Home & Garden Columns

About the House: Some Advice on Avoiding Floods

By Matt Cantor
Friday June 30, 2006

Your washing machine is following you. O.K., so I’m being a bit dramatic but it’s true. Your washing machine is trying to get into your bedroom. 

Decades ago, before the invention of the washing machine, houses were provided with concrete sinks in the basement with an inclined front edge just right for a washboard. Now you only see washboards in antique stores or hanging on the walls of restaurants for ambiance. The sinks were mounted in pairs so that one was for washing and the other for rinsing. 

They even had pairs of hot and cold faucets for each. You might have one of these in your basement and you’ll note that the old faucets have no threading on them because they were never intended to have hoses attached to them. 

Eventually, the faucets got changed and hoses were attached and washing machines were installed beside the old concrete basin. The years rolled by and eventually dryers were invented to the detriment of fabrics everywhere. The clotheslines sat lame and mothers went off to jobs in defense plants. 

More time passed and we all got even busier. Mom went back to school, moved into the working world alongside dad and laundries began to appear in the small room beside the kitchen to save time. The laundry peered down the hallway and, when nobody was looking, crept down the hall into a closet with a pair of sliding doors. 

This is when things began to get a bit threatening but I won’t get ahead of myself. Eventually, when the kids were off at school, the stacked pair (dryer on top) snuck upstairs into a small closet in the upstairs across from the master bedroom where it stands, waiting for it’s chance, one day, to dart across the hall and into the master bedroom closet. For now, it’s not there, but it’s just a matter of time. 

See, people want to do their laundry when they’re done with dinner, tired and, if possible, during the commercial break of Jay Leno. They just don’t want to go down to the kitchen or, “PLEASE G-D, NO!”, the basement. This is why the laundry has been gradually creeping upward through the house all these years. 

The problem is washing machines leak every now and again and when they do there can be enormous damage done inside the home. When they were in the garage or the basement, this wasn’t such a big deal. 

But the further up in the house they go, the more devastating a washing machine leak becomes. There are, however, solutions. 

The first thing I will always recommend is the easiest and the cheapest because that’s the kind of guy I am. This is to replace the rubber hoses with the “No-Burst” type. They go by various names but are easily identified by the metal woven jacket around the entire length of the hose. 

They look a bit like the steel belts on a tire when the rubber is worn away. These prevent the most common laundry leak, that being the one that occurs when the hose becomes worn, cracked and eventually bursts forth with as much water as can escape prior to your unpleasant return home. This usually occurs to lawyers who’ve recently bought a lot of art work which is still sitting on the floor in the downstairs. 

A more expensive secondary step (but well worth the money) is the installation of a pan below the washing machine with a drain that carries overflow to a safe locale. This can be quite difficult to achieve if the washing machine is well inside the house on the second floor but is not nearly so difficult if the laundry backs up to an outside wall. 

There’s also nothing wrong with terminating the drain just outside the wall up on the second floor. It’s just for emergencies and sure beats a saturated interior. Architects, take note: Adding a drain during construction in almost any location is easy but very expensive after the interior is complete. 

A third method is to employ one of the new “Floodstop” products that not only senses a leak but actually turns off the water leading to the washing machine (or water heater, dishwasher, etc.). 

Like the pan and drain method, they are also quite suitable to water heaters that are inside the house and especially for those machines located in the upstairs. One purveyor can be found at www.thewateralarm.com/productline.asp. 

The devices are available for washing machines, water heaters, dishwashers and icemakers. The same company also markets a device for sump pumps to alert you to an overflow. 

These devices cost around $70-90 which is cheap when you consider the damage that can be caused by a washing machine or water heater leak. 

As noted, this issue extends to a range of other pieces of equipment and there are a few other ways to prevent flooding in the home that are well worth pointing out. While a sink drain might leak and cause damage to the sink cabinet, the greater concern is a burst water line to the faucet. 

The flexible connectors below sinks and also those connected to toilets are often the flexible plastic/fiberglass type and can burst just like their washing machine counterparts. 

The “No Burst” connector is available for these as well and the low cost makes this sort of safety hard to turn down. 

So, let’s say that you’ve put a pan with a drain below your washing machine and your water heater and you’ve changed all the plastic or rubber flexible water connectors in the house to the metal braided type. What’s left? 

Well there is one remaining item and it’s something you can do even if you do nothing else. For many of us, the water pressure in our houses is quite high. If it’s over 80 pounds (PSI), it’s kind if high and if it’s well above 100 it’s serious. 

I occasionally see a house that’s over 150 and they’re usually in the hills where the water pressure gets a big boost to make it to the top. Houses with high pressure, not surprisingly, have more floods and there is, once again, a fairly simple fix, that being the installation of a pressure regulator (or pressure reducing valve). 

This device mounts near the main water valve to the house and lowers the pressure of the entire system, thus reducing the propensity for pipes, connectors and devices to leak. 

If your plumbing is badly corroded and filled with mineral deposits this may reduce your shower flow somewhat but it may be best to tackle that problem with some new piping. 

So with these things in mind, it’s no big deal that the washing machine is now upstairs across from your bedroom but if you’re like me, you probably still won’t be able to get the laundry done.