Disclaimer: This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult with a licenced plumber based on needs and circumstance.

Water damage can leave your home and its contents at risk of significant loss. Planning and maintenance are key to prevention so here are four of the main causes of water damage at home, along with tips for responding and ideas for prevention.

Common cause #1 Burst flexible hoses

A flexible hose is a plastic tube with a stainless steel braid around it and is most commonly located under the sink in your bathroom or kitchen, explains, Master Plumbers' Association of Queensland Technical Services Manager, Ernie Kretschmer.

“They can be quite sneaky. Normally they'll wait for you to go on holidays before bursting,” Ernie says.

Your first act: For any uncontrolled leak, including a burst pipe, turn off your water supply and then call a plumber, Ernie advises. You will find the shut-off valve in your water meter box which is usually near the street.

“It's simple enough to turn off by hand. Some of the older designs do require a spanner though,” he says.

Prevention: Flexible hoses usually burst because they were damaged during installation, have suffered wear and tear, or have had corrosive chemicals such as dishwashing powders stored right next to them.

So avoid storing cleaning products nearby and check the hoses are still in good condition at least once every 12 months, advises Ernie.

Common cause #2 Water damage caused by appliances

Water damage caused by appliances within the home is a common insurance claim, says QBE National Product Manager for Home and Contents Insurance, Tony Waizer.

To prevent water damage accidents, he urges people to regularly check their household appliances for wear and tear.

“From sinks, to washing machines and dishwashers – the cost of damage to home carpets and other household contents can often be more expensive than replacing the appliance that’s leaked and caused the damage. Some water damage claims have cost tens of thousands of dollars,” he explains.

Prevention: Turn off appliances such as the dishwasher and ice-makers in your fridge if you're going to be away for an extended period.

Common cause #3: Blocked drains

If your drain blocks you can end up with sewerage or stormwater inside your house, says Ernie, of the Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland.

“In a large rain or flood event, you can have quite a lot of damage from water coming up from blocked drains and into your house,” Ernie warns.

Your first act: Call a plumber immediately, Ernie advises. Turning off the water supply won't help in this situation.

Prevention: The usual culprits are tree roots, kitchen paper towels, baby wipes, nappies and pads or tampons being flushed when they shouldn't be.

Common cause #4: Blocked gutters

If your gutter or downpipes are blocked and heavy rain falls, they'll overflow and water could flow into your eaves and home.

“It's fairly common for it to come back inside,” says Ernie, “and you'll end up with little waterfalls down your walls”.

Your first act: Unfortunately you have to wait until the storm passes. Ernie says never attempt to unclog your gutters during a storm or rain event.

“If it's raining cats and dogs and it's in the middle of a thunderstorm, the last thing you want to do is get up on a wet roof. You won't be up there very long,” he says.

Instead, keep the water damage to a minimum by continually mopping up the mess.

Prevention: Gutter blockages can come from a myriad of items – from too much leaf matter, to hail, or a stray six-and-out tennis ball.

How often you check your gutters will depend on your property, says Ernie.

“If you don’t have trees on your property, maybe once a year,” he advises.

“But if you live on a property with trees, it's a good idea to do it a couple of times a year.”

Note of caution

While you can often isolate the water supply if a water related problem arises, it's illegal to undertake plumbing activities if you are not licensed to do so, warns Ernie, with penalties ranging from thousands of dollars in fines to imprisonment, depending on which state or territory you reside in.

While home maintenance is crucial to avert water damage, you shouldn’t rely on preventative actions alone. For full protection make sure your home and contents are covered.