With rain drenching portions of the United States and a wet forecast on tap for part of the country in the coming months, now's a good time to give your home a thorough water inspection - you'll have a better chance of preventing water damange in the future and avoiding potential headaches.

Officials from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said El Nino - when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean remain above average for more than several months - is expected to play a role in a wetter-than-normal season across the South from California to the Carolinas.

The NOAA singles out California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, southwest Utah, southeast Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, southern Nebraska, western Missouri, western Arkansas, Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and eastern North Carolina as regions expected to receive a good dousing this winter.

"El Niño most strongly impacts U.S. weather patterns during the winter by shifting the jet stream and storm track toward the southern tier of the country," said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. "As a result, increased storminess is expected across the southern U.S.," said Laver.

Water intrusion in the home left unattended can result in structural failure or mold growth. Mold claims are pushing homeowners' insurance rates upward, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a non-profit, communications organization supported by the property/casualty insurance business. Mold claims cost homeowners insurers more than $1 billion dollars last year, approximately five times the cost in 2000.

And in California rising household water damage claims not only cost insurers millions of dollars, but they are making it more difficult for homeowners to get insurance, according to the Insurance Information Network of California, a non-profit, non-lobbying organization dedicated to informing consumers and the media about the property/casualty business.

"It's simple and inexpensive to inspect and maintain water fittings in and around our homes. A small investment in household maintenance today could prevent serious damage to walls, carpet and furnishings in the future," Miller said.

The IINC says there are two key components to preventing household water damage - knowing how and where to shut off water supplies and checking your household water pressure.

The household water pressure shouldn't be set any higher than 80 psi. By investing about $6 in a water pressure meter you'll know whether your water pressure is set at a safe level. All you need to do is hook it up to an outdoor faucet and turn the water on high. The gauge will indicate the pressure level.

You should also inspect other water fittings on a regular basis and replace them as needed. Be sure to:

  • Inspect the hoses on your indoor faucets, water heater, dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator every year. You should replace these hoses every five or so years.
  • Check the seal and caulking around your bathroom fixtures - showers and tubs - and make sure the seal is watertight.
  • Periodically caulk and seal your windows to prevent water from seeping in.
  • Inspect your roof each year. Clean gutters and downspouts. The National Roofing Contractors Association says you should check your shingles, inspect around chimneys and pipes, and check your interior walls and ceilings for signs of water damage.
  • Shut off the water supply to the washing machine when you're away for an extended period of time. And never leave the house while the washer is operating.

    Also, the National Association of Home Builders says you should look for condensation on the inside of windows, especially if they're double- or triple-paned.

    Take steps to reduce the level of moisture or increase ventilation in your home if the condensation doesn't seem to go away on its own. Condensation also can result from the use of unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as kerosene heaters or wood-burning stoves. If you use such appliances, have them inspected by a professional contractor or a utility company representative.

    Another sign of excess moisture could be the warping of floors or difficulty in opening wood windows and doors. In such cases, the moisture from the air is absorbed into the wood, causing it to expand.

    And when it comes to insurance, if mold becomes an issue, it is specifically excluded in the standard homeowners policy. Mold contamination is usually only covered under the homeowners policy only if it is the result of a covered peril. For example, the costs of cleaning up mold caused by water from a burst pipe are covered under the policy because water damage from a burst pipe is a covered peril.

    But mold caused by water from excessive humidity, leaks, condensation or flooding is a maintenance issue for the property owner, like termite or mildew prevention, and is not covered by the policy.

    To avoid confusion, many insurers are now inserting clarifying language in their homeowners policies. Some companies may decide to cover all mold claims and price the policy accordingly, according to the III. Others may exclude mold, but offer a special endorsement policy that allows you to add the coverage. Still other companies may provide a tighter definition of what is and what is not covered. While some may prefer to create an absolute exclusion.

    Most major insurers have announced some form of restriction on writing water damage policies so it's best to talk to your agent to determine what specifically your policy covers.

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