Signs of water damage in walls and ceilings

12 minute read Published on Mar 17, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

A close-up of water-damaged ceiling.

Every homeowner wants to prevent water damage. After all, we know just how much havoc water can wreak in our homes. Whether caused by a burst pipe or melting snow, the damage can be both physically and financially devastating. That is why Canadian homeowners need to know the first signs of water damage. To help you avoid water damage in your home, or at the very least, catch it in its early stages before it gets worse, BrokerLink has put together a guide to water damage in your home.

Water damage defined

Before we explain the telltale signs of water damage in the walls and ceilings of your home, we must briefly explain what water damage is and how it can impact your home. Water damage can be caused by a variety of circumstances. For example, if a pipe bursts, water leaks into your home and can cause extensive damage. Note that hidden water leaks are one of the most common causes of water damage. Other common causes of water damage may include sewer backups, when wastewater backs up and comes out of the sinks and drains in your home, or extreme weather, such as rainfall or melted snow and ice. Regardless of what caused the water damage in your home, even an amount of water as small as little drops can result in major structural issues. As a homeowner, it is your job to maintain your home. If you fail to notice the early signs of water damage, or notice it but fail to take action, you could be left with a (very expensive) problem. As mentioned, water is known to cause structural damage in a home. However, it can also create an environment for mould growth, which could lead to health issues for you and your family. Thus, for the health and safety of your family, along with the potential cost of repairing the damage, being able to detect water damage in your home is key.

The different types of water damage

You might be surprised to learn that not all water damage is the same. In fact, there are multiple different types of water damage. While this might seem stressful, knowing the types of water damage and the differences between them can be extremely useful. Plus, there is no reason to panic given that there is home insurance coverage for each type of water damage. The following is a breakdown of water damage types that can be covered by our home insurance policy:

  • Sewer backup: A sewer backup occurs when wastewater from your home’s sewer system backs up and flows into your home.
  • Overland water: Overland water is a type of water damage that results from a nearby lake or river, heavy rainfall or rapid snow/ice melt, or overflow that finds its way into your home.
  • Water and sewer lines: Water and sewer lines play an important role in homes. However, they are susceptible to leaks, tears, ruptures, and even collapses, which can cause water damage.
  • Ground water: Lastly, there are times when water suddenly enters a home via the ground, which can cause major damage to the basement, floor, or foundation.

Common signs of water damage

Now that you know what water damage is and the main types of water damage, it’s time to dive into the telltale signs of water damage. There are several obvious signs of water damage in walls and ceilings, like discolourations and stains or even musty smells. For a complete list of common signs of water damage, keep reading:

Visible stains or discolouration

One of the clearest signs of water damage in any home is stains, if you spot patches of discoloured paint or watermarks on the walls and ceilings, you are likely dealing with water damage. Discolourations are often beige or yellow in colour and may appear in a ring pattern. Note that water stains require more than a cosmetic fix, so don’t think that painting over the unsightly stain is an adequate response. Plus, in most cases, the water damage would only resurface and ruin the new paint job. Plus you run the risk of having drywall or wood going mouldy which could lead to worse problems down the road. Instead, you must call a water damage restoration company as soon as possible to confirm whether the stain is the result of water damage, such as a plumbing issue.

Flaking, bubbling, or peeling paint

Flaking, bubbling, or peeling paint is another sign of water damage in walls and ceilings. Given that most walls and ceilings are made of drywall, which is not waterproof, excess moisture may change the way the paint looks and feels. No matter what colour or type of paint is on your walls, moisture seeping into them due to water damage will likely cause the paint to lift off its surface. Why does it do this? Moisture wants to escape, and it will attempt to do this through the wall or ceiling. However, since drywall is absorbent, the moisture cannot successfully escape, and so instead, the paint will start to lift. Water damage doesn’t have to be severe to cause flaking, bubbling, or peeling. Keep in mind that if you notice flaking but fail to do anything about it, the affected area will likely only continue to grow.

Soft, swollen, or warped drywall

Another common sign that there is water damage in the walls and ceilings of your home is if the drywall appears soft, swollen, or warped. This is the direct result of the drywall trying to support the weight of the water being absorbed. In addition to your home’s aesthetic being ruined by a wall or ceiling that is puffing out, sagging, or sinking in, this type of water damage can cause structural issues in your home. Before the problem spreads further, it is recommended that you contact a licenced plumber or a water damage restoration company to assess the extent of the damage and come up with a solution.

The sound of running water when no one is using the water

Do you ever hear the sound of running water in your home and yet no one is using the water? Does your water pump run randomly? This could be a sign of water damage. If you frequently hear the trickle of running water but are certain that no one in your home is taking a shower, flushing the toilet, running the dishwasher, or using the washer, we recommend inspecting the walls and ceilings of your home for water damage or having a plumber do it for you.

Your water bills have risen without explanation

If you recently noticed a jump in your hydro or water bills but you haven’t changed the amount of water you use each month, the culprit could be a leak. In this case, we recommend contacting a professional plumber who can test out your pipes. If the plumber finds a leak and fixes it, it could be a huge money saver, as not only will your water bills return to normal but you will have prevented more serious water damage down the road. Note that the change in your water bills could be a sudden spike or a gradual increase. Either way, you could be dealing with water damage.

Musty smells

Even if you can’t find any visible signs of water damage, there is another way to identify the presence of excess moisture in your home: smell. Using your sense of smell, notice if there are any strange or musty odours in your home. When walls or ceilings made of wood or drywall absorb water, they give off a musty scent. The key is to identify exactly where in your home the odour is coming from. That way, you can look for signs of mould growth.

Mould growth

The presence of mould in your home is a major red flag, whether it is caused by water damage or not. If you notice a musty odour in your home, as described above, follow it until you can pinpoint the source. The source is where you want to look for the presence of mould. The mould may look green or black and have a strong odour. Keep in mind that mould thrives in damp, dark corners, which is why water damage often causes mould and also why it cannot often be detected with the naked eye. If you still want to attempt to find mould in your home, look in the darkest corners and crevices of your home, such as behind furniture or on baseboards. Finally, although mould is one of the most common signs of water damage, you could have a bigger problem on your hands if you find it due to the health issues it causes. Confirming or even strongly suspecting the presence of mould in your home warrants a call to a plumber or mould inspection specialist ASAP.

Testing for water damage

Picture this: you notice one or more of the common signs of water damage above but you want to be sure. What do you do? While most experts would suggest calling a plumber or water damage restoration company, there are a few steps you can take if you want to be completely sure before doing so. The following is a list of expert-approved tips for testing for leaks and water damage in your home:

  • Turn off the water in your home, including all household appliances that use water, as well as any faucets.
  • Find your home’s water meter and jot down the usage number it reads.
  • Leave the water off for three hours, and then walk back out to your water meter and jot down the usage number again.
  • If your water usage has increased at all - even a tiny amount - in the three hours since you turned the water off, then you likely have a leak on your hands.

What to do if you notice water damage in your home

If you notice water damage in your home, try not to panic. Although the situation can be stressful, there are many resources at your disposal that can help you deal with the issue. First, we suggest taking photos of any affected areas or equipment. From there, contact your home insurance broker before making any repair attempts. A broker can advise you on the next steps, inform you of the structures covered by home insurance, and even guide you through the process of making a claim with your insurance company.

Once you’ve contacted your insurance broker, it’s time to do some investigating. Now is the time to try to identify the source of the water and stop the leaking to prevent further damage. Now that you know how serious water damage can be - especially if it leads to mould growth - acting fast is crucial. Time is of the essence here, so unless you have plumbing experience and know how to deal with leaks or flooding, we recommend shutting off the water to your home altogether. From there, contact a local plumber or water damage restoration company, some of which even have 24-hour emergency lines. A professional will come to your home and assess the issue, provide you with an estimate for the repair, and then proceed to fix the issue.

Remember that once the person you hire fixes the leak, you may still need to replace any drywall or insulation that has been damaged. You can attempt to do this yourself or hire someone to do it for you. If you go the DIY route, make sure to remove the wet insulation and let the affected area dry out for a minimum of 48 hours before installing any new insulation or drywall.

Tips to avoid flooding in your home

Given the severe impact of water damage on your home, it makes sense that you would want to prevent it. To help you avoid flooding in your home, the experts at BrokerLink have put together the following list of water damage prevention tips:

Know where the water shut off valve is located

First, make sure you and everyone in your household know where the water shut off valve is located and how to turn it off. A leak can go from minor to major in a short time, but being able to cut off the water in your home can prevent this.

Be proactive about checking for leaks

If you rarely check your home for signs of water damage, then by the time you notice something is off, the damage may be extensive. Thankfully, there is an easy way to prevent this scenario and that is by proactively checking for leaks and other signs of water damage. The best way to do this is by checking areas of your home that are more prone to water damage, such as under sinks or around household appliances that use water, like washing machines or dishwashers.

Regular maintenance of your HVAC units and sump pump

Regularly maintaining your HVAC units - especially your air conditioner - and your sump pump can also help prevent water damage. Hire an HVAC company to inspect your heating and air conditioning units, along with your sump pump, at least once a year. You may also want to inspect your sump pump after prolonged rainy periods.

Keep your gutters clean

Clean gutters can have many benefits, including preventing water damage. Leaves are the most talked-about culprit of blocked gutters. However, during other times of year, moss, weeds, and even snow and ice can leave them clogged. If your gutters are clogged, any water that accumulates on your roof may have nowhere to go, which is what can cause it to run down the sides of your home and enter your home. However, if you clean your gutters regularly, you can avoid this potential issue.

Prevent frozen pipes

Frozen pipes are more prone to bursting, and as we all know, burst pipes are one of the most common culprits of water damage. To prevent frozen pipes, make sure your home maintains a minimum temperature of 10 degrees Celsius, even if you are travelling. This way, warm water can continue to circulate through the pipes, preventing freezing. If your home will be vacant for a long period of time, then you may want to consider turning off the water shut off valve and draining the system so no water remains in the pipes.

Install a sewer backup prevention of water leak detection device

Installing a relatively cheap water leak detection device or sewer backup prevention device can help prevent flooding in your home. Another option can be to purchase a pedestal sump pump that will automatically pump water out whenever it rises to flooding level. They might be especially useful if you travel often, leaving your home empty for long periods. Some of these units even come with battery backups in the event of a power outage. Even better, these devices may make you eligible for a home insurance discount.

Make your roof winter proof

A winter proof roof is one of the most effective weapons against winter water damage. Why? A roof is one of many points of entry in your home, and over the winter, snow and ice can build up. This can lead to issues known as ice damming and snow load, both of which can result in water damage to your home. Ice damming is when ice and water accumulate on your roof due to melting snow, which in turn, can cause a buildup of water in the eavestrough or under the roof shingles. If there is nowhere for the water to drain, it might start seeping into the walls. Further, snow load is when the weight of snow, ice, and water on your roof causes serious structural damage to your roof. In a worst-case scenario, it can even cause your roof to collapse. For these reasons, inspecting your roof regularly throughout the winter is vital.

Add flooding coverage to your home insurance policy

Our last tip is less about preventing flooding in the first place and more about avoiding the financial consequences of flooding in your home. It is to purchase a home insurance policy that features flooding protection. Flooding protection comes in many forms, like sewer backup coverage and overland water protection coverage. Sewer backup coverage is a type of flooding insurance that can protect you in the event that wastewater or sewage backs up and comes out of the sinks, toilets, or pipes in your home. Meanwhile, overland water coverage is designed to financially protect homeowners from water damage caused by melting snow or ice, heavy rain, overflow, or flooding from nearby bodies of water, such as lakes or rivers. If you aren’t sure what coverage to add to your policy, speak with a BrokerLink home insurance specialist today. They will assess your needs and your weather-related risks based on the location of your home to determine what types of flooding coverage make sense for you.

Contact BrokerLink to learn how home insurance can protect you from water damage

Water damage can wreak havoc on your home. Thankfully, home insurance exists to protect homeowners from the financial ramifications of water damage caused by everything from overland water and sewer backups to groundwater, burst pipes, and more. If you want more information on how property insurance can protect you against water damage or flooding, contact BrokerLink today. We specialize in home insurance solutions and can help you find a policy with whatever flooding protection you desire. As property insurance experts, we can also offer tips to protect your home from water damage and other important information on flooding prevention. Get in touch today to speak with a licenced home insurance broker!

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