6 Signs Your Home Might Have a Hidden Water Leak

Water damage can be devastating to a home, but the dangers are usually associated with sudden perils such as burst pipes or faulty appliances releasing water inside or flooding in your neighborhood encroaching from the outside.

There is another serious problem, however, that goes unnoticed daily – hidden water leaks.

The U.S. government estimates that 1 in 10 homes in the country have an undetected water leak that wastes 90 gallons or more per day, leading to an annual water waste of nearly 10,000 gallons water.

Unaddressed Moisture Can Cause Damage within 24 Hours

These hidden water leaks can have real consequences with unaddressed, excess moisture causing damage within 24 hours, and mold and mildew can begin to grow 24 to 48 hours after a water leak starts.

And if your insurance company establishes that the water damage is not caused by a sudden event, the homeowner may be out of pocket for all repair expenses.

“Water damage is sometimes covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, but not always. It depends on what the cause is: sudden internal water damage is covered, while damage due to lack of maintenance or neglect, as well as flood-related damage, are not,” says consumer research source ValuePenguin. “Neglect or lack of maintenance resulting in water damage means you’re personally on the hook for the cost of repairs.”

Undetected Water Leaks Can Lead to Big Bills

One of the biggest consequences of undetected water leaks in your home is the growth of mold from the water damage. Remediating this problem can be quite costly for homeowners.

“Mold is all too common, and is often found after water damages your home, but it’s often not covered by homeowners insurance,” says ValuePenguin. “If a pipe in your home has leaked for months and gone without repairs, mold can grow as a result, but it won’t be covered by your homeowners insurance.”

ValuePenguin estimates mold infestation remediation can cost upwards of $30,000.

Homeowners should prevent the growth of mold by keeping their homes dry and addressing spills and leaks as soon as they are detected.

Hidden Water Leak Dangers to Your Family and Home

A hefty out-of-pocket repair bill is only one of the consequences of a hidden water leak.

Your family and home are also exposed to the following dangers of undetected water leaks:

  • Health Problems such as Respiratory Issues: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that exposure to moldy environments can cause a variety of health effects including stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes in some people, and for those with asthma or allergies to mold it can result in more intense reactions.

    “People with allergies may be more sensitive to molds. People with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections. Individuals with chronic respiratory disease (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may have trouble breathing. Individuals with immunosuppression are at increased risk for infection from molds,” says the CDC.

  • Pests Infestation: Pests prefer moist environments so hidden water leaks can lead to unwanted guests in your home including cockroaches, silverfish, carpenters and beetles.

  • Risk of Electric Shock and Fire: If hidden water leaks reach electrical wiring it can lead to electrical shocks, or even cause a fire in your home.

Hidden Leak Detection: Try These 6 Steps

There are a variety of signs and clues that your home may have a hidden leak.

The insurance company Amica says you should look for these six signs:

  • Musty Odors: Sometimes the best way to spot a hidden leak is to use your nose. A smell like that of “wet paper” can be the first sign of a water leak, especially when coupled with a humid feeling in the room.

  • Ceiling Discoloration: When undetected leaks on an upper floor seep between the floors it will lead to a discoloration area on the ceiling below. These brown or yellow stains will typically appear and grow, meaning you need to check for leaks in the floor above, or even on your roof.

    “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.

  • Warped Floors: Often you can feel water damage before you see it as you walk across the floors in your home. Amica says that moisture permeating the floorboards and subflooring can cause noticeable differences. These changes may include warping, buckling, bulging, sagging, soft and spongy spots, and sinking.

  • Peeling Walls: If your hidden water leak does not reveal itself on your floors or ceiling, it might appear in the form of peeling or blistering paint or wallpaper as damaged walls may begin to flex or warp when they are saturated with water.

  • Unusual Sounds: We covered your nose when detecting water leaks, but you can also use your ears. If you hear noises such as dripping or sloshing water, look for signs of visible moisture in the area. To listen for a hidden water leak: Turn off all running water and unplug electrical appliances in your home and anything else that makes noise, shut all windows and doors, and then listen for unfamiliar sounds around your residence.

  • Unexpected Water Bill: For many homeowners the first sign of a hidden water leak is a shock when the monthly utility bill arrives. An unusually high bill can indicate a leak if your household’s daily water usage has not changed.

Look for Spinning “Leak Detector” on Water Meter

Of course, there is no need to wait for an unexpected water bill if you suspect a hidden leak. If you have access to your water meter, you can confirm a leak by turning off all water usage in  your home and then watching the water meter “dial”.

Water meters have numbers or spinning dials, which record usage. When water is not being used none of the numbers or dials on the meter should move. Most meters also have a small "leak detector" arrow, triangle or star which spins to record the low volume of water use that is common with leaks.

If your “leak detector” arrow is spinning, or if you spot any of the above hidden water leak signs in your home, call a professional plumber as soon as possible.

Go Room-by-Room Looking for Undetected Leaks

The U.S. government says that you can chase down leaks by looking at the following areas of your home closely:

  • Bathroom: Inspect toilets, faucets, showerheads, and tubs. Look under the sink for pooling water or rust signs.

  • Kitchen: Check faucets, sprayers, and appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators for leaks. Again, check under the sink.

  • Laundry or Utility Room: Check washing machines and supply lines. Check faucets and under the sink.

  • Basement or Attic: Check for leaks around your water heater.

In North Houston and the Montgomery County area, Pilot Plumbing is your family owned and operated business that can help you solve hidden water leak issues.

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