Preventing an Appliance Apocalypse
Last updated May 2023
Occasionally, a broken appliance can cause serious damage, especially of the watery sort. Your clothes washer’s supply hoses may burst or crack and produce a spray of water, much like turning loose a garden hose in your house. That’s bad if your washer is located in an unfinished first-floor space, but a catastrophe if it’s upstairs. Insurance companies, which may have to pay homeowners’ claims after such mishaps, recommend changing washer supply hoses every three to five years. Because insurance companies aren’t buying the hoses, they have selfish reasons for eliminating all possible risk, but other experts recommend replacing hoses after five years, seven at most. Use heavy-duty, steel-reinforced hoses, which cost around $20 a pair.
Although a clothes washer’s discharge hose can also break, this is less of a risk because it’s not under constant pressure. If it does break, the flood will generally be limited to one load of dirty, soapy water. However, if the hose breaks down low near the discharge outlet while the washer is in use, the washer will keep trying to fill and discharge until you turn it off. Consequently, some homeowners replace the discharge hose at the same time they replace the supply hoses.
Another flood risk: The water shut-off valve on either your clothes washer or dishwasher fails, and the appliance keeps filling until water spills over the top. This problem is uncommon and most homeowners just live with the risk. But to cut the risk—and also the chance of supply-line breaks—install an electronically activated shut-off valve connected to an electronic moisture detector on each of your supply lines; if moisture appears on the floor, the detector senses it and shuts off the supply lines.
An electronic moisture detector will protect you from the slowest of leaks, too—for instance, a pinhole leak or faulty seal that leaks a little water in a hard-to-see spot below your clothes washer or dishwasher. That kind of slow leak won’t, of course, do sudden damage, but in time may cause your flooring to rot out or damage the ceiling below. To avoid slow leaks, a simpler precaution is to inspect periodically right after running the appliance. Remove the trim strip/access panel below the door to see under your dishwasher.
To avoid slow leaks from your clothes washer, place a plastic pan or tray under the entire washer. Just don’t count on this to collect all the water from a burst pipe or failed shut-off valve. Even if the pan is hooked up to a drain system, it won’t be able to handle the flood.
Appliances on the fritz can also cause fires, like the thousands which start each year when clothes dryer exhausts become clogged with lint. Protect yourself by noting if your dryer seems to be getting less efficient—say, you have to run it twice as long as before to dry a load of clothes. If so, clean out the entire exhaust duct from the dryer to the outdoors. You can buy a 10- or 20-foot flexible dryer vent brush at an appliance parts outlet for less than $50.
Defects also pose fire and safety risks. For example, in 2022 Samsung recalled more than 650,000 clothes washers due to the fire risk from overheating control panels. Also in 2022, about 367,500 Frigidaire and Electrolux refrigerators were recalled due to a faulty icemaker part that could break apart into small pieces and get dispensed along with ice, creating a choking hazard. These are in addition to the millions of dishwashers manufacturers have recalled in the last 15 years for fire-safety reasons.
Periodically check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website to see if your appliances are on a recall list and, if so, arrange for a free repair or replacement.
As a general precaution against disasters, run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when you are home. Going on vacation? Shut off clothes washer supply valves.