Signs of Water Leak Damage

If you suspect water damage from a leak in your home, these are signs to look for.

Water leaks that spray large volumes are obvious and require a quick and immediate response. 

However, small seeping water leaks, such as from a leaking appliance fixture, are often not discovered for days, weeks, or months after they start. 

Slow leaks can soak into flooring, cabinetry, walls, and other materials in the home instead of puddling somewhere a homeowner can notice quickly.

We asked a flooring restoration professional with 20 years of experience what are signs of water leak damage. Read on to learn what they’ve observed.

Type of Material/ObservationSigns of Water Damage
Drywall (Sheetrock)Staining, Distortion
Wood/Wood ProductsStaining, Veneer separation, Distortion
Wall Coverings such as Paint or WallpaperPaint flaking or peeling; Wallpaper detachment
Vinyl FlooringStaining, Distortion

Drywall (Sheetrock)

Drywall is a popular wall panel product consisting of gypsum plaster sandwiched between two sheets of heavy paper. Sheetrock is a brand name of a drywall product, and often these terms are used interchangeably.

When drywall gets wet and cannot dry out quickly, it will absorb water. Drywall can wick water up to 30 inches from a source.

Mold, mildew, or other bacteria can grow on wet or damp drywall after as little as 48 hours, creating a health hazard.

Wet drywall often is stained a tan color. Stained drywall can also be an indicator of a previous water leak that dried up.

Water-damaged drywall will not only exhibit distortions from absorbing water, but it can also lose structural integrity.

For example, a drywall ceiling located below a leaking water pipe can soften, sag, or even break open. 

Lighting fixtures or ceiling fans mounted in the area create electrical hazards in addition to the structural hazard of wetted drywall.

Water-damaged drywall must be removed, the area dried completely, and new drywall installed.

Wood/Wood Products

Wood and wood products are common materials used in interior home design and are subject to water damage if exposed to a water leak for too long.

Wood products include

Type of WoodDetails
Lumber planks or boardsCommon in cabinetry, furniture, and flooring
Engineered wood productsInclude plywood, particleboard, and laminate flooring
Structural composite lumberUsed as rafters, beams, joists, and studs
PanelsMedium-density fibreboard (MDF) and Oriented-strand board (OSB)

Wood and wood products can absorb water when kept wet for long periods.

Similar to drywall, damp wood and wood products can begin growing mold, mildew, or bacteria in as little as 48 hours.

Wood that has been wetted can stain a dark brown or black color. 

Wood products that have layers adhered together can delaminate, such as wood veneer or plywood.

Because wood can absorb water, it will warp and distort over time. This can appear as cupping, swelling, or bowing. This is especially bad if the wood or wood product is a structural component carrying weight.

Water-damaged wood and wood products need to be replaced during remediation.

Wall Coverings (Paint & Wallpaper)

Wall coverings, including paint and wallpaper, can absorb water then release it through evaporation.

However, because the wall covering adhesion is activated by water, the drying process can leave bubbles or peeling sections behind.

Wallpaper or paint can stain from water damage.

Flaking and peeling paint, or bubbles and partial detachment of wallpaper, are clear signs of water damage.

Wetted base materials must be removed and replaced, before reapplying paint or new wallpaper.

Vinyl Flooring

Vinyl flooring may be waterproof to surface water spills, but is not completely waterproof.

In other words, vinyl flooring is waterproof from the top down, not from the bottom up!

Water-damaged vinyl flooring may have stains, as well as distortion such as cupping.

Also, keep in mind that vinyl flooring is installed on a subfloor, often a wood product like OSB or plywood.

So while the vinyl flooring itself may not show much damage from water leaks, it can trap moisture into subflooring where water damage is much worse.

Even the waterproof luxury vinyl planking (LVP) can cause issues. While the flooring itself will not absorb water, it can trap moisture. A damp concrete subfloor below LVP can release chemicals that over time will break down the LVP.

Mold and Mildew Throughout the Home?

According to FEMA mold and mildew can start growing on damp organic surfaces in as little as 48 hours.

Clear signs of mold or mildew growth include musty or earthy smells, dark green or black dots on lumber, or black dots on any damp surface.

They reproduce using tiny spores that float through the air. So, if a home has water-damaged materials with mold and mildew growing, the seeds can spread to areas beyond the water damage, including the ductwork for heating and air conditioning.

Not only that, but recent research indicates that some people, as much as 3% of the population, have a genetic sensitivity to mold.

As such, any presence of mold and mildew is more pronounced to these folks, and full remediation can require more extensive work than simply removing water-damaged materials from the home.

In these cases, the more sensitive homeowners will need a deeper, more intensive cleaning and decontamination process after a water damage event to restore their home to a healthy and satisfactory living environment.

One Way to Prevent Water Leak Damage in Your Home…

Dishwashers have hidden water lines and connections that can leak slowly, without being detected for days, weeks, months, or even years!

The Appliance Underpan sits under the dishwasher to collect and redirect water from slow leaks, alerting you of a problem before water damage can occur!

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