Where's that water coming from?

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jul. 17, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Late summer and early fall is the prime season for hurricanes in the North Atlantic. You don’t have to look for them; weather forecasters seem to delight in telling us all about the latest named storm even before it has reached the required level of intensity. That's just a signal to start worrying about, or preparing for, water damage in your home.

In reality, though, there really is no season for water leaks in the home. I have learned to always be vigilant for signs of water inside my home and out. Being suspicious of any telltale sign has helped me avoid costly damage.

Sometimes the signs are obvious. Once as I stood at my kitchen sink, I noticed an occasional drop of water from above. I was horrified as I looked up to find the source of the water was my ceiling light fixture. I not only wondered what the origin of that water was, I was amazed that the circuit had not shorted out. A ruptured heating system pipe behind a knee wall on the second floor caused this bizarre incident.

A few months ago, I thought the washing machine in my basement might have a leak. On several occasions, I found water on the concrete floor around it. It was an occasional problem, which made me wonder if perhaps the washer was not the culprit. One day I found the telltale water around the washer. But we had not washed any clothes. Directly above the small puddle was the confluence of all the drainpipes into the sewer line.

As I investigated this problem, I found water trickling down the side of the vertical pipe. Finding water above the joints with bathroom and kitchen drain lines told me the source was much higher in the house. In fact, the highest point in a water drain system is the vent through the roof. Inspection there revealed a worn and damaged boot around the 3-inch vent, providing a clear path three stories down to the basement.

There are a number of sites you should check for potential water invasion. The flashing around the chimney gets no attention until you put a new roof on the house. Hopefully, whoever tackles that job will inspect and carefully seal the points at which the flashing contacts the roof material. Inspect that area from the ground with binoculars or a camera zoom lens if you can, and get up on the roof if necessary.

Ice dams in the rain gutter during the winter might cause a water invasion problem. Roof damage from a storm might appear minimal, but just because a tree limb didn't go through the roof does not mean there is no damage at all. There may be a small hole or one single shingle missing or damaged. If water gets in, it doesn't take much to follow the path of least resistance, where it might show up in a ceiling far away from the problem.

There are many ways to find any leaks in your home. Some of them might be quite inconvenient. An unfinished attic definitely provides the easiest access to roof leaks, but you might have to weasel your way into a crawl space over a garage or an addition. If your home has some dead space with no access at all, such as a knee wall, creating a modest entry through wallboard might be the only option. If you are tracking the source of a leak, it is a sacrifice you will have to make.

Inspect your home for suspicious signs - discolored ceiling or tiles, wallboard, damp or sagging insulation. Bear in mind they are almost always far from the source of the leak.  On the outside, look for buckled siding outside. Inside, look for stained framing lumber.

Inspect your home now for water leaks, and look again when we get our next heavy rainstorm.

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