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Water damage comes in all shapes and sizes. A small leak is often easy to fix. And if you catch it quickly, it’s easy to repair the damage. However, a sudden, heavy leak or even a steady leak that goes unnoticed for a long period of time can lead to extensive damage in your home. Depending on where the leak is, you might find yourself with ruined floors, destroyed furniture, crumbling walls, and a serious mold and mildew problem.

Before you can get to work fixing the damage caused by a leak—or even fixing the leak itself—you’ll first need to figure out that you have a leak, and where that leak is located.

Keep reading to learn 8 sneaky signs of water damage that every homeowner should know.

1. A Higher-Than-Normal Water Bill

Some signs of a leaking pipe or water damage are tougher to spot than others. A slow leak or one that’s in a spot that doesn’t lead to damage on a wall or ceiling that you can easily spot may not draw your attention right away.

However, if you suddenly receive a higher than normal water bill, a leak could be to blame.

Before you begin ripping into your walls—or call a professional—make sure that the higher total can’t be easily explained by something else. Did your city raise its water rates? Did you fill your pool last month? It’s also a good idea to check with your neighbors to make sure that they didn’t see a surge in their monthly bills as well. But if you don’t find a likely culprit, start looking around for some of the other signs on this list, and consider calling in the pros for some help.

If you’re suspicious that you have a leak but haven’t received your next water bill, you can always check your meter. First, turn off all water in your home. Then, head to the meter to see if it continues to spin. If it does, you likely have a leak.

2. Damage to Your Walls or Ceiling

Water damage on the ceiling or walls has a distinct appearance. It typically starts as a small, yellow-brown spot that may quickly grow and spread across the space. It may feel wet to the touch, but more often, if left untreated, will become soft. When you press a finger against your normally hard ceiling or wall, the material may give way or even crumble slightly. 

In addition to a stain, water damage may also cause the paint on your walls to bubble up.

3. Discoloration

Spotting water damage on floors, painted walls, or textured walls can sometimes be a challenge. Because of the color and texture, a yellow or brown spot may be tough to see, making it easy to overlook this common sign of water damage.

However, a combination of mold and water damage can leave your painted walls or hardwood floors looking discolored. If you notice that one area of your walls or floors is a different shade than the rest of the space, it could indicate that water is getting where it shouldn’t be.

4. Mold and Mildew

There’s more than one way that mold or mildew can get into your home. A poorly ventilated bathroom, for instance, may cause mold or mildew to form on the walls and ceiling because the moisture simply has nowhere to go. But while a fan might help fight mold in your bathroom, no amount of ventilation will clear up mold and mildew caused by a leak. 

You can treat individual spots of growth. However, if the leak continues to exist, new spots will continue to form as well.

5. Odors

You might not spot mold and mildew first—instead, there’s a chance you’ll smell it. A musty, earthy smell is often a tell-tale sign of mold or mildew. 

Unlike a gas leak that you’ll smell right away, the smell of mold and mildew is far more subtle. While mild, the smell may be enough to alert you to the problem before you can spot the growths. For instance, if the leak is inside your walls and you can’t see it with your eyes, you might discover that a particular room or two smells musty, even after you’ve cleaned or sprayed air fresheners.

6. Frequent Health Issues

One little-known sign of water damage is easy to notice, but tough to link to a water problem. The presence of mold and mildew in your home, whether you can see it or not, can cause a variety of health issues. These include:

  • Congestion
  • Constant runny noses
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Sore throats
  • Wheezing

Many of these symptoms mirror those you’d get with a cold or allergies. However, if these health issues persist even after cold season is over or are resistant to medications, it could indicate that something in your home is leaving you ill. The best way to treat your symptoms is by taking care of the problem at the source.

7. The Sound of Running or Dripping Water

One obvious sign of a water leak that may be causing damage is the sound of running or dripping water. The sound of a dripping pipe behind a cabinet or water trickling behind a wall is a pretty clear sign that water is moving somewhere that it shouldn’t be.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you do think that you hear water. However, it’s always best to leave the demolition to the professionals. Otherwise, you might wind up causing even more damage.