, especially in the presence of hot water and household chemicals like bleach. Braided steel hoses are much longer lasting.

  5. When did you last check your washing machine hoses for leaks or kinks? Again, try to do this annually as kinks can cause the rubber to crack. You may need to move the machine further away from the wall to expose the hoses. All hoses should be replaced periodically. If a rubber hose is beginning to feel rigid or brittle, it’s time to replace.

  6. Are important papers kept on shelves, not on the floor? If you store important papers in the basement (or main floor if no basement), placing them on a shelf above ground can prevent damage in a flood.

  7. Do you have a backwater valve? This will prevent water from backing up into your home, when municipal sewer systems become overloaded.

  8. Does your home have a sump pump? This is very important if you live in an area prone to sewer back-ups.

  9. If your home has a basement, are there any signs of water damage on the wall? If yes, check that downspouts are directed away from the home, and that there is no blockage in eavestroughs (gutters). Perimeter drains may need replacing. Walls may need to be waterproofed.

Your exterior

  1. Have you checked window wells to see if they are draining properly? If the window wells are not draining properly, water can back up in a heavy rain, and enter the home through the basement windows.

  2. Are eavestroughs (gutters) being cleaned annually? Eavestroughs tend to clog up with leaves and debris. This can cause water to enter the house.

  3. Are downspouts directed away from the home? Consider adding an extension to the downspout to make sure water drains well away from the home.

  4. Is your yard graded so that rain water runs away from the house? If the yard slopes towards your house, any rainwater will run directly towards your house, putting pressure on your perimeter drains.

If you have any questions about your house insurance policy or your water damage coverage, review your policy documents or contact your provider directly.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.


Get a free quote

Get a personalized online home insurance quote in just 5 minutes and see how much money you can save by switching to Square One.

Get an online quote now


Protect your family

Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month.

Learn more