Be vigilant when turning on your water this spring to avoid damage.

Although one of the coldest winters on record for many parts of the country has now been relegated to the history books, the effects of those frigid temperatures are anything but history for many homeowners.

Indeed, when homeowners emerge from their wintry cocoons and embrace the rites of spring – including washing their cars and watering their gardens – they can be faced with the unfortunate possibility of damaged pipes. If water wasn’t turned off to pipes in advance of winter, the lines could have frozen because of the extended periods of freezing temperatures that enveloped the region. The expanding ice causes the pressure from the unfrozen water between the ice and the closed faucet to increase significantly and can split copper pipes at the fittings or along the pipe itself.

“We have already received several calls from our insureds who turned their water back on, only to discover hours later that a pipe had burst and water was cascading into their walls and into the room below,” said Jim Strike, director of Claims for AAA. “Water damage can be very expensive depending on how extensive it is.”

A common situation arises when someone washes their car for the first time in the spring, Strike explained. They might notice the water pressure is not as strong as usual but ignore it thinking they didn’t open the faucet fully. Then later in the day, they’ll discover to their dismay that half their finished basement is flooded, with the water coming from the area where the faucet they had used is located.

So before turning your outside faucets on this spring, Strike advises homeowners to visually inspect the faucets and any exposed pipes inside. And when you turn the water on, immediately check for leaks in the areas where the pipes are located. If there is a leak, turn the water off.

“The quicker you notice a problem, the less damage can occur,” he said. “Prevention is the key. If you feel there might be something wrong or notice a problem, call your plumber and they can advise you on the best course of action to take.”

AAA also offers the following advice to help prevent leaks and water damage:

• Inspect plumbing supply lines found at sinks, toilets, washers, and drain systems at least annually.

• Check for stains on walls, ceilings, or at the bottom of cabinets under pipes, which can indicate a leak.

• Insulate pipes in attics, basements, and exposed exterior pipes to avoid freezing.

• During periods of freezing weather, open cabinet doors to expose pipes to warm air, and disconnect garden hoses.

• Locate shut-off valves for fixtures and for the entire house so you and other members of the household know how to turn off the water in an emergency. When you vacation, turn off the supply to house while you’re gone.

Dennis R. Heinze is regional editor of AAA Midwest Traveler.

(photo top: fotolia.com)