Signs Of Water Damage – 7 Early Signs to Look-out For

You are probably thinking: how hard can it be to identify early signs of water damage to your home? I mean, busted pipes leaking household equipment must be pretty easy to notice, right? Wrong!

As a matter of fact, most signs of potential water damage easily go unnoticed until their effects become severe. And harmful to your health. At this point, the damage is usually already done, and you have incurred major losses to your property. Plus, your health and overall well-being.

However, before you get to this point, there are several subtle indicators you can look out for. To help minimize the effect of the water damage you are likely to deal with. So, what are the top 7 signs of water damage to look out for?

The top signs of water damage you should pay close attention to include: 

  1. Accumulation of water into small puddles.
  2. Discoloration such as stains, spotting, and watermarks.
  3. Smell of musty odors.
  4. Sounds of water dripping or running.
  5. Evidence on your walls.
  6. Changes in texture such as cupping, buckling, and warping.
  7. A sudden increase in your water bills.

Water Damage – Overview

Water damage in your house takes on various textures, smells, and even colors depending on the affected area. Damages on your ceiling are more obvious and can easily be seen compared to damages in your basement. All the same, there are several early signs of water damage you should be aware of.

Your awareness will help you identify what to look out for so you can nip water damages in the bud. That is, catch any water damage in your home in good time before it becomes extensive.

In this article, I discuss early signs of water damage you should look out for inside and outside your house. I also outline what you can do once you spot any of these signs.

This article has two main aims:

The information in this article will put you in a good position to spot the initial warning signs of water damage to a house. Therefore, you are gaining a skill that’ll be useful to you for life.

Let’s jump right into it.

Top 7 Early Signs of Water Damage Inside Your Home           

To identify some of the most common early tell-tale signs of interior water damage, you’ll have to make good use of your senses. You require either your sense of sight, hearing, smell, and touch (or all of these) to check for the following:

Accumulation Of Water Into Small Pools or Puddles

Standing water is the most obvious and easily noticeable early sign of potential water damage. If you spot an unusual puddle of water, no matter how small it may be, first, get rid of it.

Then, keep a keen eye on the spot you’ve cleaned to check if it shows up again. While cleaning, ensure that you dry it out completely. If it shows up again, you definitely have a much bigger problem on your hands.

It may be seepage or a leak from malfunctioning appliances, old pipes, or structural damage to your roof. Whatever the source of the water may be, you must make an effort to find it. And have it repaired in good time to avoid any further damages that are costly.


There are various forms of discoloration to watch out for. A good example is when you see stains or just spotting- including water rings- on your walls and ceiling. The stains may appear then fade after some time or remain permanent.

Either way, you should act to remediate the damage immediately. The affected area may just look wet, or it may be dry but completely different in color from its surroundings.

Often, it can be brown, yellow, copper in color, or simply black/ green spots indicative of mold growth. If you observe that the stains are getting bigger with time, it is usually a solid clue that you may have issues with your plumbing system.

The Smell Of Musty Odor

If you trust your sense of smell, this might be the fastest way to detect water damage, especially in the hard-to-reach areas of your home.

Excess water or even just moisture can seep into building materials such as wood, drywall, and sheetrock, causing dampness. And, dampness has a strong, very distinct smell.

Also, wall cavities that have been affected by water damage are prone to mold growth. Mold has a very strong, musty odor. Sometimes, the surrounding area will smell like rotten cardboard or a wet newspaper.

Usually, such smells are strongest around the point of origin of the damage. Very strong, distinct smells are more or less an indication of severe damage underneath, and you should contact a certified water damage remediation expert right away.

There is a way you can recognize such damages before they become severe and the smell becomes pungent.


By paying attention to your breathing. Most of us consider breathing an ordinary act that we completely ignore and fail to pay attention to it. In so doing, we forfeit all the benefits and power that come with this fundamental act of living.

There are several benefits to paying attention to the way you breathe. I, actually, think not knowing how you breathe is an injustice to oneself. Because, it literally, is the one thing that keeps you alive, you know? Anyway, we’ll see how this is true in another article.

At the moment, let’s focus on only one of the benefits of paying proper attention to your breathing. That is, as one of the most accurate ways of detecting early signs of water damage.

The humidity levels of a room increase when there is potential water damage. Specifically, the air gets more wet or humid around the place being affected by water damage.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that you are breathing in moist air in one area of your home compared to another. When this happens, be sure to take all the necessary steps to check for water damage immediately before it gets to its extensive level.

The Sound Of Water Dripping or Running

Sometimes, you can fail to see water damage and instead hear it. It might sound like running, dripping, or rushing water, as well as creaking floorboards. Often, such damage is associated with issues to your plumbing system.

If you suspect that your plumbing system has a problem, listen for these sounds. Do this when your home is extremely quiet- preferably late at night.

If you hear sounds of water dripping inside your walls or a subtle hiss of running water, mark such spots. This is important for further investigation to confirm your suspicions. That is, to determine whether there truly is any water leaking from behind your walls.

Evidence On Your Walls

The evidence of water damage on your walls is obvious as you can always spot even the slightest of changes on them.

A good example is how easy it is to tell sagging drywall that is saturated with water.

Other obvious signs that you may be experiencing water damage to your walls include bubbling or peeling paint and cracking.

bubbling or peeling paint
bubbling or peeling paint is sign of water damage

Note that; a small water leak inside your drywall causes cracking. Your drywall swells, and the material starts to retract without it appearing soaked.

Changes in Texture 

This is the main signal of water damage to your floors, even though they may also show discoloration the way your walls and ceilings do. Changes in texture occur when water seeps into your floorboards and the areas underneath the boards.

Some of the most common variations of texture that you should be on the lookout for include:

  • Sagging/Sinking – Water can easily seep into the sub-flooring of different kinds of flooring material, causing it to sag. Specifically, look for soft spots on your hardwood floors. They appear because of rotten wood, which will always feel spongy in comparison to normal wood.
  • Buckling – this occurs on wooden floors. The main wood flooring gets detached from the subfloor and pulls upwards. You may notice that your floor appears ‘lifted’ several inches in one area or another.
  • Warping – takes place as a result of changes in temperature and humidity. You’ll observe visible gaps between floorboards or curling at their edges. (N/B: Your ceiling can become warped from water damage as well).
  • Expansion – Laminate and wood floors will always expand whenever they absorb a lot of water. The material becomes swollen and then separates with time.

A Sudden Increase In Your Water Bill

Do you keep a close eye on your house budget? If you don’t, you should probably start.

Other than helping you save on the cost of running your household, monitoring your budget can help you determine the presence of water leaks. And their subsequent water damage.


You may notice a sudden spike in your monthly water utility bill one month. A clear indication that something is not right.

Now, assuming all other factors remain constant. That is, you never left any taps open. And, your water usage was similar to the months prior to the increase. A sudden spike in your water bill could mean that you have a hidden water leak around your home.

One that is wasting your water while damaging your home at the same time.

Investigate to try and find the source of the leak. Either by testing for a hidden water leak yourself. Or reaching out to a licensed leak detection company to do it for you.

Early Signs Of Water Damage Outside Your Home

On the outside of your house, pay attention to your gutters, downspout, roof shingles, and foundation walls.

If you notice any problems with the gutter or downspout, have it repaired immediately. Such problems mean that water will soon not be diverted away from your house properly. And it signals much bigger water damage.

On your roof, check if there are any shingles that are cracked or completely missing. If you find any of this kind, replace them as soon as possible. Because if you don’t, water will leak into your attic. Then, you will not only have to deal with extensive water damage to your roof but also your attic.

Also, be on the lookout for any leaks on your foundation walls. Often, these walls crack and eventually leak when they soak up excess water. Given enough time and with the proper conditions, water can easily seep into the inside of your home. They are draining into your basement and leading to severe damage.

What To Do When You Spot Any Sign Of Water Damage To Your Property?

If you notice any of the warning signs mentioned above, the first thing you should always keep in mind is to document everything. I repeat, document everything from the moment you notice any sign of water damage.

Record the exact time you spotted the sign even. Take several pictures of the affected area from different angles even before you take any steps to try and locate the source of the damage.

Next Steps

Take any and all the necessary steps to contain the damage or rather prevent any further costly damages.

Remember, the longer the water damage remains unattended, the worse it gets. And, the harder it will be for you and any certified water damage restoration company to deal with.

Here, you might need to properly soak up any standing water with towels. Or to completely shut off the water supply to your home. Please do not forget to document this part too.

Take a detailed account of all the steps you take when trying to figure out what the source of the water damage could be.

Also, document the preventive measures you apply- every single one of them. This is extremely important because it might turn out that you require to file a claim.

For your claim to be successful, you must have enough proof to show that you did not neglect the issue. Instead, you took immediate action upon realizing that you could have a bigger problem.

Final Step

Contact your home insurance company and report the water damage clearly.

Then, call a licensed water damage restoration professional to start the process of cleaning up. You will receive an accurate assessment of the effect and extent of the damage. From here, you will be in a position to determine your next move precisely.

Mas Broto

Written by: Mas Broto

Mas Broto is a small business owner with 30 years experience in the real estate industry. He is the founder and editor of, the most comprehensive free home improvement website on the planet!