Water damage can wreak havoc on your home, especially if it goes undetected. In fact, the worst scenario is often a product of the homeowner being away. “The type of plumbing problem that occurs when you're not home definitely causes the most damage,” says Sarah Huber, a claims examiner at Amica.
Finding standing or pooling water is an unmistakable sign that you may have a problem on your hands, but there are other indicators you can look out for before plumbing issues become costly.
A musty odor
A smell similar to that of wet paper can be the first sign of a water problem, especially when coupled with a humid feeling in the room.1 A water leak in the basement, for example, can produce excess moisture and cause mold and mildew growth.2
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 Huber. 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
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.4,5
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.3 Cosmetically fixing your walls should be straightforward, but these quick remedies could indicate you’ll need more significant restorations. “If it's minor water damage, you can sometimes repair and then repaint,” says Chris Murphy, a claims examiner at Amica. “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.”
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.1
Changes in your water bill
One of the strongest signs of water damage can be reflected in your monthly utility bill.2 An unusually high bill can indicate a leak if your household’s daily water usage has not changed, which can happen when having overnight guests or watering your lawn.
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.6
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.7
In addition, you should make sure to replace your water heater at least every 10 years. “Even if you're getting around the seven-year mark, you might want to keep an eye on it, especially for people who have a finished area of their basement,” Huber says.