Why Common Storm Damage to Plumbing and Thermal Seals May Surprise Sacramento Homeowners

storm damage to plumbingWhen people ask how I’ve been lately, I tell them, “Soggy.” I suspect most folks in Northern California feel the same way. After all, it’s been years since we’ve had this much rain. We’ve been pounded this winter, causing downed trees in Sacramento, flood evacuations in the Central Valley, and days where the doppler is almost entirely green throughout Northern California. You may have managed to safely weather the storm inside, but one thing is for sure—your home took a pounding.

California is now out of “extreme” drought conditions for the first time since August 2013. While this is great news for our state, as an HVAC guy, I’m a little concerned that Californians who aren’t used to inclement weather won’t recognize some of the common storm damage done to their homes. Plumbing, windows, and the thermal envelope are all susceptible to harsh, wet winters, but not in ways homeowners may notice right away. Be savvy, folks, and look for storm damage signs, then call a professional if you suspect the rain reaped havoc on your home.

Pay Attention to Pipes

The rainy chaos happening in Yuba City, Sacramento, and the rest of Northern California, may be very obviously impacting trees and rivers, but it actually has the most damaging effects on your home underground, in your plumbing system and your pipes. I’ve discussed sewer backups before, but it’s worth reiterating that there are two major types of damage pipes can suffer during heavy rains:

  • Breaks: Heavy rains soften the soil, allowing rocks and roots to move in the ground, possibly rupturing your pipes.
  • Clogs: Storms also lead to leaves, branches, and dirt falling into drains and creating clogs.

In the past, I’ve given advice on how to prevent these things before they happen. But I think now’s the time for tips on how to tell whether these problems have already struck:

  • Sewage backups: If sewage is backing up into your bathtub, sinks, or toilet, you almost certainly have a clogged or broken pipe underground that’s not allowing water to move freely in and out of your home. Call a professional immediately, because sewer backups are not only unsightly, they can also cause nausea, vomiting, and other health problems.
  • Multiple drain clogs: Drains get clogged all the time, but if multiple drains in your house are clogged at once, especially in places like mudrooms or basements that you don’t use often, you may have a blocked pipe caused by debris that washed into the plumbing system when it rained.
  • Bubbles: When water tries to work its way past a clog in a drain, air gets trapped—and trapped air causes bubbling. You’ll most likely notice this bubbling when you flush a toilet. If you see this, or hear a gurgling noise, call a plumber to have the clog or break in your underground pipes fixed immediately.

Save Your Thermal Seal

Throughout Northern California this winter, trees came crashing down, some nearly destroying homes. But just because your home dodged serious damage of this sort, doesn’t mean it escaped unscathed. Your house has a thermal seal, or envelope, susceptible to being broken. The insulation, walls, windows, and doors leading outside are all a part of that seal and can suffer breaches. These breaks are often caused by flailing tree branches, fierce winds, or too much precipitation for the seal to handle at once.

If your home’s envelope is leaking, cooled or heated air will flow outside, and the unconditioned air from the outdoors will flood in. When this happens, your utility bills will rise and your comfort level will drop. These are the three major places to be concerned about rain storms causing breaches:

  • The attic: After high winds and heavy rain, I often see breaches in the attic caused by tree branches, winds, or even animals like birds and raccoons looking for shelter from the storm. There are many places air can escape an unsealed attic, like gaps around your pipes, electric outlet boxes, and the attic’s door. After heavy storms, call out an HVAC professional to make sure seals in these areas are intact.
  • Windows: Even the best windows with heavy seals around their frames and edges will spring leaks when you get a winter of record rains. If you notice moisture around your windows during storms, or excessive amounts of condensation on the inside of the glass, it may be time to replace them.
  • Doors: Gaps between your door and its frame can be exacerbated by weather, especially strong gusts of wind which loosen doors on the hinges and frame, creating costly punctures in your thermal envelope.

It’s been a rough and rainy winter in Northern California. Widespread evacuations resulting from the dam troubles in Oroville to record rainfalls in Sacramento and Stockton have surprised and shaken the Central Valley. Now that spring is on the way, make sure your pipes and thermal seal are still intact and working efficiently. In a few weeks time, we’ll go from pounding rains to running our air conditioners to combat the heat. Your home’s seal against our next round of upcoming extreme weather is going to be especially important.

I know it seems like the rain will never stop right now, but it will—it always does. When that time comes, if you’ve had a trained HVAC professional out to your house to do a thorough inspection, you’ll be ready to enjoy the famous California sun—even if that means from the air conditioned comfort of your home.

These heavy rains can cause serious storm damage to your house. Call the trained professionals at Bell Brothers to have your windows, plumbing, and HVAC checked out. We’re always here to help you and your home weather the storm.