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Home Insurance

How to Prevent Water Damage to Your Home

By RBC Insurance • Published February 7, 2024 • 8 Min Read

Your home should be your safe space. It’s a place to rest and recharge, gather with loved ones, and store all your most prized possessions. But water damage can jeopardize all that.

Water damage is a top threat to homeowners in Canada and a leading type of insurance claim. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent leaks, flooding, and sewer backups, plus there’s water damage insurance to cover you in a worst-case scenario. Discover some of the best techniques for protecting your home, health, and bank account.

Key takeaways

  • Burst or leaky pipes, drainage issues, and poor ventilation can all cause water damage.

  • Avoid water damage if you can, because it can cause structural issues, affect your home’s resale value, and even have negative health impacts.

  • There are many steps you can take for water damage prevention that will ultimately protect your time, money, and health.

  • If you experience a serious leak, flooding, or sewer backup, turn off the water and contact your insurance company immediately.

  • Consider investing in water damage insurance.

What causes water damage

In every case of water damage, there’s either an indoor or outdoor water source that leads to leaking, backups, or condensation. Here are some of the most common causes of water damage:

  • A pipe bursts or cracks.

  • A fixture (such as a sink, tub, toilet, or shower) or an appliance (such as a washing machine, dishwasher, or water heater) has leaky plumbing or malfunctions in some other way.

  • A sewer backup occurs because there are pipes that have become clogged with foreign objects (such as hair, cooking oil, tree roots) or because of an overwhelmed main sewer line.

  • Drainage issues result from damaged or improperly sealed roofs, walls, and floors; poor grading around the foundation; blocked or broken eavestroughs or downspouts; or a sump-pump malfunction.

  • The HVAC system isn’t properly maintained.

  • Poor ventilation creates water buildup on walls and windows that leads to water damage and mould over time.

Why water damage is dangerous

Trust us: You don’t want water damage. Not only is it costly to repair, but it can also affect the safety of your home. These common side-effects of water damage make it clear that prevention is the best approach.

  • Structural issues: Long-term exposure to moisture weakens the floors, walls, and ceilings. Wood rots, concrete cracks, and metal corrodes, which can potentially cause structures to collapse.

  • Damage to your belongings: Leaks, flooding, and sewer backups can ruin clothing, books, furniture, and family heirlooms.

  • Mould and mildew growth: People living in damp, mouldy conditions are more likely to experience eye, nose, and throat irritation; itchy skin; wheezing and shortness of breath; coughing; and worsening asthma symptoms.

  • Health risks: Water and electricity shouldn’t mix! When they do, the result can be electrical fires or electrocution. Sewer backups also bring bacteria-filled waste into the home.

  • Reduced property value: Water damage repair can be incredibly expensive if the moisture affects the foundation, floors, and walls. Even if you attempt to fix the issues, there can be hidden mould and structural impacts that might put off potential buyers.

How to prevent water damage

As a homeowner, it’s a smart idea to routinely check for leaks, stains, peeling paint, mould, and condensation. Taking these steps will also make it less likely you’ll run into problems down the road.


  • If your roof was last reshingled more than 15 years ago, it’s time to have it checked and possibly redone.

  • Think about adding a waterproof membrane (a.k.a. underlayment) beneath your shingles.

  • Routinely replace damaged or missing shingles.

  • Ensure that skylights, vents, and chimneys are all properly sealed.

  • Check that your attic has good ventilation and insulation.

  • Carefully clear off snow and ice in the winter.

 Eavestroughs or gutters    

  • Clean out your eavestroughs, downspouts, and gutters in the spring and fall, so water can flow freely.

  • Install downspout extensions to direct water at least two metres away from your home’s foundation.

Windows and doors

  • Properly seal or replace old windows and doors (note: swelling, peeling, and discolouration are all signs of water damage).

  • Make sure that basement window wells have a proper drainage system and are kept clear of debris.

Toilets, tubs, and sinks

  • Ensure drains are clear of hair, grease, and food scraps and take care of a slow-draining sink.

  • Turn on the exhaust fan or leave doors or windows open when bathing and showering.

  • Replace loose or broken tiles, where mould could collect.

  • Know where all your shut-off valves are and install any that are missing—all plumbing in your home should have its own shut-off valve.

  • Consider installing water-leak sensors around/close to where leaks are likely to occur, such as faucets, appliances, and toilets.

  • Automatic shut-off valves add an additional layer of protection and will act in the event a leak is detected.


  • Check shut-off valves every six months to ensure they work.

  • Know the location of your main shut-off valve, in case of an emergency.

  • Check plumbing for corrosion or buckling and replace, if needed.

  • Avoid pouring fats, cooking oil, and grease down drains (and put them in the green bin, instead).

  • Prevent frozen pipes by insulating any outside walls that contain plumbing and use snap-on insulation for exposed pipes in unheated areas.

  • Drain and shut off all water pipes outside your home as part of a routine pre-winter cleanup.

  • Consider adding a freeze detector to exposed pipes.


  • Check hoses for wear and tear, and replace, if necessary.

  • Replace older washing machines, refrigerators, and dishwashers.

Walls and foundation

  • Seal any breaks or cracks in siding, bricks, stone, or masonry to prevent leaks.

  • Check that all openings from wiring, plumbing, phones, cable, heating, and air conditioning are properly sealed with foam or caulk.

  • Ensure proper grading for water to drain away from the foundation of your home.

  • Keep snow away from foundation walls and basement window wells.


  • Repair or replace damaged weeping tiles.

  • Clear basement floor drains of debris.

  • Install a backflow valve in case the main sewer on your street is overwhelmed with water.

  • Invest in a backup generator for your sump pump.

  • Keep valuables off the floor.

 Water tank

  • Maintain your water tank (including flushing it out once or twice per year) and watch for corrosion that can lead to leaking or bursting.

  • Replace a gas water heater every eight to 12 years and an electric one every 10 to 15 years.


  • Keep outdoor sewer grates clear, so water has a place to go.

  • Add more green space around your house and use porous pavement that will absorb water.

  • Consider installing a rain barrel to collect rainwater, which will reduce the load on the main sewer during downpours.

What to do in the event of water damage

Accidents happen, and that’s why insurance exists. Before water damage happens in your home, understand the details of your insurance policy to see what’s covered. Most policies won’t automatically protect you in the case of sewer backups or overland water (when rivers, lakes, and ponds rise and flood the land). You may want to consider adding specific types of water damage insurance to your home insurance plan.

If you do end up dealing with water damage, the steps you should take will depend on its severity.

  • Condensation and leaks: Make repairs, buy new appliances, and/or improve drainage and ventilation before things get worse.

  • Flooding: Locate the source of the water and shut off the flow to the affected area, if you can. Turn off any affected or nearby electricity as well, then call your insurance company. They may be able to recommend water restoration and mould experts in your area.

  • Sewer backups: Do not enter the contaminated water. Turn off the water and electricity if a lot of waste water has accumulated, then call your insurance company for guidance.

Water damage and insurance

Different types of water damage insurance are available to consumers, and they vary depending on whether you have a home, a condo, or a tenant insurance policy. The availability of various products also varies depending on where you live.

You may want to consider purchasing additional coverage if you’re concerned about water damage and how it might result in costly repairs. Speak to your RBC Insurance Advisor about your options for sewer backup coverage and overland water insurance (commonly known as “flood insurance”).

Get a free online quote for coverage to protect your property and your belongings from the unexpected, including water damage. Call 1-877-749-7224 to speak to an RBC Insurance Advisor about home insurance.

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*Home and auto insurance products are distributed by RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. and underwritten by Aviva General Insurance Company. In Quebec, RBC Insurance Agency Ltd. Is registered as a damage insurance agency. As a result of government-run auto insurance plans, auto insurance is not available through RBC Insurance in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.

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