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6 Telltale Signs of a Water Leak

Home water damage can become more serious the longer it goes undetected. Knowing the signs of plumbing problems can help you stay ahead of costly issues.

What is water damage?

To start off, it’s important to know what water damage is. When talking about water damage in a homeowners insurance policy, it refers to the accidental discharge or leakage of water or steam as the direct result of the breaking or cracking of any part of a plumbing system or appliance containing water or steam. For the purpose of this article, we’ll specifically be talking about this type of water damage, not damage resulting from floodwater entering your home from the exterior. 

Does water damage happen immediately?

Water damage does happen quickly, so it’s important to act fast. If left unaddressed, excess moisture can become destructive within 24 hours. Mold and mildew can begin growing 24-48 hours after a water leak forms.

Is water damage dangerous?

Untreated water leaks can not only be harmful to your home but also to those who live in it. Water damage can also attract another issue: pests. Cockroaches, silverfish, carpenter ants and beetles prefer moist environments and may be drawn to your home.1 Additionally, the growth of mold and fungi can lead to health problems if left untreated. The risk of electric shock is also higher when water is present.1 Water-damaged wiring can be very dangerous and should be handled by a professional.

What does a water leak look like?

Now that you know the importance of preventing or stopping water damage, you may be wondering how to spot it before it’s too late. Here are six signs of a water leak and tips for water leak repair.

  1. A musty odor

    A smell similar to that of wet paper can be the first sign of a water leak, especially when coupled with a humid feeling in the room. A water leak in the basement, for example, can produce excess moisture and cause mold and mildew growth.

  2. Ceiling discoloration

    The ceiling is one of the easiest places to spot a problem in your home. “We see that a lot when a pipe freezes, or a second-floor toilet overflows, and we’re dealing with multiple floors and multiple areas of damage,” notes an Amica claims examiner. If you see any discoloration, or brown or yellow stains – particularly if they seem to be getting larger each time you look – check the space above the ceiling or the roof to see if you can find the source.

  3. Misshapen floors

    If there is water damage to your floors, you may be able to feel it before you see it, as moisture permeating the floorboards and subflooring causes noticeable differences. These changes may include warping, buckling, bulging, sagging, soft and spongy spots, and sinking.

  4. Peeling on the walls

    Like the floor, damaged walls may begin to flex or warp when they are saturated with water, but you’ll also be able to notice a change in the paint or wallpaper. If your walls are painted, the paint may begin to peel or blister. If you have wallpaper, it may start to separate from the wall as the adhesive disintegrates. Cosmetically fixing your walls should be straightforward, but these quick remedies could indicate you’ll need more significant restorations. “If it’s a minor water leak, you can sometimes repair and then repaint,” says an Amica claims examiner. “But for extensive water damage, you’re looking at sometimes a full gut of the room, removing all walls, ceilings, trim, and replacing everything up to the framing.”

  5. Unusual sounds

    If you’ve lived in your home for a while, you’re probably used to the regular noises it makes. However, if you hear new sounds like dripping or sloshing water in the walls or cabinets, try to locate the source to see if there is any visible moisture. Then, call a professional plumber to come check it out.

  6. Changes in your water bill

    One of the strongest signs of water damage can be a change in your monthly utility bill. An unusually high bill can indicate a leak if your household’s daily water usage has not changed.

How to find a water leak

All houses have a main water shut-off valve. Make sure you know where your home’s is in case of emergency or routine maintenance. Cracks or leaks around the water main could signify a plumbing issue.

After searching your home, if you don’t see any of the water damage signs mentioned above, you can test for a leak by checking your water meter. First, turn off the water to your home and note the number you see on the meter. Twenty minutes later, if the number on the meter has changed, you’ll know there is a leak in your system.2

Looking for signs of water damage is one way to prevent further issues. Stopping problems to begin with, however, starts with routine maintenance. 

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1 5 Major Risks of Untreated Water Damage, Titan Restoration Construction, 2021.
2 How to Read Your Water Meter, Smart Home Water Guide, 2022.

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