For most people, a home is one of the most valuable assets they'll ever own. Unfortunately, there are some major perils that can befall a house and put a serious dent in the value of that asset.
Many of these perils are much more insidious than a fire or natural disaster. Read on to learn about some of the most expensive damage that can occur in your home, how much it costs and how to avoid it.
If you have bowed basement walls, cracks in walls or floors or a tilting chimney, you may be aware that these are signs of a problem foundation. But many people don't realize that difficulty opening and closing doors and windows can also be early signs that your home is shifting.
And whether you have a new home or an old one, foundation problems often require major repairs - and a big cash outlay. According to the Concrete Network, a consumer website devoted to concrete services, foundation problems can be caused by the type of soil the house is built on, an improperly laid foundation or drainage problems.
Whatever the cause, a bad foundation is bad news and, depending on the severity of the problem, can cost the homeowner well over $10,000.
How to prevent it: Assuming your home was properly built, the most you can do to prevent problems in your foundation is to ensure that your home has proper drainage. This means that gutters and eavestroughs should be kept clear and in good repair, and your yard should be properly graded to ensure that water runs away from your house.
Unlike major water damage, such as that caused by flooding, minor or hidden water damage in your home, perhaps from a defective water pipe, hot-water heater or window seal, can cause just as much damage – and you may not notice it right away.
Similarly, if your home suffered through a flood in the past and did not adequately dry out, mould can also thrive.
A 2005 study by the National Resources Defense Council showed that New Orleans homes that had been flooded or were even near areas of flooding showed extremely high levels of mould spores that could pose health threats to residents, even in the homes that had been repaired and treated for mould.
And the more humid the area in which you live, the harder it will be for you to get rid of mould and keep it from coming back. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if the mould growth in your home is larger than 10 square feet or was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, it's time to call in a professional.
Although home insurance may cover some of the costs depending on your policy, the cost of mould remediation is about $3,000 per wall, according to Environmental Solutions Group, an environmental management company that inspects homes for mould – and that doesn't include the cost of replacing any mould-infected materials such as drywall, carpet or ceiling tiles.
How to prevent it: Mould can't grow without moisture, so it's important that you check for and fix any leaks in your home immediately, use fans in kitchens and bathrooms to vent moisture outside and clean up any mold growth immediately to prevent it from spreading. (Read "How to find and eliminate mould in your home")
If your home isn't watertight, this isn't something you can ignore. Beyond the possibility of mould, long-term water damage can cause rot, which can lead to all kinds of expensive repairs to the structure of your home.
It's difficult to estimate the cost of this type of repair, but it can easily run into the thousands depending on how much wood needs to be replaced and how intrusive the repairs are.
How to prevent it: Be vigilant about water damage in your home; if you find leaks or areas that tend to be damp, have them repaired before long-term damage occurs. If you find rotten wood in your home, repair the problem before it gets out of hand.
If you're a homeowner rather than a renter, you may think you're immune to this one. Not so.
According to Bloomberg, a recent nationwide infestation of bedbugs has seen the little blood-sucking critters popping up all over the place – including movie theatres, office buildings and hotels, making it very easy for anyone to bring the infestation home.
And, because many of the most effective chemicals for killing bedbugs have been found to be dangerous, eliminating the spread is harder than ever. According to a July 2009 story in the New York Times, paying more than $5,000 to eliminate a bedbug infestation is not uncommon.
How to prevent it: Avoid bringing home used furniture, mattresses or bedding. If you travel, inspect your hotel carefully for bedbugs (even upscale hotels have suffered from this problem), and avoid placing your luggage on the floor. If you find bedbugs in your home, contact an exterminator.
Sewer line problems
The portion of the sewer line that extends out from a home and onto city property is often the homeowners' responsibility when it comes to repairs. Sewer line problems are most common in older neighbourhoods, where the line may have sagged or has been damaged by tree roots.
If you have slow-running or gurgling drains, frequent backups in your plumbing system or sewage smells outside your home, these may be indications of a problem.
Again, your home insurance policy may cover some of this cost; expect this doozy to cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a 100-foot sewer pipe.
How to prevent it: If you experience signs of sewer problems in your home, have a professional inspect your lines. Clogs and tree roots can often be removed at a lower cost, without complete replacement of the pipe.
The bottom line
With careful inspection and proper maintenance, you can avoid many of the worst perils that can befall your home – or at least fix them before they become so expensive. Homeowners should also create an emergency fund to pay for unexpected home repairs.