Friday, November 4, 2011

How To Spot Water Damage Before It Wrecks Your Home

Water just may be your home's worst enemy; and it's a sneaky, insidious foe. Your home could have a slow leak for weeks before you see the first signs of damage.

Take the case of my friend Tom, who recently spotted a strange puddle outside his brand new townhome. For some reason a small, hand-sized pool of water would sometimes appear on his back porch next to the bedroom wall. He didn't think much of it, until he spotted water stains on his inside wall, directly opposite the puddle. Uh-oh.

When workmen pried the planks off his exterior wall, they found a PVC drainpipe that had been sliced-through during construction. Workers installing the hardy plank exterior during construction had trimmed the planks in place with a power saw, not noticing that there were slashing the drain pipe in the process. The entire time Tom had lived in his home, water had been leaking into his wall.

Unless you are alert for small signs like this, water damage can go unchecked, emerging only when it has caused serious damage to your home.

The key is to spot telltale signs of damage before they turn into big problems. Here are a few things for which you should be on the lookout.

Finding Interior Leaks

Leaks can happen anywhere inside your home, but they are most likely to occur where water pipes and drains connect to appliances. That means your kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are the most likely problem areas.

1) Water Stains

Stains on your drywall are the most obvious sign of interior water damage. Check your window frames and exterior door frames for any sign stains, and apply caulk or molding as needed.

Any unusual stain on your interior walls should be investigated immediately since, as my friend Tom learned, they could be a sign of a leaky pipe or drain inside the wall.

2) Warping or Buckling Floors

Also keep an eye out for any buckling or warping of your wooden floors. Even if your home doesn't have hardwood floors, vinyl, tile surfaces and carpets are often installed on top of a wooden particle board layer that will swell and warp when exposed to water.

3) Meter Readings

If water lines inside your home are leaking, you may be able to tell by reading your water meter. Turn off all the water inside your house, and then check your meter's current reading. Wait about an hour, and then check it again. If the meter reading has changed, you've got a leak.

Spotting Exterior Problems

A leaky roof, poor drainage around your home and clogged or leaky rain gutters are the biggest causes of exterior leaks. The key to detection is to check your home during a rainstorm. If you can't wait for rain, spray your roof with a garden hose.

1) Check the Attic

It's a good idea to periodically inspect your attic for stains and other signs of water infiltration. Pay special attention the valleys where two roof planes intersect. Also check the flashing where the roof meets a wall, and flashing around any chimneys and roof vents.

You should also check your roof from the outside for damaged flashing and missing, cracked or curled shingles.

2) Standing Water

If you see standing water anywhere outside your home, it's cause for worry. A puddle could be due to poor drainage in your yard that makes water flow toward your house. It could also be a sign of leaky rain gutters or gutter downspouts that don't carry water far enough from the house.

3) Drip Lines

Water dripping off your roof can cause erosion on your patio or driveway. This issue is tricky, because by the time you see erosion in the stone or concrete, the damage is done. You need to spot drip lines before they do damage. Walk around your house when it's raining and look for drip lines.

Check how your home's gutters handle a heavy rain. Do the gutters overflow? Your gutters need to be cleaned periodically to keep them free of leaves, or you may need to install gutter covers or screens to keep leaves out.

Check the gutters themselves for leaks. Many homes still use old-style seamed gutters with welded joints. Check these points for signs of rust or separation.

These simple checks can go a long way toward keeping your home safe from water damage and the mold infestations that can come with it. Try to make them a regular part of your home maintenance.

Mike Milliman is a managing partner of, the leading online seller of gutter supplies and copper gutters.

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