When it comes to small problems in the home that can rapidly escalate into major issues, water damage is a common — and one that often goes ignored. While it's easy to think an innocuous leak in the roof or bathroom tiles isn't such a big deal, the reality is that over time, a small leak can be the start of a much bigger problem, such as mold or worse.
To help you stem the tide, here are five of the most common types of water damage and what you can do about them.
1. Damp Floors
The Signs: Mold growth, timber decay, and a musty smell.
The Cause: Poor subfloor ventilation, water pooling under the house, blocked vents.
The Solution: "First, clear the subfloor of any leaves or garbage, unblock any vents that may be covered, and check your gutters to make sure water isn't pooling under the house," says David Lakes, director and builder at Lochbuild. "Then use a moisture meter, or ask an expert with experience in the sort of home you live in for advice."
"In a best-case scenario, dehumidifiers or low-voltage damp rods in wardrobes can improve the dampness," suggests David. If this isn't enough, subfloor ventilation such as fans can help. "Extra airflow under your property will help — but not fix — a structural timber member if it's in contact with a leaking tap, groundwater, or rising damp."
The Worst-Case Scenario: "A damp concrete slab. It's much harder to get to the underside of a concrete slab than timber," says David.
2. Water Coming From Balconies
The Signs: "Internal and external water stains, problems closing balcony doors, windows with swollen wood, cracked or missing grout on the balcony, and disgruntled neighbors below you," says Paul Evans, president of the Australian Institute of Waterproofing.
The Cause: "Doors that aren't installed correctly, inadequate flashings, poor waterproofing membrane, insufficient drainage, incorrect tile selection, and adhesion are all common," says Paul.
The Solution: "To reduce immediate damage, put towels or buckets down to catch water," says David. "If you're in an apartment, it's best to contact your strata company since treating it yourself could risk voiding any warranty."
The Worst-Case Scenario: Never leave balcony issues to deteriorate. "Decay can spread, electrical systems can be damaged, and in a worst-case scenario, the balcony could collapse."
3. Roof Leaks
The Signs: Water stains appearing on ceilings or walls, along with mold and puddles on the floor. Remember, if you have electrical wiring in your attic or ceiling, this situation could become dangerous.
The Cause: There are many. "No roof maintenance, blocked gutters (box gutters get blocked especially easily), a difference in metals on the roof (which causes corrosion), or a punctured or poorly installed roof," says David.
The Solution: You need to work out where the leak is coming from, which can be much easier said than done. "Look for any big, wet area in the roof space," says David. "Divide it up and test each area with a hose one day at a time to find the leak."
The best-case scenario for a leaking roof is a tiny hole, which is often caused by penetration from a roof vent or plumbing. "Use a silicone sealant to temporarily fix it until you engage a professional," says Paul. "Replacing or repairing existing flashing usually helps, but every roof is different," says David.
The Worst-Case Scenario: "The worst-case scenario is a leaky roof that's been ignored — it makes the repair harder and more expensive."
4. Gutter Leaks
The Signs: Damp patches on internal walls or ceilings, water collecting around the base of the building, stains and moss on walls, deterioration to masonry.
The Cause: Gutters not being cleaned and badly angled guttering that doesn't allow the water to flow away.
The Solution: "Clean the down-pipe connected to the gutter," says David. Then test the "fall" of the gutter by pouring a bucket of water along it — if it isn't enough, the water won't flow away, but if it's too steep, the water will overshoot. "If this is the case, take it off and re-fix it," says David.
"It's a great result when simple maintenance solves the problem. Worst-case scenarios are often caused by the environment the property is in. I worked on a house surrounded by fig trees that kept clogging up the box gutters and flooding the house. The roof had to be redesigned and reinstalled."
Top Tip: If you're installing new guttering, add in some safety precautions. "Leaf guards and foam water stops under flashing cost a bit more but might save you some heartache in the long term."
5. Bathroom Leaks
The Signs: "A water level higher than normal when the toilet flushes, a shower that doesn't drain freely, a gurgling drain or a sewer smell all indicate poor drain and pipe health," says David Conroy, plumber and owner of Sydney-based company The Lone Drainer And Pronto.
"These can result in serious leaks." There are other signs as well. "Damp walls and ceilings, tiles falling off the wall and drops of water on light fixtures can show problems with the waterproofing," Paul adds.
The Cause: "Eighty-five per cent of blocked drains are caused by tree roots in the pipes," says David Conroy. "The rest is hair, sanitary products, baby wipes (they don't break down like toilet paper), toilet deodorizers, and, believe it or not, toys and underwear." If a bathroom isn't waterproofed correctly, gravity takes charge, and water finds its way down through a weak point in the floor, walls or gaps in the sealant.
The Solution: Fixing grout or sealant yourself can help, but it's worth getting an expert opinion. "Failed waterproofing can cause rotting substructure, bathroom floor collapse or severe water damage to structures below, so you'll need professional help," says Paul. "Most of the time there's no best-case scenario – failed waterproofing requires a complete strip-out of the bathroom and installation of a new membrane."
When it comes to pipes, "know where to shut off your water supply, then phone a reputable plumber," says David Conroy. "In a best-case scenario, a speedy repair is done by knowing where your pipes run. Quite often, access is under driveways, paths and gardens."
The Worst-Case Scenario: The worst scenarios are in multi-story buildings where access points are built in without any thought to maintenance, which means you'll need new tiles once the pipe's been sorted."
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.