There are some flaws that most of us can put up with when buying a property, but water damage should never be one of them.
No matter how ‘minor’ it may seem, water damage can impact your standard of living, not to mention be expensive to fix. While there will be problems that can only be detected during a professional property inspection, equipping yourself with the ability to spot obvious water damage issues will help you better identify less hazardous properties buy before you get to the more serious stages of the inquiry process, saving your time, effort, and not to mention your wallet.
Many signs of water damage are easy to spot once you know what to look for. It involves using your eyes – and your nose – to check walls, floors, ceilings, pipes and a few other less obvious areas.
Check for pools of water near the home’s foundations or anywhere nearby. This will indicate that the yard isn’t draining away properly, which can lead to moisture building up in the lower quarters of the house.
Problems can also arise if the gutters and drains are clogged with leaves and other debris. Make sure that the downspouts tie into a site drainage system and that water doesn’t splash onto the side of the building. If the house is built on a hill, check where water may end up when it rains.
Leaks are among the most common causes of interior water damage. Sinks in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry are typical sites for leaks. While you’re there, check washing machine hoses, water heaters and refrigerators. Tubs and showers should also be inspected closely for mould growth or bubbling. Note any loose tiles: this is often a sign of moisture in the walls.
Windows are an important indicator of excessive condensation, especially single-pane windows. Note any cracking or staining in the window sills. Look behind the blinds and drapes for any visible signs of dampness.
These signs are especially common in pre-1970s homes, which were rarely built with adequate insulation.
It’s also worth checking behind large pieces of furniture such as dressers, bookshelves or headboards. Stick your head into all the closets and sniff: if condensation is a problem, you’ll be able to smell dampness or mould.
A poorly-ventilated bathroom is a major contributor to condensation. Look for water staining or mould on the walls and ceiling. Note whether the bathroom has an exhaust fan (and that it works!) and check how clean the fan is.
Although older homes typically have only a window for bathroom ventilation, a fan may be necessary to reduce condensation. There should also be a fan installed in the kitchen, as excess moisture from cooking can gradually build up in corners.
Check for dust and dirt in all those hard-to-reach places: door frames, window frames, under the refrigerator, behind large pieces of furniture. Household dust is made up of organic material that mould loves to grow in: skin cells, clothing fibre and pet fur.
Carpet is another favourite for mould, thanks to its ability to hold moisture and active spores. Check for dampness or stains.
Soft spots and/or warping in the floors is a definite sign of underfloor drainage problems or previous issues with flooding. Spongy floors in or near bathrooms, kitchens and doorways suggest leakage, as do warped hardwood and tile floors. You may have to feel around for uneven boards or any lifting under the carpet.
Are there any rust spots near the hot water heater tank? This could suggest leakage inside the heating system – which will spell a huge headache later on. While you’re there, check for any rust spots around appliances or bathroom fixtures.
Any brown rust-coloured marks on walls or ceilings is a sure sign of water damage, especially in areas that haven’t been exposed to the outdoors.
The most obvious sign of mould is the smell. Use your nose. If the house smells even slightly damp or musty, you’ve got mould.
If mould is actually appearing on walls, ceilings, baseboards or around sinks, it’s already in an advanced stage of growth, and depending on the type of mould can vary in concern. While small amounts around ‘wet’ areas such as sinks, baths and showers is generally ok, anywhere beyond that is reason to question whether or not the purchase is worth the headache.
You can always simply ask an agent about damage beforehand and see if there are existing concerns. There is a chance they’ll tell you issues you’ve noticed are minor or that a very small ‘fixer upper’ investment will make it sparkly new. Remember that their priority is to sell property, and despite best intentions they’re not an expert in the long term structural integrity of a home, so going above and beyond the agent route is your best bet.
If you can’t get access to difficult to reach areas that might have moisture build up, or if you’ve discovered some water damage and are unsure about the level of threat or cost it will have, don’t mess around, get a detailed house inspection to go beyond face value and identify exactly what you’re up against.