About 90% of American homeowners surveyed stated that it’s important to have a home inspection before moving in. And yet, many of us fail to investigate homes we’ve lived in for years for evidence of serious damage. It’s critical to pay attention to signs of water damage. Not only can this type of damage have significant effects on the value of your home and the protection of your belongings, but it can have major health consequences, too. Mold, for instance, can grow and spread just 48 hours after the formation of a leak, which can lead to the need for expensive remediation — and if left unaddressed, it can put your well-being at risk.
To that end, here are seven signs of water damage you should look for every two months, as well as the risks involved if you don’t get them fixed as soon as possible.
1. Changes in Floors, Ceilings, or Walls
Many homeowners don’t notice changes to structural elements. They are hard to spot in familiar surroundings, even if you’re diligent about cleaning and upkeep. Some of the first warning signs of damage caused by water include bubbles or peeling in wallpaper or paint. Eventually, these will take on a swollen or warped appearance. If water damage is especially severe, ceilings and walls can acquire a sponge-like feel.
Pools of water that return after you clean them up are obvious signs of a leak. Water-damaged floors may not be immediately apparent, particularly if the wetness is evident only in corners or in spaces that don’t see much foot traffic. By the time you spot wet carpet or peeling tile, there may be damage underneath. In advanced cases, carpets may feel spongy or waterlogged. Tiles made of ceramic materials often develop mold and cracks in the grout when damaged by water. Tiles made of linoleum and vinyl show cracks and peeling. Floors made of laminate and wood can buckle, cup, and warp.
Look for discolored or dark patches on your ceilings and the inside and outside walls, as these are common signs of leaks. You should also inspect the drywall on your walls and ceilings for bubbles, flakes, and cracks.
2. Evident Stains and Mold
Slow, steady leaks frequently result in stains, whereas mold grows in places that stay damp over time. Water stains are typically yellowish-brown and form irregular shapes around the source of the leak. They are most commonly found in bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms, or other spaces that see considerable water flow or that have a larger plumbing network. Stains are signs that a leak stems from a plumbing fixture. They take shape as the wet areas dry out and get wet repeatedly over time.
Mold is a fungus that spreads through the air and needs consistent moisture to grow. Drywall, ceilings, carpeting, and wood are common sources of mold if they are allowed to stay wet. Mold is most frequently seen in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and other spaces where water buildup might not be detected right away. Mold can cause health problems, such as worsening allergy symptoms and even respiratory infections. If you spot stains or mold in your home, it’s likely that there’s extensive water damage that needs to be taken care of.
3. Running Water Sounds
Water damage isn’t always visible, but it might make noticeable sounds. Drips, creaks in the floorboards, and the sound of constantly running water may be signs that you need repairs. What’s tricky is that they can also be the sounds of a system that’s operating smoothly. The noises to be concerned about are those that change over time, as these indicate a change in the flow or force of water. Even small drips can result in holes in your concrete foundation, threatening the structure of your entire home.
4. Increasing Water Bills
A sudden increase in your water costs could indicate a leak you don’t know about. Over 6.5 years, the typical family in the U.S. uses 660,000 gallons of water. Some of this usage could be attributed to plumbing leaks. Keep an eye on your water bill and note any unusual spikes. If the increase cannot be attributed to other causes, it’s worth calling a plumber to look into.
5. Musty Smells
The musty smell attributed to water damage is like the odor of damp cardboard or newspaper. The odor is most potent near the site of the damage. The space might also be humid or damp. If an area of your home smells musty, look it over carefully and see if there are additional signs of water damage, such as stains or mold.
Older homes often have a range of odors, particularly in attics and basements, but abrupt changes in odor may signal water damage. A new smell in a newer house is unusual and may also indicate water damage. If you detect musty odors soon after a big rain or a winter thaw, you may have damage in your foundation.
6. HVAC and Appliance Issues
As appliances age, they develop cracks and rust. You may also see a weakening in the hoses. These problems can occur with refrigerators, water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines, which means that older models should be monitored. In particular, washing machines and hot water tanks are most likely to contribute to water damage.
Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems also frequently cause water damage. If your air conditioner is not regularly maintained by an HVAC professional, moisture can build up in the unit. That moisture, when cooled, can spark mold growth from spores inside the ducts. Be sure to stay on top of appliance and HVAC maintenance to avoid any issues with water damage down the line.
7. Worn Plumbing
Pipes tend to endure over the lifespan of the home, but valves, faucets, and connections typically wear out over the years. Look at those pipes, valves, and faucets that are visible to see if you can spot leaks. With pipes that aren’t visible, you can detect problems by listening to the flow of water. Inspect the areas under sinks and near toilets to make sure connecting pipes are in good repair and don’t have leaks. Check cabinets for dampness and mold.
If you spot any of these signs of water damage, call a plumber as soon as possible. Water damage stains furniture and carpets. It also harms the structure of your home, including your foundation, which brings down your property value. Mold and microbial growth pose health risks to you and your family, as well. You need to inspect your home regularly for signs of water damage to protect your family and your property. The longer you wait, the more difficult the damage may be to fix.