How do I Perform a Water Damage Inspection?

Crystal K. Wilford

There are a variety of ways to conduct water damage inspection in your home, but the simplest is a visual search for stains, discolorations, distortions or any combination of the three. These signs can occur on the walls, ceilings or floors of your home. Visual cues can warn of mild or severe water damage that could be costly to repair, depending on the extent of the damage. Further indications of water damage include unusual musty smells from mold or mildew, dark stains on the grout between tiles, warped or cracked surfaces and soft spots on otherwise solid areas.

A sump pit must have proper drainage or it will become compromised.
A sump pit must have proper drainage or it will become compromised.

Often, discolorations on a ceiling or walls are caused by water, which can carry dye, dirt or chemicals from the exterior of your house through to the visible interior surface. The first step in identifying the cause is to check the attic or roof of your home for holes, cracks or missing shingles. Then continue your water damage inspection by checking for warping, cracking or stains to wood paneling, fixtures, window frames or cabinets. These signs often point to the two most common causes of water damage: leaking or broken pipes and damaged or improperly fitted windows.

An inspection may be needed to assess water damage along walls and floors around toilets.
An inspection may be needed to assess water damage along walls and floors around toilets.

You might also find other signs in bathrooms, kitchens or any other room with a sink, faucet and water fixtures. Look for dark brown or black stains that can discolor the grout and sealant between tiles or where fixtures attach to walls or counters. These discolorations are usually only indications that a deeper water damage inspection might be required to uncover problems in the walls and floor around the sink, bathtub or toilet. This damage might not be visible to the naked eye but can penetrate deeply into the underlying wood or drywall.

Additional signs could be apparent in the basement, which is the next place you should check to complete your water damage inspection. Search for stained floors and carpets, standing water and distorted or cracked support beams and drywall. Any musty odors, cracks in the walls or floor and warped or rotting hard surfaces, such as wood or concrete, might indicate further water saturation or damage to areas that you cannot inspect on your own.

You should consult with a water damage inspection professional to learn the full extent of the damage. Professionals use specialized equipment that can determine precisely how much moisture is in your home. The inspector probably will be able to confirm your findings and inform you of any water damage that you are unable to see through self-inspection. Professionals generally will be able to answer further questions, give you advice on ways to avoid water damage in the future and offer price estimates or recommendations on where to turn for repairs.

Water damage caused by a flash flood can be extensive.
Water damage caused by a flash flood can be extensive.

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Discussion Comments


@Soulfox -- Good points, and that is exactly why it is a good idea to call in a professional at the first sign of trouble. Water damage can get bad in a hurry, and the last thing you want is to be breathing in mold and mildew as water damage gets progressively worse.

Now, an inspector can be expensive but you probably have one on tap that will show up for free. If you have home owner's insurance, you can call an adjuster to take a look at the problem if you see anything that suggests you have water damage. In fact, that is probably the first step. If you want insurance to cover that policy, you want to contact your adjuster first and get a claim going.


Leave some jobs up to professionals. Water damage can be tricky and can build up for years. At my house, we are getting a shower replaced due to water damage. We bought the house eight years ago, but the people repairing the damage said the problem is that a shower pan cracked at least a decade prior to that. That creeping damage wasn't discovered until a couple of months ago because water was seeping through a wall that adjoined the bathroom.

Keep in mind that our home inspector completely missed any of that water damage when we were considering buying the house. If he missed it, what chance does someone who is not a professional have at discovering water damage early and taking steps to fix it before walls are damaged and mold and mildew start forming?

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